Monday, January 30, 2012

The Year of the Bird

Now that the Ravens have been literally ‘kicked’ out of the playoffs, it is only natural that Baltimore’s sports attention shifts to baseball, with pitchers and catchers due to report to Sarasota in less than three weeks.

I don’t know about you, but I get pretty jazzed up over the start of spring training every year. It is a time when baseball fans everywhere get to think big and dream the improbable. In Baltimore, where we have suffered 14 consecutive losing seasons, we wonder if our young arms can rebound from a mostly disastrous 2011. We wonder about new GM Dan Duquette. We wonder if this might just be the Year of our Birds.

After listening to Buck Showalter and Brady Anderson at an event at Sports Legends Museum the other night, and then again to Scott McGregor at a stop on the Hot Stove baseball banquet over the weekend, I have reason to believe it just may be.

Brady, who was recently appointed as a special assistant to Mr. Duquette, has been working this off-season with a handful of players on conditioning and strength. He says the exercise has gone well, especially with Brian Matusz, who never recovered from an early season injury lat year and wound up going 1-9 with a 10.69 ERA! Brady thinks things will be different for the young left-hander this season, and I trust Brady.

I trust our manager, too. Buck Showalter knows the game, knows his team, and on top of that is a full-fledged history buff. He is more than aware of the proud tradition of Baltimore Orioles baseball, and seems hell bent on restoring that tradition. At Legends, Buck told us that while Dan Duquette may not have any blockbuster moves under his belt thus far, he has created better depth throughout the system, while at the same time acquiring enough arms to create a legitimate competition for the five starting rotation spots.

Finally, there was something Scott McGregor said at the Oldtimers Baseball banquet on Sunday that, quite frankly, I had forgotten about. Scott recalled that at the end of last season, mid-way through September, to be exact, the Orioles competition pretty much was all contenders, and we won four series and tied one!

So if we could consistently beat New York, Boston, Tampa Bay, Detroit and California, powerhouses all, as they were all vying for playoff berths, then why can’t we carry that over into 2012! And as much as we wanted Prince Fielder or some other big-time slugger right in the middle of our every day, we all know that it is pitching, pitching, pitching that will make or break this year’s Orioles.

My guess…this will be the Year of the Bird!

See you out there!

Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is the executive director for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Painting the Town

We’ve painted the town purple.  We have Ravens caravans traveling the city.  The Marching Ravens Pep Band is playing the fight song.  Everyone is wearing purple.  The parties are planned.  We are ready for this weekend’s AFC Championship game.

Baltimore is definitely a football town.  We love our Ravens and support our team like no other city.  Is Boston flooded in blue light?  Is New York?  No.  We are loyal fans.  True, the Patriots’ fans are incredibly loyal.  So are the Giants’ fans.  But they don’t paint the town like we do.  Why?

I think that in cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco, even Pittsburgh, few people remember what it was like before football.  Their teams have always been there.  The first kick-off off the season is just assumed.  No one from these towns has experienced the emptiness of an autumn without the NFL. 

Marylanders know what it means to lose a team.  We know what it feels like to see a pro-football season open with no one to cheer for.  We know the empty feeling of being left out of the National Football League.

Football is an incredibly strong part of our community’s identity.  We are proud, we are loyal because we remember.  We are also grateful.  Grateful that we have a strong team.  Grateful that we have icons like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to call our own.  Grateful that on any given Sunday from August to January we have someone to cheer for.  Ravens are OUR team.

Go Ravens!

To see Purple Pride photos from around the community, check out this page on the Raven's Official Website:

Shawn Herne is the Chief Curator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Baltimore and NFL Playoff Games

30,000 Colts Fans at Friendship Airport (now BWI), welcoming the team home
after a championship victory in 1958

With our city totally juiced over this Sunday’s home playoff game, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at hour Baltimore teams have faired in NFL post-season play.  Let’s start with this fact: 2011 marks the 47th year that Charm City has been in the NFL. The Colts tenure ran 31 seasons, from 1953-1983. The Ravens’ franchise, which kicked off in 1996, is now completing year number 16.

And of those 47 campaigns, you ask, how many merited post-season play? The answer: 18. Baltimore’s Colts went to the playoffs ten times: 1958, 1959, 1964, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1975, 1976 and 1977. For our Ravens, Sunday’s divisional game marks the eighth year the purple and black have made it to the playoffs: 2000, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 and this year.

Over the span of those 18 years Baltimore teams have played 28 games so far, winning 15 and losing 13. Among those wins, they have chalked up five league championships and two Lombardi Trophies.

Brian Billick’s squads went post-season four years and compiled a 5-3 playoff mark. John Harbaugh teams are now appearing in their fourth post-season, too, and are currently 4-3 in the playoffs. Don Shula and Ted Marchibroda each took three Colts’ teams to the post-season, with Weeb Ewbank and Don McCaffrey going twice.

With Sunday’s home game, Baltimore will have hosted 10 playoff games and been the visiting team 16 times. Three Super Bowl appearances were played at neutral sites.

But regardless of the team, coach, year or location, the one constant has been what playoff football means to the community. When the Colts won their first championship in 1958, 30,000 fans flooded Friendship Airport (now BWI-Thurgood Marshall) to welcome back the team from New York. Today, thousands of fans have flocked to enemy cities to root on their post-season Ravens.

And each and every citizen, football fans or not, seems to have a noticeable extra zip in their step. Playoff football does that…always has.

I say Ravens 24, Houston 6. Hope I’m right, because then we get to zip-zip-zip all over again next week!

See you out there,

Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is the executive director for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Show Some Respect

I took a friend of mine to the Ravens’ Christmas Eve game against the Browns.  It was the first time in thirty years that he had attended a professional football game.  He was very impressed with the Ravens’ pre-game festivities and the level of passion shown by the Baltimore fans.  He was surprised, however, by the lukewarm reception given our quarterback during the player introductions.  He was right.  The crowd’s enthusiasm for Joe Flacco was just mediocre.  There was definitely a roar for other players.  Why not for Joe? 

Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs are institutions in this town.  For years they have been the face of the Baltimore Ravens and they have earned every second of respect and recognition they receive.  But even Ray Rice and Torrey Smith receive warmer welcomes than old Joe.  Has he not delivered?  Has he not surpassed all the previous Ravens’ QB records?  Hasn’t he led the Ravens to the playoffs every year since his debut?    

So what’s the problem?  Joe, in many ways, is the Pete Sampras of football.  He regularly gets the job done but otherwise is happy to keep his profile under the radar.  He doesn’t have a flashy intro dance like Ray Lewis.  He doesn’t have a trademark wrestler move like Aaron Rodgers.  He doesn’t scream and yell at the officials.  He doesn’t lash out at the media.  He doesn’t hang out with runway models or party with the Hollywood crowd.  He just quietly goes about his business.  He’s kind of boring.

Perhaps that’s the problem.  Joe is the victim of his own creation.  He doesn’t have a swagger.  He doesn’t talk trash.  He really doesn’t promote himself.  Facial hair aside, he’s just a regular guy.  Unitas didn’t talk trash, but he certainly walked with a swagger.  His cool demeanor came across as confidence.  He didn’t lead like a quarterback, he led like a general.

Baltimore likes drama…a little theatrics both on and off the field grab headlines.  We like fire and passion.  We like a little trash talk that is backed up on the field.  It is why we love Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.  They are fiery and passionate.  Joe’s a little too sedate…more like a librarian than a professional athlete. 

I think for Joe to rise to the level of respect of some of his teammates he is going to have to open up.  He needs to show some fire.  He needs to show confidence.  He needs to show the crowd that he has as much passion as we do.  He needs a swagger.  Perhaps then the crowd will go wild when he walks out of the tunnel.

Shawn Herne is the Chief Curator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.