The Orioles didn’t officially qualify for postseason play until Sunday afternoon, but Mike Chalfant has been saving up for playoffs tickets for weeks.
“People have been saying they want their parents to live to see the O’s win the World Series for years,” Chalfant said between slinging Natty Bohs and Jell-O shots to customers at Benders, a small sports bar in Upper Fells that he’s owned for more than a decade and where the walls are lined with photographs of neighborhood regulars.
“Grandfathers have been taking their grandsons to O’s games for decades and decades and decades. It’s a generational thing, way more than the Ravens. There’s that joke that a throwback photo of a Ravens jersey is just a Browns jersey,” he said, a jab at the NFL franchise that left Cleveland in 1996 for a new home in Baltimore (though Cleveland would later get a new Browns team).
Chalfant and other Orioles fans spent Sunday celebrating a feat that Baltimore had not accomplished since 2016: the nabbing of a playoff spot.
After the game, a flood of fans migrated from Camden Yards to nearby Pickles Pub, the standard “Let’s go O’s” chants now accompanied by a few calls of “Postseason, baby!” and talk of never counting out the Birds.
The numbers in the bar swelled to 200, and more still were trying to get in to celebrate a memorable come-from-behind, extra-innings win.
Baltimore had three different routes to the playoffs, each hinging on the outcome of a different Sunday game. A Baltimore win — or a Texas or Seattle loss — would mean the O’s were playoff-bound. When the Cleveland Guardians defeated the Texas Rangers, the Orioles were in. But loyal fans were still focused on the critical home game, which Baltimore came from behind to win 5-4 in 11 innings.
Every time that Wendy Bozel walks around the neighborhood, she said, “People come up to me and ask, ‘How ’bout dem O’s?’ in a way they haven’t been asking in a while,” she said.
Bozel, a teacher and president of the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association who also plans to mount a grassroots campaign for Baltimore mayor, is a lifelong O’s fan and estimates that every other T-shirt she owns “is orange or purple.”
But she said even she has upped her Orioles swag game thanks to their performance this season. Last week, Bozel bought a pair of orange loafers. “Now I’m really decked out,” she said.
“What I’m hoping to do is watch every playoff game at Benders,” she added.
The O’s stellar performance this season is all the more exciting because the club won just 52 games in 2021. Now they have a record of 93-56 and have a two-game lead over Tampa Bay in the AL East.
Nick Briggs, an Upper Fells Point resident, said that, when the Orioles are up, their team “brings the city to life, especially when they’ve been terrible for so long.”
Chalfant agreed. “It makes people happier in a real way,” he said, noting that the bar fills up faster and people stay later when either the Orioles or Ravens are having winning seasons.
“When you’re both wearing orange, or you’re both wearing purple, you have a conversation with each other, no matter how different you are,” he said.
A few miles north (and a few innings later) in Remington, Orioles fans at the 29th Street Tavern screamed and ordered rounds of shots as Baltimore’s team tied Sunday’s game in the ninth inning and news of the Rangers’ loss made it around the bar.
Jon Hollins, who grew up in Reisterstown and has lived in Baltimore for more than two decades, said having both the Orioles and Ravens excel this year has injected the city with life.
“These teams both doing well — two pennants — could literally change the financial ecosystem of this city,” the Hampden resident said. “If the politicians aren’t doing anything to fix Baltimore, at least the teams are.”
“I’ll go to at least one playoff game this year, and I’ll spend too much money to go to the World Series,” said Chris Neitzey, who said he and his expectant wife are planning on naming their first child Cedric, after O’s center fielder Cedric Mullins.
You see, he made a deal with her that they would do so if Mullins hit a grand slam Monday against St. Louis — which he did.
He made another bet, he said: If the Orioles make the World Series and Gunnar Henderson hits a grand slam in a Series game, the child’s middle name will be Gunnar.
Neitzey’s friends, Adilina and Dave Malavé-Jones, confirmed his account and suggested he consider hyphenating the child’s first name or middle name to Cedric-Gunnar.
Optimistic about the Orioles’ chances in October, the friends complained of owner John Angelos’ threat that the team “will not spend more without making more.”
“Sell the team!” Neitzey said, adding that Angelos should get out if he doesn’t want to spend the money to field a competitive team.
He gestured toward the group crowding around him at the bar. “I guarantee everyone here would kick in 100 bucks.”
Dave Malavé-Jones chimed in: “Eleven hundred dollars and a round of shots at 29th Street Tavern? That is the deal of a century.”
Kirk McCoy contributed to this story.