The Outsider

The birds are back in the yard, just as I predicted. For the Outsider, it’s been mostly Blue Jays, but luckily for the fans flocking back to the yards of Camden it’s been a bird of a different feather. The defending AL East champion Orioles are back. It’s got a ring to it, doesn’t it? The return of baseball is a harbinger of spring as much as the real birds we’ve seen traversing our skies. And that brings on another thing sure to be heard if you haven’t already: Predictions!

Ah, yes! Predictions are as much a part of Opening Day as the smell of the thawed earth and green turf. Prediction is the crazy and often more fun cousin of betting. No consequences! They are the icing on the cake or the Red Bull in your Jägermeister, depending on how your team is doing. They add a layer of anticipation that enhances victory or takes the sting out of the loss. They reflect our hopes and fears. Like a litmus test of perspective, predictions often reveal how full or empty your glass is.

When I worked in Baltimore, the season would begin with the office picking the mother of all predictions: How many wins? At the time, the team was mired in losing. The brave soul who threw out the first 80-plus number took a good amount of ribbing. Die-hard O’s fans with sour faces would half-heartedly offer up a more realistic number closer to the genesis years of the Orioles way: something in the mid-sixties. It provided something to be interested in after the ‘Why not us’ of spring had withered to ‘will it ever be us again.’

Now the Orioles aren’t rebuilding, but instead building on success. This latest version of Birds has a steady skipper and some seeds planted in those woeful years have blossomed into legit stars. Adam Jones (CF 10!) has become an All-Star. Chris Tillman matured into a winning Opening Day starter. I’m sure you’re thumping your chest if you predicted that one! People now know how to pronounce Matusz. Wieters, Machado, some new faces like Gausman, and new additions like Snider all helping to put the ‘O’ in ‘hope’ this spring. Something magic happens! Let me hear it, Birdland!

Whether the O’s are in first place or out of the race, predictions persist. There is the inevitable “162-0” post if the team wins the first game. Chris Tillman will win a Cy Young. Adam Jones will hit 50 home runs. Notice how these have changed? No more, the O’s will be sellers by All-Star break. The O’s will win more games than last year. Expectations have changed and with that comes the change in predictions. It’s a welcome sight for an outsider who developed a soft spot for a club whose fan base always seemed to be waiting for the losing shoe to drop for the last decade.

But back to predictions. Let’s go deeper. Why? Why do we feel so inclined to setup the glass ball, toss down some chicken bones, and boldly predict the future? Is it only the exhilaration of, ‘I told you so,’ that drives us? And why does it seem all the more satisfying the less evidence based the prediction is? My hunch is, we feel more like we understand the world, that we have some special insight. By the way, if someone proves this true, I’ll say I told you so.
More than anytime of the year, spring is the silly season of prediction. Because, who cares if you and two million other people just had a gut feeling that LeBron James would lead the Cavs in scoring? What’s to brag about? Or that Adam Jones would start in centerfield? Nobody cares to boast about predictable outcomes. So really, we’re not talking about predicting, but predicting the unpredictable.

Forget your busted “VCU vs. Insert Alma Mater” bracket and ‘predict’ the Orioles will not only win the World Series, but sweep in four games. Sure, you’ll be disappointed the AL lost the All-Star game, as you predicted, because the best-record-in-baseball-birds will be celebrating at Insert Corporate Sponsor named NL stadium. And no one else saw it coming, oh great Oriole Oracle.

So, get onboard while the getting is good and the good ones aren’t taken, soothsayers and naysayers alike. Find a quiet place and surround yourself with old boxes of dusty Donruss cards and chant the words to Orioles magic. Don’t miss the obvious omens, like the 91 cheerios that you counted in your cereal bowl on opening day. Don’t be distracted when your friend reminds you of your numerous misses, like that time you predicted Jay Gibbons would return to the big leagues and win the Triple Crown. Be one with the baseball universe, be bold, and predict the unpredictable. Just don’t bet on it.

Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison