The MLB postseason is now underway, which means that it is the most exciting time of year for those who love to watch America’s Pastime. I will certainly enjoy watching October baseball, and am eager to see which team will ultimately raise the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the World Series. However, this time around, it will be difficult for me to appreciate the end of the season to the extent that I normally would.
As a lifelong Orioles fan, I have been pained with a sense of melancholy, not because my favorite team missed out on the postseason in a historically bad fashion, but because the team’s return to relevance appears to be light years away. And it is this nagging sensation, and my concern for the club’s future, that have put a damper on what is usually one of my favorite periods of the sports calendar.
The worst part of Baltimore’s season was not the actual losing or the fact that the team became genuinely unwatchable. It was seeing the deconstruction of a team that had been built over the course of more than a decade. Six players who began the season with the Orioles and represented the team in at least one All-Star Game during their time in Baltimore did not finish the season with the team: Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Manny Machado, Darren O’Day, Jonathan Schoop and Chris Tillman.
It is also a near certainty that this nightmare season was the last in which I will watch Adam Jones sport the orange and black.
Jones was not one of the six former All-Stars that I mentioned earlier because he opted to exercise his no-trade clause to block a trade to a contender late in the season. Instead, he played out the remainder of his contractual obligation with the faltering O’s.
I developed an unique admiration for Jones during his time in Baltimore. After coming up with the Seattle Mariners, he was one of several prospects dealt to the Orioles in the 2008 Érik Bédard trade. I still remember coming to Baltimore that summer as a ten-year-old, and watching him play at Camden Yards for the first time. Through the years, Jones developed into not only an All-Star, a Gold Glover and a Silver Slugger, but the heart and soul of the Orioles.
Sure, he had his walk-off home runs and his highlight reel catches. But my most cherished memory of Jones came in 2014, when in mid-September, the O’s won their first American League East title since 1997—the year I was born. It was a significant achievement for the players, including Jones, who in his seventh season in Baltimore had finally conquered baseball’s toughest division. Following the division-clinching game, the players returned to the locker room to celebrate amongst themselves. Jones, however, came back onto the diamond to run a lap of the field, during which he high-fived fans and even pied several lucky ones in the face—a ritual that he had regularly performed on players during postgame celebrations. Jones’ decision to share this cathartic moment with the fans will always stand out to me and remind me of the meaningful relationship that he cultivated with the people of Baltimore.
During his tenure in Baltimore, Jones was defined by his contributions and actions both on the field and in the community. He was involved in a number of community service events and regularly made meaningful charitable donations. Over the summer, he was praised for donating $8,500 to finance the transportation costs of a local Little League team that was striving to reach the Little League World Series. This week alone, he donated over $100,000 to various nonprofit organizations in Baltimore.
Jones will more than likely move on and sign with another team this offseason. He is closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning, and his career arc simply does not align with the Orioles’ long-term plans.
However, his decision to finish the season in Baltimore was just one more example of his devotion to the city and its fans. He didn’t have to stay, and I would have completely understood if he accepted a trade to chase a championship with another team in another city. That’s the way sports work. But he did stay, and to me and other O’s fans, that meant a lot.
I greatly cherished the opportunity to go to Camden Yards this past week and see him play one last time as an Oriole. It was an opportunity only made possible by his selfless decision to forego greener pastures and play out the season for a cellar dweller.
With the core of the team now depleted, the Orioles are at the onset of an arduous rebuild that is filled with uncertainty. Nearly all of the players who provided me with countless memories during the last ten-plus years are gone. As a diehard fan, such a process will be long and tedious, especially because it is in no way guaranteed to work. The team is nearly unrecognizable, save for a few players. And no matter the success of the rebuild, many of the players who are now on the roster will likely not even survive the entire process.
Sure you can point to teams that aced the rebuilding process. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros spring to mind, as the teams’ respective rebuilds culminated with World Series championships in each of the last two seasons. This year’s National League East champion Atlanta Braves appear to be on a similar trajectory. But a rebuild is not a science—it’s baseball after all—and these are simply the best-case scenarios.
As much as I hate to accept the risk that is associated with blowing up a roster, it is simply the reality for teams not named the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees. Teams like the Orioles do not have the money, market and appeal that are necessary to enter every season as a contender.
You can even look at a team in another sport, the Philadelphia 76ers, which successfully encouraged its fan base to celebrate a rebuild. But feeling comfortable supporting almost-assured failure over a stretch of several years is a tough pill to swallow and feels inherently wrong.
Now, all I can do is cross my fingers and hope. Hope that the assets the O’s received in their blockbuster trades turn into foundational pieces. Hope that the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft—and presumably other top selections in future drafts—pans out. Hope that some good will come out of the darkness that will shroud my favorite team for the foreseeable future.