It took me a week. One week before I could watch the post-game interviews. One week before I could read the end-of-year reviews. One week before I could accept this reality: the 2012 Orioles' magic ended nine wins too soon.
A lot has been written and said about the Orioles magic this year. However, one thing that seems lost is the fact that 2011 (not 2012) was supposed to be the Year of the Oriole. The signings of Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee generated tremendous buzz. Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, and Chris Tillman seemed primed to take the next steps forward in their development. The addition of Mark Reynolds finally gave the O's a big power bat in a lineup already featuring the likes of Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters.
The O's started 2011 going 6-1 ... before losing eight in a row, 11 of their next 13, and so on. In the end, notwithstanding a strong September culminating in "Game 162" against the Red Sox, the 2011 season beat hope out of the collective conscience of the Orioles' fan base.
Accordingly, entering the 2012 season, the general thinking of the Orioles fan base was akin to the following: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 14 times, and I will do nothing but complain about every single offseason move, I will expect the worst from every single player on the roster, and I will renew my demands that the owner sells the team.
But I'll give the fans a pass for failing to appreciate the crafting of a contender that was happening right in front of them. What I really never understood was the media's extreme and persistent pessimism about Birdland baseball.
For the reasons stated above, in 2011, more than one "expert" predicted great things for the Orioles: winning season, wild card, etc., etc., etc. But, in 2012, the standard official mantra was that the Orioles were doomed: last place, team collapse, etc., etc., etc.
In reality, nothing adequately explained this vast difference. The Orioles lost exactly zero high ceiling or impact players coming into the 2012 season. (Yes, zero -- while I really did like Jeremy Guthrie, his ceiling in the AL East was not exactly what I would call "high".)
Furthermore, the 2012 Orioles had more players who had a legitimate shot to make significant contributions to the team. (Notable players added during the 2011-2012 offseason: Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Wei-Yin Chen, Wilson Betemit, Darren O'Day, Luis Ayala, Ryan Flaherty, and Taylor Teagarden.)
Add a little lightning in a bottle in the form of Miguel Gonzalez, Nate McLouth, and Lew Ford, the quick development of Manny Machado, and a few huge hits from unlikely sources, and you get the 2012 Orioles: a team that reached its potential in a manner which was remarkably entertaining to experience.
In other words, thanks to the efforts of both Andy MacPhail and Dan Duquette, the Orioles were built to win in 2012. The raw potential of the O's starting rotation was readily apparent, especially since it would be complemented by a bullpen that was light years ahead of any Orioles' bullpen of recent (and not so recent) years. There was legitimate power up and down the O's lineup. And, of course, the O's had Buck Showalter, a man whose resume of creating winning environments has few parallels in baseball history.
Now, obviously, although I thought the team would be good, even I could not have predicted a lot of what happened with the Orioles this year; I am simply not that smart. Instead, I erupted with excitement with every huge home run, especially when they were from guys like Steve Tolleson, Steve Pearce, and Omar Quintanilla.
I took great pleasure in watching the three-headed monster that I affectionately took to calling "Pedro O'Johnson" consistently close down games without breaking a sweat (of course, this was changed to "Brian O'Johnson" for the last month). Heck, I was downright giddy when Chris Davis struck out Adrian Gonzalez on a nasty splitter in the 17th inning in Fenway Park. And, with this type of stuff happening all season long, I expected my Birds to win Game 5. After all, how could they lose?
Well, they did. And, although it took me a week, I am finally okay with it. Because, despite the final outcome, the Orioles gave me a tremendous gift: one historically memorable and ridiculously fun season to be a fan. Go O's!