"Captain, I sense malice. I think we can expect some chin music on the next pitch."
I am the sports fan equivalent of an ex-pat. Even worse, I have spent most of my adult life in enemy territory. Living in northwest Vermont, most people's sports allegiances reside in either Boston or New York, homes to many of the most hated teams for a kid growing up in the Maryland suburbs. I don't get to watch my long-suffering Orioles on television very often but several times a summer, they do take on the Boston Red Sox and NESN provides.
This weekend, the two teams are playing in Baltimore. I tend not to watch the entire game as my wife has limited interest and all things being equal, I'd rather watch something we both like. But I do catch snippets here and there, enough to match faces to the names I see in the box scores.
Not that watching the Orioles is much fun these days, anyway. The main suspense is seeing whether or not their starting pitcher will make it through the first six innings - he usually doesn't. The team last won the World Series 26 years ago. I was 10. From the time the team had first moved to Baltimore until that moment, they had been one of the most successful franchises in the major leagues. Both pitchers and hitters had spent Hall of Fame careers there. They were a well-run organization - the sort of team which engendered the loyalty of good players. No one could have known on that glorious day what would come next. In the years since they have, far more often than not, been absolutely horrible. Cal Ripken, Jr. was wonderful, of course. The man could run for governor and probably win unopposed. But otherwise, there's been little to cheer.
The Orioles' deficiency this year has been starting pitching. It's a bad sign when the ace of your staff leads the majors in home runs allowed. A ridiculous number of pitchers have made their first major league start with the Orioles this year and while there does seem to be young talent in the organization, current ownership is not known for its patience. I'd love to see them invest in player development so they could be respectable again in a few years but recent history has not tended that way.
They lost last night's game 3-1. Guthrie, the starter, fell one out short of six innings.
"I sense that he's hiding something, Captain. I think the ump should check his sleeves for an emery board."
On a brighter note, if you've never heard Dennis Eckersley do color commentary, don't pass on the opportunity. Those who watch NESN regularly know that it's not his usual role. Most nights, he's sitting at a table in the studio doing the postmortem with fellow Hall of Famer Jim Rice. He really should be doing color more often for the simple reason that the man is freakishly good at calling pitches. I listened to him through one long at-bat with Clay Buchholz on the mound. Eckersley called every single pitch exactly right. He was getting pitch and location, usually before the sign went down. I've seen other commentators try to call pitches but they're nearly always wrong. I've never seen any of them go through a batter the way Eck did. One could easily imagine that, body willing, he could have gone down and pitched the game himself. I almost never feel that way about the color guy.
That's gotta be a marketable skill! Maybe he's perfectly happy doing what he's doing but I can think of a certain Baltimore team in particular which could do with his consulting services. They have a very young staff with a lot to learn about how to make it through a major league game one batter at a time. I think they should give him a call. The man is a savant. Plus, he has a man crush on right fielder Nick Markakis so there's an added bonus for him.