“Why did you think this was a good idea?” I thought to myself when I awoke to my alarm at the ungodly hour of 5:36 a.m. Sunday. I sat on the side of my bed and thought about how nice it would be to go back to sleep. After a minute I came to my senses, I stood up, put on my Matt Wieters jersey and headed to my car.
In 1997, when I was in first grade, my birthday present was Baltimore Orioles playoff tickets. Since then, the franchise has suffered through the second-longest streak of losing seasons in North American professional sports. So in early September, when the playoffs were a distinct possibility for the O’s, I called my mom and told her there was only one present I wanted for my birthday: playoff tickets.
Through a series of fortunate events, the Orioles would be hosting Game 1 on a Sunday, the only day I could travel to the game without missing a single school commitment. I stood at my upper deck seat with three friends, each of whom I have known virtually my entire life, at 5:30 p.m., ready for the game to begin. And then it started to rain, and it rained and it rained. One of my friends, who was dumb enough to wear shorts to the game, wondered aloud how long we were planning on waiting for the game to start.
“I heard it’s supposed to clear up by 10,” I said. End of discussion.
The grounds crew received a standing ovation when they finally ran on the field to remove the tarp. After years of watching packed stadiums with delirious fans waving those giveaway towels on TV, we were finally here waving bright orange towels of our own and screaming at the top of our lungs.
The crowd had an edge to it as if 15 years of frustration were let out at once. We were playing the Yankees, after all — the team that dominated the Orioles for the past decade, their fans pouring into our stadium always acting as arrogant as possible. Finally the crowd was indisputably orange, and “Yankees Suck!” chants were second only to “Let’s! Go! O’s!”
The Yankees scored one run in the first inning, the O’s responded with two in the third, then the Yankees tied it up in the fourth. Then the two defenses put up zero after zero on the scoreboard, the tension rising with each passing inning. I have never been more nervous at a sporting event in my entire life than when Orioles reliever Darren O’Day managed to escape a jam with runners at first and second and no outs in the seventh inning.
Finally, in the top of the ninth, our good luck ran out. The Orioles All-Star closer Jim Johnson entered the game and proceeded to give up a leadoff home run. Then the wheels came off, and the Yankees put four more runs on the board, effectively ending the game. Two of my friends had seen enough and went out onto the concourse for the bottom of the ninth. As I glumly sat in my seat watching the final three outs, next to the kid I grew up two doors down from and whom I played baseball and home-run derby with, I came to a realization: Despite the 12 hours of driving in two days and the loss, this was the best birthday present I’ve ever had.