MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

The Baltimore Orioles are 88-51 with 23 games to go and stand in first place of the American League East. For the Orioles fan, life is good, but it sure ain’t easy.

This winning thing is everything it’s cracked up to be and, in Baltimore, it has a chance to be even better in the years to come; for in trying to explain to a Los Angeles reporter the other night how the Orioles manage to win most of their games, manager Brandon Hyde simply said, “We have really, really talented young players … We’ve got more guys coming, too.”

But let’s not put the cart in front of the horse. The way the Orioles are playing this season and the success they’re realizing is a lot of fun and should be enjoyed in the moment given the ownership situation is what it is. But when you have a creative and resourceful team such as the Tampa Bay Rays, an outstanding team and front office, right on your tail in second place, you find yourself not quite enjoying that peaceful, easy feeling you imagined during the four to five years of the ground-up rebuild.

When your favorite baseball team is in the midst of a stated rebuild, while you certainly don’t care for the circumstances that necessitated it, you do understand it and are grateful the front office is finally smart enough to stop throwing good money after bad. All of which makes some of the losing bearable and watching the games anything but stressful.

The first couple years of the rebuild when a friend of mine would say he likes this guy or that guy, I would remind him, “Don’t get too attached.” And one day, it seemed, most of those guys were gone, and suddenly there was Adley Rutschman, Gunner Henderson, Felix Bautista, Jordan Westburg and vastly underrated Ramon Urias et al joining Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays, talented young players who weathered the rebuild.

Suddenly, the Orioles won 83 games and just missed making the playoffs. Even more suddenly, they are in first place with the best record in the American League and on pace to win 102 games.

Thus, there is more stress in the room these days, when there really shouldn’t be, and particularly during late-night games from the West Coast when things are tight and we know that Tampa has already won, we find ourselves feeling like Nixon walking around the quiet house talking to the pictures on the wall during breaks in the action.

But the devoted fan of a baseball team would have it no other way. Last year the Orioles were fun. This year the Orioles are just good. Very good.

My mother turned me on to baseball and the Orioles, and by age six my brain was beginning to grasp the concept of the baseball season; and, good for me, as in the first six seasons I remember, the Orioles won 100 or more games three times, the first nine American League playoff games ever played and played in four World Series, winning two of them.

Cal Ripken Jr.’s father turned him on to baseball and the Orioles, and in his rookie year with the club the Birds took the Brewers to the final day of the season for the AL East. The following year, 1983, they won the World Series.

“Growing up an Orioles fan and then after my first two years,” he said, “I was like, ‘Well, this is just the way it is. It’s going to be this way every year. This is the way it’s supposed to be.’”

It was the way it was supposed to be, but it wasn’t the way it was. After 1985, the Orioles would have just six winning seasons for the rest of Ripken’s career, and wouldn’t have another winning season for 11 more years when the Buck Showalter era produced five straight.

So pardon us Orioles fans for walking around the house to talk to pictures on the wall.

But it is so much fun, and the winning baseball these Orioles play is exhilarating. As Hyde says, the players are just so good and talented. They don’t panic, they’re never out of a game, they hit, they play defense and they protect every one of their 27 outs as though they were the Crown Jewels.

The pitching is good, but is there enough? Hello, Jack Flaherty …

What is more impressive, particularly for a young team, is the composure. Nothing rattles these guys and whenever they are questioned about the Rays continuing to win, to a man they say they are concerned about the Orioles and winning tomorrow’s game.

Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs? You kidding me?

George S. Patton Jr. believed in reincarnation and that all glory is fleeting.

The Orioles believe in the next day’s starting pitcher.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT