We’re coming up on arguably the greatest day of the year, perhaps for both of us: Opening Day at Camden Yards.
For me, it is a day of hope and pride as a Baltimorean and die-hard Orioles fan. It’s a day that perennially sends an unparalleled surge of excitement throughout the pillars of baseball’s best stadium. We feel it in the stands as soon as we get to our seats, take in the smell of Boog’s barbecue in the air, and listen to Jim Hunter call your name as you run down the orange carpet. It is a playoff-like atmosphere that gives us just a quick taste of what O’s Magic is like in October.
For you, it is also, as I would imagine, a day of hope and pride as an Orioles player. A new season. A fresh start. A reminder of how perfect Oriole Park can be when it’s filled with a screaming sea of orange and black. And of course, it is one more day that you are living out your dream that so many of us in that sea also had as little kids.
This year is different though. Just the other day a special Orioles section came with my weekend Baltimore Sun edition. “End of an Era?”it asked, with a photo of yourself and Manny Machado on the cover. We are coming up on arguably the greatest day of the year, but this year, there is an uneasiness attached to it — perhaps for both us.
And maybe you are ignoring it as best you can. Letting the season play out. Seeing what happens. Hoping for the best.
Me too. During this seemingly never-ending winter, I was mired in the skepticism and disgust cooked up on fan boards and among national writers who dole out their typical conservative projections for the upcoming season. But as Opening Day gets nearer and nearer, that feeling comes back. That pride, that love for baseball returns and shoves away the frustration and skepticism.
Nonetheless, this season feels different. I’m still coping with the fact that we won’t be screaming “J-J HARDY!” a handful of times each game. So I felt it important that I write you this letter. Perhaps you won’t read it. And that’s OK. It’s good to vent, my wife tells me.
But I hope you do. After all, I’ve long pegged you as the most important Orioles player, maybe ever. I was born in 1980, so I can’t speak for the old-timers, but I can tell you you’re the most important Orioles player in my era. Yes, dare I say, even more important than Cal. More important than Mussina and Roberts and Markakis and Wieters. And more important than Manny.
You’re the most important because your arrival truly signaled the movement of change. Not just on the field, but in the clubhouse. Across our struggling city. We’d long looked for that Ray Lewis-caliber leader who could be, as you’ve come to hear a lot lately, the “face of the franchise.” The pulse of the fans. The outspoken voice of the team who would return it to the greatness we all remembered well and held onto through what felt like an eternity, clutching onto fond memories as if we’d lost a loved one. Whether you agree or not, it’s true, Adam. You are without question, the face of the Orioles. You are our fearless leader. You are our foundation for hope and pride and that brand of Magic that we sing about around these parts, still, after all these years.
When you went into the stands after winning the AL East and did the victory lap and smashed pies in the faces of fans — that was one of those amazing moments that will always set you apart in Orioles lore. To see you doing that in another city to another set of fans wearing another jersey would be like watching the ex-girlfriend that got away make out with her new boyfriend.
Because you are not just an Oriole — you are the Orioles. And we need you now, more than ever. We need you to lead the way in proving those conservative writers wrong yet again. We need you to rally the troops. We need you to fire up the city. We need you to be — you.
This season feels different. It feels do-or-die. We need our fearless leader.
And if Manny goes during or after this season, we will need you even more. To keep that pulse beating. To continue guiding this ship in another movement of change. To be the clubhouse leader who can inject life into an organization dealing with adversity.
I’ve read the stories, I’ve seen your interviews, and I know you’re open to leaving. I know the idea of free agency and writing the next chapter of your career yourself is exciting. I know you want to win. I know you want to wear the same ring that so many of your friends have. And I agree, you deserve that ring.
I will pray that happens for you here, as an Oriole, in 2018.
We need you this year especially. But we’ll need you after this year too — even if you shock all the writers and win it all this season. You’re the face of the franchise, the one who brought it out of baseball irrelevance. You’re a future Orioles Hall of Famer. You’re in the same breath as all the O’s greats we admire.
Sure, you could leave and go to another team. A team that may have a better shot by those same conservative writers you scoff at, right now, as this season is set to begin. But really, winning a ring is hard to do on any team, and the only thing you’re guaranteed if you leave is ending this incredible story you started writing 11 seasons ago.
We’ll still love you and respect you all the same, but at the very least, please keep us and your storied Baltimore legacy in mind whenever you make your decision.
In the meantime, the 2018 season is upon us. Despite the uneasiness, despite the frustration, we believe in beating the odds. We’ve seen it happen before. And to do it again, we the fans, need you more than ever, Adam.
Steve Fink is the Director of News Programming and Promotion for CBS Local. He is also a die-hard Orioles fan.