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April 2009: Three For The Early Show

The new baseball season is still in its infancy, but the first home series led me to ponder three questions.

Question 1: Was Opening Day's Teixeira-gate the most passionate Orioles fans have ever been at Camden Yards?

As wild as it was for Mark Teixeira's "homecoming," the nights Cal Ripken Jr. tied and then broke Lou Gehrig's longevity record in 1995 (yes, it's been nearly 14 years) is probably the most passionate O's fans have been at Camden Yards.

Another event that got fans' passion raging was Cito Gaston's snub of Mike Mussina in the 1993 All-Star Game. Recall, Gaston had Mussina warm up and then never got him into the game. It was similar to Teixeira-gate in that Gaston was showing a level of disrespect for us and our hero in our house.

It may seem like another lifetime ago, but plenty of passion could be found in 1996 and '97, when the Orioles fielded squads with real chances to win the World Series.

So, while Teixeira didn't rile up the most passion ever at Camden Yards, he may have helped jumpstart a bored fan base. After 11 losing seasons of uninteresting baseball, Teixeira's decision to turn his back on his hometown team could be the kindling for a new wildfire of Orioles passion.

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Question 2: Does this outbreak by O's fans say something about Baltimore's inability to grow out of its inferiority complex?

The answer to this question is a resounding YES.

For years, Baltimore was viewed as a small town that was just a stop between Washington and New York (with Philadelphia thrown in for good measure). Charm City was mostly renowned for being the home of Blaze Starr, The Block and steamed crabs.

That began to change with the Colts' NFL championships in 1958 and '59. That sense of identity, while not as passionately celebrated, was enhanced by the Orioles' great run from 1966 to '83. However, the inferiority complex is part of Baltimore's DNA, and it seems fitting the world of sports is where folks celebrate their smallness with as much gusto as they can muster for anything.

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Question 3: Do Baltimore sports fans enjoy hating a good villain more than loving one of their heroes?

If you ask Baltimoreans who engenders more passion than anyone else among sports figures, the three names that would probably roll off tongues are still Johnny Unitas, Brooks Robinson and Ripken. But, there are plenty of names that bring up a different kind of passion in local fans.

The late Robert Irsay is despised, as is the late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. Paul Tagliabue's name is forever dirt in these parts for his treatment of Baltimore in NFL expansion, when he suggested we build a museum with the dollars earmarked to return pro football back to its rightful place.

The aforementioned Gaston is still reviled around these parts, as is former Orioles ace Mussina. Let's not leave out Reggie Jackson, who only stayed one season in Baltimore, or Yankees skipper Joe Girardi, who in 2007 remained unemployed in hope of becoming the Yankees manager rather than throw in his lot with the lowly O's.

And who can forget Terrell Owens, who, when traded to the Ravens by the 49ers, announced he wouldn't come to Baltimore and forced a trade to Philadelphia?

One of this city's all-time sports villains has to be John Elway. His adamant stance that he would play baseball rather than play under Irsay and coach Frank Kush led to his trade to Denver -- and later the relocation of the Colts' franchise.

Still, Baltimore fans love their heroes more than they despise their villains. It's just that when a fan base goes 13 years with a broken heart over the Colts, then more than a decade cheering for flightless Birds, it can look the other way around.

Let's come back to this part of the discussion after Ed Reed plays a few more All-Pro seasons, Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters lead a new breed of Orioles to a World Series. If those eventualities come to pass, Baltimore fans will embrace their new heroes with all the passion they can muster.

Issue 136: April 2009