Sportswriting, and all forms of narrative or editorial for that matter, exists because of conflict. Whether dire or trivial, the reason we have anything to talk about is because we have challenges and uncertainty at every turn of a given season. I believe it’s a misconception that our culture is overly critical or that there’s some sort of initiative of “gotcha” journalism that hasn’t existed before. How do you think that rumor about Catherine the Great and her horse got started? Today, we just have more avenues to consume the criticism and highlight the conflict.
As dopey as it seems, I get tired of this paradigm from time to time. Even as a semi-professional sports complainer, sometimes I feel like everyone is overlooking what a great time it is not only to be a sports fan, but to live in Baltimore and love sports. It goes without saying that there are real things in life to be thankful for, sure, but we don’t write about them here. Take a moment and lose the cynicism, and think about what you love about being a Baltimore sports fan. Here’s my list.
On a given weekend, I can drive within an hour and see three of the greatest players to ever play their respective positions in their sports. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Alex Ovechkin are generational talents. The will be remembered and lauded well beyond their playing careers and well outside of their respective area codes. What’s more, they’ve played their entire careers in the Baltimore/D.C. area and given their curent contracts, they will retire locally as well. After their careers are over, I know I will regret the times when I took having these athletes in my daily life for granted. Regardless of age, injury, or ebbs in performance, all three are special talents that any team in their sport wish they had.
Getting off the couch and actually going to a game is a tougher and tougher sell for me. If I do though, I relish the fact that I don’t live in a market with cavernous 1970s coliseums and dingy ballparks. You can’t talk about ballpark aesthetics without mentioning Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which will celebrate its 20th season this upcoming year. When I meet a baseball fan from out of town, this is one of the first things they bring up to me, either relating a story of their visit to Camden Yards or musing on how they’d like to visit it some day. Having a familiar and beautiful place to watch a game is something to hang our hats on, considering that the on-field product hasn’t been worthy of much more than a patch of dirt in over a decade. M&T Bank may not be the JerryDome, but it’s a great clean place to watch an NFL game. It’s a huge facility while feeling intimate, and it’s modern-looking without being an eyesore. Also worth being thankful for is the University of Maryland’s Comcast Center and Nationals Park.
Having An NFL Team, Period
For all of my childhood and most of my adolescence, I was more or less obsessed with the NFL. This is a pretty impressive feat considering Baltimore did not have a team. I’m thankful that if and when I have kids, they’ll have the opportunity (or be forced) to be a Ravens fan essentially from birth. Some things you can’t force, and while I love the Ravens and support them entirely over other NFL teams, I’ll never truly be able to irrationally support them. Something was missed in those formative years when I was drawing sketches of Jim Kelly and collecting Refrigerator Perry trading cards. I wish I had the connection with the Ravens that I do with the Orioles and Capitals, who I’ve been following since before I could ride a bike. Now, I’m thankful just to have a franchise, given that there are eight cities in the United States larger than Baltimore that don’t have NFL teams.
As terrible as the people on the Internet can be, I’m truly not sure how I consumed sports before it. Growing up, we had a half hour sports show on the Sunday night news, and three or four pages in the sports section of the Sun every day. If you were lucky, you could figure out when “This Week in Baseball” was on T.V. The culmination of those entities was a set of limited facts, stats, and opinions from the same four dudes. Now, to a fault, literally everyone has an opinion or something to share. Don’t get me wrong, they’re mostly crap, but there is no better way for a fan base and the team and those who cover the team to connect. It’s a weird climate, where everyone is an expert, and therefore nobody is an expert. It allows this site to exist. It’s allowed me to meet like-minded people and people I hope to never see in a dark alley. It’s a strange, wonderful place that you could spend 24 hours a day reading about Baltimore sports alone and still not get t the end of it all. Taking the good with the bad, I still would choose the world with the web versus one without it.
Is there nothing more obnoxious than Boston sports right now? Or New York sports in the 2000s? Can you imagine how empty those Boston fans feel now they they’ve won essentially everything possible in a single generation? We don’t have to feel that. We still have something to be hungry for. Actually, we have plenty to be hungry for, which is a great thing. The Ravens have been too good for too long not to get another title shot before the Ray Lewis era is over. The Orioles, Redskins and D.C. United have too rich a tradition not to get back to the top eventually. The Capitals have come too close too many years in a row not to have you salivating for another shot at the Cup after the brief hope in 1998. The Terps football and basketball programs are rebuilding from square one, fighting their way from the bottom up in the aristocracy of big time college-sports. There is no resting on laurels for any of our local teams or it’s fans. We have something to be hungry for. We have reasons for hope and cautious optimism. We look forward rather than back. If you love as many of the area teams as I do, you have lots of irons in the fire. The future isn’t guaranteed to be great or even good. But we have hope.
I’m thankful for everything on this list and so much more. I’m thankful for watching sports in HD from a safe and happy house. I’m thankful I got to grow up in Maryland and have so many great built-in allegiances. And, of course, I’m thankful to share them with you.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com