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Orioles' season tests faith of kids

Matt Purdy

It’s usually around the age of 12, when a young person’s thoughts turn away from unimportant stuff like math and significant others and towards more significant things, like love of baseball.

In recent weeks, the local newspaper has carried equally passionate, though diametrically opposed missives from 12-year-olds over the same topic, the Orioles.

First up was a letter from Jimmy Flynn of Ferndale, in which he declares his disappointment with the club as presently constituted.

That was followed a week later by an equally impassioned note from Scott Kelley of Monrovia in Frederick County, pledging his eternal devotion to the black and orange.

The truth is probably somewhere between Scott and Jimmy, though, for the moment, Jimmy’s view is the more popular one around Charm City.

The 2021 season is in the books and the Birds completed another 100-loss campaign, the third in the last four years.

And the fans noticed. Even if you grant that folks were slowly returning after being kept away last year because of COVID, the Oriole faithful was not. And understandably so.

This year’s attendance of 793,229 was 26th among the 30 Major League teams. The Orioles were one of only six teams that failed to draw at least 1 million fans for the season and their average attendance of 9,793 was three thousand per game lower than that of Arizona, who lost more games than Baltimore in 2021.

In addition, the attendance number is by far the worst in the 29-year history of Oriole Park and the fourth-lowest in the 67-year history of the franchise. Not since 1965 has the team failed to draw at least 800-thousand fans.

To be sure, Orioles fans have endured long fallow periods without success or even a hint that success was coming. From 1998 to 2011, the Birds not only didn’t have a winning season, they lost 90 games nine times.

But this current run of futility feels much different than that time for two reasons.

There’s a feeling of haplessness that permeates this franchise. Simply put, this team struggles to be mediocre.

There are individual signs of progress. Center fielder Cedric Mullins and rookie Ryan Mountcastle each put up numbers that could win them baseball-wide awards. And Trey Mancini’s continued return from cancer is inspiring.

But, on far too many nights, the Orioles are overmatched, falling hopelessly behind and looking more like their farm clubs in Norfolk and Bowie than what a Baltimore team should.

Which brings us to the second problem. General manager Mike Elias, who was a part of the Houston Astros rebirth, continues to ask fans to be patient with the Orioles’ rebuilding process, gambling that the homegrown talent they’ve accumulated in the minors will eventually pay off.

Elias essentially declared the Birds out of any meaningful free agent acquisitions in the offseason. Which means that unless some minor league talent bubbles up and improves, 2022 will likely look a lot like 2021.

Twelve years old is awfully early in life to learn that love and baseball aren’t always easy. Here’s hoping, for their sakes, that Scott Kelley and Jimmy Flynn get some baseball joy before middle age regret and bitterness set in. Not that I know anything about that, mind you.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.