Summoning the Pen: Oriole Traitor – for a Day

Benedict Arnold has become a Baltimore baseball player.

65 years ago, I was a Birds fan. I cried when I signed up for Little League and they stuck me on Dodgers. Later, I became a regular in Division 34 with Wild Bill Hagy and my fellow crazy Dundalk.

Those were some fun days. Over time, the fun may have become as frequent as Brooks Robinson’s mistake, but the loyalty has remained the same.

But last Friday, in the midst of that sponsor race we weren’t expecting to come, I cheered for the other team.

why?

Because of who we were facing. The Oakland A’s primary shooter was JB Sears. Coming into Friday’s game, Oriole fans will probably remember him as the rookie Yankee player who beat us twice earlier in the year. But I remember him long before that.

The first time I was introduced to Sears, or JP as I call him, was when, as a freshman in high school, he was entering a history class. Like every other student I taught at Wilson Hall School in Sumter, South Carolina, JB’s introduction to my room featured walls decorated with Orioles and Cal Ripken Jr. posters. Like every student I’ve taught for 40 years now, JP may have learned a little history, but he certainly learned that his teacher is an Orioles fan.

JP was also a soccer player. Sumter is a baseball-mad city, home to former Yankees player Bobby Richardson and current Cardinals player Jordan Montgomery. After helping lead our school to the state championship, JP played college baseball at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. I often drive for 2 hours to pick up one of the JP games. He always had tickets waiting for him and his parents always thanked me for coming.

After collecting crazy strike numbers in college, JP was drafted by Seattle in 2017, joining a long list of former students I’ve taught who bounce around high school leagues, but never get the call to “The Show.” But when JP kept putting up the same crazy strike numbers in Double-A and Triple-A, I began to wonder if he’d be the first to make the big leagues.

Turns out he did. Early in the season, JP was able to secure a spot on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. He made his debut when he made a goalless run against Toronto on April 13.

Three days later, I received a text message from his younger brother McClendon.

“you are watching?” He Said.

Yes I was. JP was dispatched with the Orioles over the Yankees 2-0 in the fourth inning. After JB made a goalless turn, the Yankees scored four runs at the bottom of the half to go to the top, 4-2. JP ended up with his first major league win. I was happy. Yes, it was the Orioles, but they held the record 2-6, so I assumed it would end up being just one of about 100 losses by the end of the season.

On the 25th of May, GB began its first major league game – against the Orioles. I ventured to one of the few sports bars in Sumter to catch up on the game, and the place was full of people who knew me and knew JP, so they all wanted to know the same thing.

“Who are you rooting for?”

That was easy. JP was almost family oriented, at least in my mind. The Orioles are definitely family, but at 17-28 they showed up on their way to another miserable season. What would one game hurt?

GB came out and closed the Orioles down, winning by going five rounds without goals in three strokes.

On Deadline Trade, JP was sent to Oakland by the Yankees. When Player A quickly put JP into the major league rotation, I traveled to Texas to catch one of his starts against the Rangers. I put on my traditional clothes – the Orioles shirt and Orioles hat. And JB grinded through five rounds of zero-ball to improve to 4-0 on the season. After the match, I was invited to A’s “family” room with McClendon’s mother and JB, and walked around dressed as Orioles, who were ill-suited.

After their chain with the Rangers, the family members headed east on a road trip that would take them to Camden Yards. That’s when I realized I had a problem. The Orioles had become the talk of a lot about baseball with their unexpected rise in the rankings and they were knocking on the door of a famous place. What if JP faces the Orioles now? Who should I root for?

This problem appears to have been resolved when Oakland’s rotation faced JB against the Nationals the day before they came to Baltimore. But on Wednesday, Team A decided to postpone its start to Friday.

Turns out it wasn’t actually the dilemma I was afraid of. It was much easier to turn my back – for a day – to the Orioles and pull out the ex-history student, the one who was grateful when I watched one of his college or minor league games, the still humble and grateful young man who texted me after the game against Rangers and thanked me for coming. To watch him play.

The night before he encounters the Orioles, I send JP a small expedition report. “Mullins is going to put a knockout… Matthew is in pain when he gets to the base and you can pick him up… Homer Gunnar was sliding down, in the middle of the board.” It was nothing short of treason, and I knew it.

I spend Friday nights this time of year playing on the radio with the Wilson Hole Football Team. That means when JP took the hill against the Oriole, I’d be pretty busy to keep up. But in the first half, I peeked and he was just hanging there. The Orioles were 2-0 up in the fourth inning. When the football match ended, I checked again, and everything went fine.

JB finished six innings, held the Orioles by two while writing off five, and left with a tie with the Orioles, 2-2. The Orioles finished winning the match 5-2 with three games in eighth place. Another strong start for JB, and another step toward a potential dock for my Oriole cards.

When I got home later that night, I flashed the game on MLB.TV to check out JP’s performance. It looked good to me, but more importantly, it looked good to someone else.

“The child can jump.” Jim Palmer said on the Orioles Hall of Famer show, after JP got his fifth strike. “He knows what he’s doing there.” Palmer was constantly complimenting JB’s performance and questioned why he would trade for the Yankees. This was all the verification I needed.

By Saturday, I was back on the wild card hunt for my Orioles. I felt like we were breathing down the back of the Blue Jays when we won on Saturday, and our weak bats snorted when we closed on Sunday. I made sure my work day wouldn’t be interrupted by any picnics or outings at the beach that would take me off our double head with Blue Jays.

Benedict Arnold continued his treacherous ways until his death. Realizing that England was about to end the war, he fled to England and continued to plead with Parliament and the King to continue the fight and destroy the nation to which he had turned his back. Until his death he hated America.

I was also a traitor – to the Orioles. But it was only for a day, and given the circumstances, can you blame me?