O's not unlike champion Red Sox of years past
As a lifelong Massachusetts resident and a Red Sox fan since I was young, I've been lucky to witness a lot of history and be a part of some tumultuous years of baseball in a big market. I've seen everything from "Manny being Manny," to watching Nomar Garciaparra, one of the most beloved players in Red Sox history, traded away in order to set the team up for its first championship in 86 years.
In baseball, as in life, nothing lasts forever and a team's reign can only last so long before it must rest and recharge. A decade of excellence and teams that helped cleanse a mentally anguished franchise spoiled New Englanders and made fans expect things that eventually caused the team to burn out.
So what was it that made the Red Sox the hottest ticket in town for all those years? What was it that helped bring World Series championships to Boston in 2004 and 2007? What made those teams in the mid-2000s fun to watch? Chemistry and heart, which bred winning.
The Red Sox teams from 2004-07 were comprised of fun-loving role players who had to work together in order to achieve success. Players like Kevin Millar, Gabe Kapler, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek kept the clubhouse loose while leading on the field with their "anything for the team" attitude.
Guided by manager Terry Francona those teams could never be counted out of a ballgame and exceeded expectations. As winning became regular, the team transitioned from budget-friendly role players to dishing out large contracts for high-maintenance talent.
The egos that came with those contracts made the team a group of individuals, rather than a group that played for one another. This led to the largely publicized fall from grace the franchise has been trying to quickly put behind it. Thanks in part to the hiring of manager John Farrell, that attitude and cohesion seems to have started to come back in 2013. While attendance and fan support has fallen off slightly, it is sure to pick up again as fans rally behind the new team.
A few years ago, about the same time the shift in power started in the AL East, I met a girl who changed my world in so many ways. She is a Maryland native, born and raised, and a diehard Orioles fan and with her help, I've gotten hooked on Orioles baseball (something my family won't let me live down).
I started watching the Orioles more in depth in 2010 when they brought Buck Showalter in as the new manager. I've never seen a team so excited about a managerial signing. You can see just as many Showalter shirts around the park as any Orioles player. Buck brought with him an air of confidence and a regimented program that made Baltimore believe in itself again. He seemed to represent the hope fans were looking for.
It hasn't been a 180-degree flip, but the team's progressing every year. The renaissance that is taking place in Baltimore has been fun to watch. Those lucky enough to catch a game at Camden Yards over the past few years have seen a team filled with hungry and likeable players who give their all each night -- similar to the Red Sox teams of old.
Years of sub-.500 records and low attendance seem to be in the rearview mirror. Smart Draft selections coupled with a great core of players and a strong leader have given the team enough strength from within to start seriously competing again without the big-budget players. The Orioles never seem out of it, and last year only solidified that with their fight for their first postseason berth since 1997.
High-priced teams filled with All-Stars and MVPs can produce great things, but it doesn't always translate on the field. It takes a mix of talent, good personality and strong leadership.
If you compare the 2004-07 Red Sox to the 2012-13 Orioles, you see some key similarities in the way the club is structured, the energy on the field and the support in the stands. While Boston is currently trying to climb out of their downturn and start rebuilding, Baltimore seems to be on the cusp of some great years. Whether that can translate into the type of success the Red Sox have seen in the last decade is yet to be determined, but watch out, because the Birds are back and shouldn't be overlooked by any club.