Orioles fans finally taste success

Seconds after the Orioles clinched a postseason berth Sunday night, I stared at my phone, waiting for the inevitable.

My brother-in-law, Brian, bombarding me with text messages and demanding that I fulfill a promise to apologize to him in print if the Orioles made the playoffs.

“It should probably start with, ‘My brother-in-law is a genius,’” Brian said. “And then you can start the praising.”

You may remember Brian, a lifelong Baltimorean and Orioles fan, from a column I wrote in late April. In the column, I mocked him for overreacting to the Orioles’ usual hot start and predicted that the team would start to fade during a six-game trip to New York and Boston.

The Orioles went 5-1 on that trip. And now they are 92-67, tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East with three games remaining, assured of at least a wild card.

Yes, Brian deserves his apology, even though I’ve got two sources who say that he was ready to quit on the O’s at several trying moments this season.

The sources are his sons — and my nephews — Jacob and Ethan.

“Hearsay,” Brian says.

Uh, not exactly — I’ve got a text from Brian on my phone from July 16, the night the Orioles lost to the Twins, 19-7.

“We suck,” it says.

Let’s just say that trapping Brian required considerably less work than Woodward and Bernstein needed to reveal the truth about Nixon.

“I believe my phone was stolen and then returned,” my dear brother-in-law said, now panicked.

Kidding aside, I lived in Baltimore from 1987 to 2010, and it’s great to see that fans like Brian finally are passionate about the Orioles again.

The team’s 14 straight losing seasons were inexcusable, alienating a generation of young fans. And even now, the excitement is not all the way back.

The Orioles played to lots of empty seats this season and drew 41,257 but did not sell out on Sunday, when they had a chance to clinch at Camden Yards (as it turned out, the clinching did not occur until the Rangers defeated the Angels in the second game of a double-header later that night).

Attendance increases generally lag a year behind success, and the Orioles did sell out their possible wild-card game and Division Series games. Even more encouraging, Camden Yards actually has been electric — more electric, frankly, than it was in the mid-1990s, when diehards complained about the park hosting a “wine-and-cheese” crowd. The vibe now is more reminiscent of the old Memorial Stadium, a more accurate reflection of the city’s love for the team.

I’m not sure some fans ever will forgive owner Peter Angelos for allowing the franchise to rot, and their anger is understandable. But in fairness, Angelos hired Andy MacPhail and Dan Duquette as GMs and Buck Showalter as manager. Those three are the architects of the Orioles’ success, and in the words of another of Angelos’ GMs, Roland Hemond, fans should just “enjoy the moment.”

Brian certainly is.

The Orioles, en route to Tampa Bay, had to make an emergency landing in Jacksonville on Sunday night due to smoke coming out of the kitchen area on their plane.

Naturally, this prompted another text.

“The Orioles are so hot their plane caught on fire,” Brian said.

Back in May, I told Brian that reality would begin to set in against the Yankees and Red Sox, and wrote as much as well.

“They can’t pass the Buck,” Brian said then. “This time, it’s for real.”

He was right. For once, he was right.

Congratulations, Brian. Congratulations to the O’s.