Growing up, I was a big Cal Ripken, Jr. fan (and, thus, a Baltimore Orioles fan). This may not be all that odd, considering how immensely popular he became in the 1990s, but there are two things worth noting: 1) I grew up in central California, far away from any other Orioles fan and 2) this was the late-1980s, when Ripken was much less of a national name and the Orioles were really, really terrible. I can't say for sure why a kid from Fresno latched onto Cal Ripken, but I have a pretty good suspect: baseball cards. At the time, I was collecting baseball cards like crazy and I just couldn't get away from Cal. All-Star, Diamond King, Team Leader, Record Breaker, Top Shortstops, Iron Man… if there was a special subset of cards that year, you could bet good money that Cal Ripken was the Orioles' representative – and that I had at least three copies of it. It was inevitable, then, that I would one day announce that Cal was my favorite player and the Orioles my favorite team and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
I never wavered in those childhood years, doing my best to follow the team from 2,000 miles away in a decidedly pre-internet world. Frank Robinson, Gregg Olson, Ben McDonald, Mickey Tettleton… all were big names to me; I loved the Orioles. So, when I discovered sometime around 1990 that the team had changed its uniforms, I was very excited. Not only was this the first time I could remember a team changing its unis (teams were allowed to do that?!), but they were changing them to a fantastic new design! The bird on their hat was now ornithologically correct!
I don't remember having any strong feelings about the cartoon bird on the O's 1980s caps (or the uniforms in general), but I certainly didn't dislike it. Those white unis – with "Orioles" written in orange script across the chest – and the matching hat were exactly what a baseball uniform should look like. There was nothing silly about them like the Astros' or White Sox uniforms. But this new uniform – this new HAT – was so different… I loved it. I didn't know what "ornithologically correct" meant, but I did know that this is what a real oriole actually looked like. It was a level of realism I didn't know was possible on a baseball uniform, and it was exciting. I begged my mom for the new Orioles hat for my birthday. If I ever saw one in a store, you couldn't pull me away from it (of course, they were a little more rare to come across in Fresno than Baltimore). I don't know why, but I felt a bit of pride in rooting for the team with the best hat in baseball.
Which makes my reaction to today's news out of Baltimore feel so funny. The Orioles today unveiled their new uniform changes for the 2012 season, including an orange alternate much like those of the Giants and Marlins. The biggest change, though, is in the cap. The team is ditching the ornithologically-correct bird (refined over the last 20 years) in favor of – wait for it – the cartoon bird from their 1980s uniforms.
And I love it.
What is wrong with me? Am I just tired of the realistic bird because it's no longer new and unique? Am I feeling nostalgic for a uniform I kind-of, sort-of liked as a kid? Am I just a sucker for new things? Whatever it is, it has me feeling a bit odd today as I process these emotions. Still, those unis are going to look pretty snazzy on the field next year.
Thank you for reading
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