|June 2009: Losing Is Not OK; Where's The Beef?|
The mental snapshot of Mrs. Burgeon on that peewee soccer field sideline is still crystal clear. Her 1980s bleach-blonde teased bangs and curled hair looked part Dee Snider, part Brett Michaels.
Her hairspray-doused mane took on a particularly intimidating appearance as it flapped up and down while she shuffled frantically along the Middletown Municipal Park soccer fields. With arms flailing, she would scream anything and everything at anyone.
The referees heard her complaints. The opposing team's parents heard her complaints. Worst of all, her son Jimmy wanted to crawl under a rock at the sight of her exaggerated fist pumps and over-the-top cheers.
This was 5-year-old peewee soccer for crying out loud.
One day I asked my dad why Mrs. Burgeon "acted like that."
"Remember, I told you winning isn't everything?" he said. "Well, in the Burgeons' house, it is the only thing."
As a 5-year-old, I got in trouble for a lot of things, but losing was never one of them. At that age, losing was okay.
Those youth soccer memories came back to me on a recent flight back from Oakland after the Orioles were swept by the Athletics. I thought about how much my perspective has changed since childhood now that I work in the world of professional sports.
Now, losing is not okay -- not at this level.
Fans know that. Everybody on the plane knew that. But what was bothersome was nobody said that in the Orioles' clubhouse after the game.
After performing the MASN post-game interviews, I was mulling over the players' responses to my questions. Things like: "We had good at-bats," "There's no need to panic," and "You have to tip your hat to the other pitcher."
What? Maybe they were trying to underplay how they really felt. Maybe they were just anxious to get my microphone out of their faces. Maybe they were just speaking in clichés rather than speaking the truth.
Regardless, never once did anyone say: "This stinks," "Losing is unacceptable," or "What happened on this road trip is not OK."
But that's what fans want to hear. Fans want to know the players refuse to slip into the mentality that losing is okay. There are no consolation prizes in baseball.
In the midst of the Orioles' five-game losing streak, one had to wonder why more wasn't heard from the players. I know the players were sick of losing; many were livid. So why didn't they use anger to motivate one another?
Could the problem be that there are good players on the O's roster this year, but none who are vocal or feel comfortable being the leader?
It's very possible. There are some guys who just aren't vocal; it's not their personality. That's okay, but you have to wonder if a team can truly be competitive without those "in your face" personalities.
Somebody has got to light the fire, right?
O's fans should have been relieved to see Aubrey Huff go bonkers in the dugout after Matt Holliday robbed him of a base hit June 6 in Oakland. It was the first sign of emotion we had seen or heard from anybody. It showed everyone Huff is a competitor and losing is not OK with him.
It's the antithesis of what we learn as children but when it comes to professional sports, Mrs. Burgeon had it right.
No player wants to lose, but in a 162-game baseball season, it's easy to find players riding out losing streaks because they see the season as long and cyclical. There's always the hope that things will turn around.
Sometimes though, urgency is more valuable than patience. Desperation can be a great motivator. The normalcy of losing can become dangerous.
Everyone understands the Orioles have lost for 11 straight seasons and the players with the longest tenure have never experienced winning in Baltimore. At some point, there has to be a fierce refusal to tolerate losing.
There should be no such thing as rebuilding periods or waiting for winning times ahead. The current Orioles are too talented to lose two out of three to the Mariners and be swept by the Oakland A's. Both teams sit at the bottom of the American League West.
There isn't a player on the Orioles roster who won't agree with that.
Issue 138: June 2009