SARASOTA, Fla. -- By the way, does anyone remember what the Orioles did last year? Has the usual New York commotion and the unusual Toronto noise occluded the Baltimorean remarkableness? Has anyone forgotten what happened last summer and fall after precisely zero people pegged them for post-season last spring?
Just in case, here's a recap:
They reached July 1 at 55-50, six games behind the Yankees. Everyone patted them on the head. Everyone told them, "Nice job." Everyone awaited their fade.
They reached August 15 at 64-53, six games behind the Yankees. Everyone patted them on the head. Everyone told them, "Nice job." Everyone awaited their fade.
They reached September 1 at 73-59, three games behind the Yankees. Everyone patted them on the head. Everyone told them, "Nice job." Everyone awaited their fade.
They reached September 15 at 81-64, one game behind the Yankees, and season's end at 93-69, two games behind the Yankees, and they went 37-18 in August and September, and before they did fade only in the fifth game of the Division Series, they did beat Texas in the American League wild-card game and did conduct a post-game celebration that even to veterans of clubhouse celebrations felt like a bacchanalian Armageddon.
In other words, I loved it.
"I guess what gets overlooked," manager Buck Showalter said the other day, "is that we've got some talented guys."
And what's curious is, while we all hear different noise depending on our conversations and our radios and our televisions and our Twitter feeds, and while nobody expects the Orioles to revert to 69-93 after their first winning season since 1997, and while some savants suspect that the mighty American League could end in a five-way tie at 84-78, here's what I glean from the noise I hear:
People are patting Oriole heads again, in a way that conjures spring 2004, when some Florida Marlins remarked that the New York-Boston din of that winter made it seem as if the Marlins' 2003 title hadn't even happened.
If so, then the Orioles get a rare, rare athletic opportunity. In a world full of athletes who desperately wish people would doubt them, a world in which some athletes seem to sit around thinking up slights to help spur an edge, the Orioles might get to play a second consecutive season amid low expectations.
Some say that adds no fun whatsoever. Some players say that adds a layer of fun. Michael Jordan, to name the most extreme example, let his dismay at his doubters derail even his Hall of Fame speech.
"It was fun winning," said Matt Wieters, the 23-homer, 83-RBI catcher. "I don't care if you're picked first or last. Winning's fun. I don't care. I don't care to look at [outside assessments]. It's something I've had to learn through the years."
"Even down the stretch, people kept saying, 'They'll fade,'" said Nate McLouth, the left fielder who joined from Pittsburgh last June. "And that's even better." Winning is enough, "but if you can win and prove some people wrong in the process, it's a little more fun."
"I tell you this, our guys have a lot of experience in it and feeding off it," Showalter said of low expectations.
So you take that variation of opinions on the matter and you factor them together and you ponder it and you analyze it and then you get to the glorious caveat: Low expectations don't really matter in baseball.
"Maybe in some sports," Showalter said. "Ours, we play too many games."
"Emotions are something in baseball you can't live off of for a full season," Wieters said.
"The type of season we play, things get exposed at one time or another," McLouth said, "You can't fool anybody. You can fool people for a little while but not for a whole baseball season."
According to Showalter, who expertly managed an alleged baseball Cinderella, there's no such thing as a baseball Cinderella. "Everything will get exposed, good and bad, if you just be patient," he said. "You can play just so long with a chip on your shoulder." One hundred sixty-two games, and the truth shouts.
So here they start again with their black T-shirts with the orange-lettered "To Be Continued" on the front and "Stay Hungry" on the back; the onus of a 29-9 record in one-run games that will be hard to duplicate; their exuberance; their overlooked talent and "such a tight team in here," McLouth said.
"That's the thing," Wieters said, "we still had expectations for ourselves last year. That's all that really matters, what you feel you can do as a team in the clubhouse."
If they thrive again, you might say they might really blow it, give people the idea they're actually very good at baseball, upgrade the expectations for 2014 -- except that in baseball, as we know, that's but a curious sidelight.