Friday, June 15, 2007

A Tale of One City

First and foremost, I would like to congratulate the San Antonio Spurs for winning the NBA Championship. More importantly, I would like to congratulate myself for predicting that the Spurs would win the NBA Championship over one month ago, when they were still hip-checking Steve Nash into the scorer's table. So yay for the Spurs and yay for me. Enough self-promotion, I've got the rest of my life for that. On to more pressing issues...

It's the worst of times, soon it will be the best of times. They're the worst of teams, soon to be replaced by the best of teams. We're the least feared city, soon to be the most feared city. In one short month, Baltimore will go from being a laughingstock of the sports world to a capitol of the sports world. How?

The season will change. Baseball will turn into football, and Baltimore will be defending a division championship rather than fighting to stay out of the cellar. Sure it will be with different teams, but the city will be viewed differently. Teams will fear coming to Baltimore, and fear when Baltimore comes to them. Inconsistent, erratic play will give way to lock-down, beat them up bruisings. The Sun sports section will have positive things to report on, all because one team dominates their sport, and the other is dominated by their sport. So how can Baltimore boast one of the best football teams, while also having to endure arguably the worst baseball team? Let us count the ways the Orioles and the Ravens differ.

First, the Orioles. The older child. Perennial losers. Situated in one of the most beautiful athletic venues in the history of the world, the Orioles are result of 14 years of shoddy ownership. With a penny pinching lawyer at the helm, the O's have fallen from grace and seemingly find a new rock bottom to land on every year. The Orioles lack fan support, and justifiably so. The owner is a jerk, the manager doesn't care, and the players don't try. Some would argue that the ticket prices are reasonable, but they have to be in order to retain the meager 20,000 fans that go to games (I'll be one of them tonight). Even at $6 student night prices, fans feel like they have over spent to see good talent play poorly as a unit.

Not only do O's fans not get enough bang for their buck, but they also cannot access the players they pay to see. O's players are generally cut off from the paying public, with maybe one or two players signing autographs before games. Other than that, Photo Day (always on a weekend, so as to not be giving fans access for bargain/ discount prices) is the only opportunity to really get a chance to meet and greet the players that break your heart on a nightly basis. So the Orioles are a collection of losers, owned by Satan himself, who lack fan support because they cut themselves off to the world, and are easily the laughingstock of the league. It's no wonder they are always out of it by July.

Then there's the Ravens. The prodigal son. Perennial powerhouses. Aptly situated in one of the most daunting venues in sports (there's friggin' gargoyles on the side!), the Ravens continue to thrive year in and year out because of their consistency throughout the organization. It starts at the top. The Ravens are owned by a savvy and smart businessman who built a billion dollar corporation out of his basement. The Ravens are owned by a go-getter who understands the fundamental business concept that you have to spend money to make money. As such, he signs and retains quality players, and does what he has to to keep them happy. As a result, the Ravens enjoy one of the most loyal and dedicated followings in all of football. Maybe because we are a city once burned by a beloved franchise, and we are afraid to lose another, but the Ravens are one of the few teams in the league that get to run their entire training camp in front of thousands of fans.

As a reward for the undying support of the fans, the Ravens keep the players accessible. Not only do the Ravens admit any and all to training camp (for free), they also outfit every player who comes off the field after a hot 3 hour practice with a sharpie, so that the fans may get a chance to be up close to their favorite Raven. To recap, the Ravens are a collection of winners, owned by a godsend, who enjoy the treatment of royalty in the city because they treat the city like a kingdom. The Ravens are a benchmark franchise for the entire NFL both on and off the field, and it's no wonder why come July, Baltimore's weary sports fans come crawling to the Ravens for help.

So now that we understand what each franchise is, we can try to figure out why the franchise is the way it is.

The Orioles are a gang of hapless losers because nobody on the team, from the owner to the bat boy, takes accountability for their own actions. Case in point: after last night's embarrassing loss that resulted in a sweep at the hands of the looooooowly Nationals, O's reliever Chad Bradford was asked to explain what happened that led to him giving up the game losing RBI. Bradford's response? "I don't know what to say. [Things] are just kind of going that way." No, they really aren't, Chad. You are making them go that way. If you want things to go your way, make them go your way. Pitch like your life depends on it. Don't let batters have a chance. Don't let teams have a chance. Take it upon yourself to go out and get a win, instead of sitting back and waiting for the win to come to you. That rings true for the rest of the team as well. The Orioles' website went so far as to say the "bats had an off night". To me, it looked like an on night. An off night is a 16 hit, 10 run night, not that miserable crap we always see. So, instead of saying "woe is us", go out and earn a win. For the prior 20 (!) games before last night's, the Orioles had led in every one, and were an embarrassing 10-10 in those games. For a team to lead every night, and only win half the time, is just sickening. And it's because nobody on the team takes responsibility for what is happening. If everybody were more accountable, and said after a loss "I didn't get the job done, I need to fix myself first", I might not be writing about how sad the O's are every week. Things are kind of just going that way? Only if you let it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Ravens are coming off a 13-3 campaign and a division championship because they all hold themselves and each other accountable for everything. Case in point: the defense. The Ravens' high risk/ high reward defense is founded on the principle that if all 11 men do their job, then the winning will take care of itself. The Ravens enjoy success because they do what they need to do to secure a win, instead of doing the bare minimum to put themselves in position for a win and letting fate decide the rest. The Ravens believe that everything that comes their way is earned, through practice, hard work, studying, and taking care of yourself. The Ravens held mini-camps the last few weeks where Pro Bowlers (Bart Scott in particular) were participating, even when league norms dictate otherwise. The Ravens are not naive enough to think that practice makes perfect. They know that perfect practice makes perfect (ironic source of the phrase), and as such, are willing to put in the time necessary to make every aspect perfect. And when one person lets down the rest, he's going to know it, and he's going to work that much harder to make sure it doesn't happen again. Earning wins is slowly becoming the "Raven's Way".

It's possible that the natures of the two games account for a vast majority of the differences in the teams. Obviously, the Orioles have to hold spring training in a warm weather climate, so practice isn't open to casual fans. But that doesn't mean the team needs to be so closed door and hush hush the rest of the year. And sure, losing one game of baseball is not as devastating as losing one game of football, but when the losses start piling up the way they do for the Orioles, it becomes a rather slippery slope. Consider this: baseball season is 162 games, football season is 16. That means roughly 10 baseball games equal one football game. At this point, the O's would be approximately 3-4, but fading as fast as they can. Using that logic, the O's have finished 6-10 or 7-9 every year for the last ten years. Just know that if the Ravens did that, they would probably be getting the same treatment from the fans. The catch is, the Ravens as an organization would never have let it get that bad. Here endeth the lesson.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After last nights replay (which I attended) I can only say one thing...GO RAVENS!!!!! and I agree the O's lack the will or the drive to win...who's fault is it?? You could point your finger at so many people..but it doesn't change the fact that they are losing and very frustrating to again I say...GO RAVENS!!