If anyone ever asks me what it’s like to be an Orioles fan in 2021, I’ll tell them about the June 15, 2021 Bowie Baysox game, a 3-2 loss to the Akron Rubber Ducks.
A one-run loss in a Double-A game seems pretty inconsequential. But this was no ordinary Double-A game – it was the first home start for Orioles’ vaunted pitching prospect and 2018 11th overall pick Grayson Rodriguez since he was promoted to this level. What began as a normal home debut turned into a gas can-banging affair, in a truly awesome microcosm of the Orioles baseball experience.
It all started at the end of May, when Orioles’ GM Mike Elias announced that Rodriguez, the club’s top pitching prospect, would be promoted to Double-A Bowie after terrorizing High-A East with 40 strikeouts, a 0.686 WHIP and a 1.54 ERA in 23.1 innings over five starts. After an impressive first start at Hartford for the Baysox, Baseball America anointed GrayRod as the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball. He followed that up with another impressive performance at Binghamton, totaling 14 strikeouts, six hits, four walks, and just one earned run in 10 innings of work over two road starts.
That set the stage for his first home start against the Akron Rubber Ducks, announced by the Baysox on June 11 for the following Tuesday, June 15. Given Rodriguez’s ability to hit triple-digits with his fastball, he’s long been known for ‘throwing gas,’ so much so that a prominent Orioles fan account on Twitter asked the Baysox if he could bring a gas can into the stadium. Two hours later, the Baysox released their official gas can policy, a first for any professional sports team.
The gas can idea quickly spread across social media before the Baysox poured gasoline on the fire by announcing a contest for best-decorated gas can at the game on Tuesday, the winner of which would win a $50 gas card.
So, I got my tickets for Grayson’s first start, stopped at my local Ace Hardware store to grab my new, unused gas can (five-gallons, of course. Go big or go home!) and headed to Bowie. Going into the stadium, I did not see a ton of other gas cans, but the usher who took my ticket clearly had, as she asked me to open the can, shake it and turn it upside down to make sure there was nothing in it. I got a lot of nods and smiles while I was walking to my seat toting a comically-large gas can, even bumping cans with a few fans on the way.
The excitement had built to a fever pitch by the time the Baysox took the field, and GrayRod did not disappoint. When he struck out the Rubber Ducks’ third batter to end the first inning, the crowd leapt up and banged their gas cans in approval. Though Rodriguez did not look as lights-out as his first two starts, giving up two earned runs, four hits and a walk in 4.2 innings, he still struck out six and hit triple digits on the stadium radar gun several times, even touching 103 on one of his Ks. Rodriguez left the game to a standing ovation from the adoring crowd, but the fun wasn’t over. The same account that inspired the gas can craze invited all of the fans who brought gas cans to meet up for a picture with Louie, the Baysox mascot.
It was truly incredible to see almost 50 Orioles fans armed with gas cans gather for a photo. We compared gas can sizes and decorations, all the while laughing about the absurdity of this event and bonding over the common hardship that is being an Orioles fan.
This is a fanbase that, as of late, is accustomed to losing. We made the playoffs three times between 2012 and 2016, with winning records in all five seasons, since then, this team has lost a lot of games. Since 2017, the Orioles have a .328 winning percentage, losing two out of every three games. At least the Orioles have been losing the right way, trading away assets in a fire sale and building the second-best farm system in the league.
Fans know that baseball is all about the long game, so we take our lumps and get our brief moments of joy when we can. And despite the second-fewest wins in the MLB, this season has had a surprising number of those moments. John Means threw a no-hitter, Trey Mancini beat cancer, and Cedric Mullins’ broke out with great hitting, consistent web gems and an unreal series against the Cleveland Indians. And the excitement has come from the minors too, with some great starts from DL Hall and ten home runs from Adley Rutschman in Bowie, and Jahmai Jones absolutely raking in Norfolk. Throw in GrayRod’s ascension, and it’s easy to see why Orioles fans are legitimately excited for this decade of baseball in Baltimore. All of that losing might finally be paying some dividends.
Fittingly, of course, the Baysox lost last night’s game, 3-2, unable to get their offense off the ground other than a 5th inning bomb from Doran Turchin.
And if that doesn’t sum up being an Orioles fan, I don’t know what will. A fun start from an exciting young pitcher, with awesome fan engagement in the form of banging gas cans, ending with an anticlimactic loss.
Best loss I’ve ever been to.