Several large groups of Visigoths have made camp just beyond the walls of Camden Yards, encircling the Baltimore ballpark.
The MLB trade deadline is coming and they are here to pillage. The raiders have arrived.
Their demands fill the air: “Give up your talented players now and get something in return or get nothing later. Give us Manny Machado.”
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
The Orioles drafted Machado when he was 17. He was going to be the redeemer of a franchise that was mired in a decade run of irrelevance that nearly destroyed a generation of fans. At the time of his rookie season two summers later, he was the franchise’s first young infield talent in 30 years. The first since Cal Ripken Jr.
Before Machado’s debut in 2012, fans were told a new day had arrived in Baltimore: The organization honored past heroes with statues beyond the wall in centerfield, brought back the cartoon bird logo, and fielded a competent team led by a manager determined to win. Machado’s call-up that August helped end Baltimore’s 14-year playoff drought and resurrected a dormant fanbase.
His career success in Baltimore would represent a return to a once glorious past. Memories of years of irrelevance would fade as a new generation would fall in love with the team. This was the return of “The Oriole Way.”
Fans in Baltimore had hope. The hope lasted for five seasons. There were playoff appearances and joy, but that second era of “The Oriole Way” has ended.
Returned have the Visigoths for another mid-summer raid of our talent, our valuable assets, and our hope, all of which the organization failed to protect.
And rather than resist the vandals, the organization welcomes them and entertains their propositions. How Baltimore fans would love for the man at the gate to tell the raiders: “This is the castle of my master Guy de Lombard. And I blow my nose at you. Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time.”
Instead, the Bottom Line Watchers who run the Orioles will let the raiders take whomever they please. They will then sell the fans of Baltimore a different vision: Lottery tickets received from the Visigoths.
These scratchers promise hope in the unseen, untested, and unproven youth that may — given the right circumstances — mature into something better than what was had before.
But the fans can only get their reward if — and only if — they suffer the indignity of letting their most hated rivals from New York and Boston and elsewhere enter the gates for an annual yard sale to strip the meat from the carcass of what was the Baltimore Orioles, hauling away any player who brought the fans fleeting moments of joy.
The plan states that with talent gone and scratchers in hand fans must accept three years of struggle, at least. Four or five years is possible, too. The Bottom Line Watchers ask for patience as they keep monetary investment in talented resources low so the club can continue to accumulate more scratchers in the form of high draft picks after losing seasons. This is the only way a small market team in their financial situation can return to success, they say.
So, the fans struggle and face long stretches of humiliation, zapping any sense of community. The fans must pray for three cherries in a row on each card and maybe they can get another 17-year-old Manny Machado. This time without a 30-year interval.
Why should a fanbase believe that the Bottom Line Watchers have their best interests at heart?
“Our Clubs are committed to putting a winning product on the field for their fans,’’ MLB said in a statement earlier this year. “Owners own teams for one reason: they want to win. In Baseball, it has always been true that Clubs go through cyclical, multi-year strategies directed at winning.”
Glory may come from this multiyear strategy of struggle, but the league’s belief that the desire to win is a shared by the Bottom Line Watcher, who must protect his profits, is obviously not true. It is naive to think that the people who continually mandate years of noble struggle suffer like fans.
At least the Visigoths, the vandals at the gates who sack Baltimore, are honest when they say on their way out, “See you again soon.”
It is not the loss of hope, that crashing feeling of having loved and lost that stings Baltimore fans most. It is the return of utter hopelessness that kills.
After the Visigoths take everything of value, what is the purpose of supporting an organization that unfailingly lets them in the door?
Ben Krimmel is a Baltimore-born writer and editor. www.benkrimmel.com