Devout fan used yoga and humor to survive the Baltimore Orioles' worst season ever

The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

As the losses accumulated this summer like the puddles in her yard, Jackie Howell kept tuning in to the Orioles.

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She’s still watching night after night, even the 14-2 and 10-0 defeats during a brutal, 100-plus loss season trying the patience of most every fan.

She still comes to as many games as she can, driving three hours from her farmhouse in Madison County, Va. “I keep score at every game. Seriously. Every game,” said Howell, a yoga instructor, certified massage therapist and part-time baseball blogger. “And, I keep every scorecard. And, when I die, someone will be cleaning out the boxes of my life and they will throw them all away.”

But that’s okay with Howell, who, in zen-like fashion, has managed to find the elusive sweet spot between passionately caring about the Orioles without being unhinged by their repeated failings. “It’s all about acceptance and, often, a sense of humor about things,” she said.

In a season of fans’ frustrations and venting on social media, Howell defiantly refused to allow her summer to be stolen by a team that set the club record for most losses in a single season with its 108th defeat, 6-4 against the Blue Jays, on Tuesday night.

“How can I give up on a game that gave us Jim Palmer? Cal [Ripken Jr.]? Adam [Jones]?” says Howell, who owns baseballs autographed by Mike Mussina and Nick Markakis and once traveled to spring training by herself.

“Baseball is my distraction from the weight of the rest of this world. So, I don't think I need a distraction from baseball or this losing season,” she said. “Baseball is my distraction for all the hard and sad and terrible in this world. It's my reset. It’s my happy place.”

Not that she doesn’t get cranky. ‘Why are you still smiling?” she recently snapped on her blog at a photo of the cartoon Oriole bird mascot.

In another of her “Baseball Bloggess” posts, she compared the team’s 100th season loss to “bad takeout pizza — greasy, cold, and, what the hell? I didn’t order pepperoni.”

This season, she wrote, is "an endless parade of gloomy, lifeless, uncaring losses, like the endless days of rain that have dumped some 20 inches in our pitiful mushy yard since this pitiful baseball season began."

She has jokingly used a word to describe her mood this season: "lachrymose," which means in a constant state of crying.

Blend of baseball and yoga: Her blog is blend of baseball talk and yoga talk. It’s akin to the old “Car Talk” show on National Public Radio that was part auto mechanics and part philosophy and life counseling.

Howell, 56, who is married to a baseball fan, began the blog in 2012, years after moving from Washington, where she worked in communications and fundraising for nonprofits and good government groups.

Like many Washingtonians before that city got its own team, she was an Orioles fan. She said she still feels “a little betrayed” by her Washington friends who had been Orioles backers and “jumped ship when the Nationals came to town” in 2005.

Howell began following the Orioles in 1988. Astute backers of the team will recall that 107-loss season and question whether Howell might be a glutton for punishment.

She recalls the club losing its first 21 games of the season. Talk about deferred gratification.

“I couldn’t figure out a box score, but I knew what losing meant,” she said. “I knew what 0-and-10 and-11 and-12 and 0-and-20 meant. Finally, I said to the woman who sat at the desk next to mine at work, ‘This team needs me.’ ”

Helping her through hard times: Her yoga is instructive in hard times. She has been teaching for 15 years and has a photo of herself meditating in an Orioles sweater.

In yoga, she said, “you have to give up attachments. If your back isn’t 20 years old, why are you treating it like it is? You have to push to your abilities, sure, but don’t get attached to goals and results.”

Baseball is the same.

“Don’t get attached to 2014, Orioles fans, because it was a wonderful, wonderful ride, but it’s not 2014 anymore. And, don’t get attached to 2018 either, because bad seasons end, too.”