Before moving to South Africa, I spent much of my adulthood living and working in the Washington D.C. area. But growing up, I lived closer to Baltimore. My parents are both Baltimorians. I was raised on Baltimore sports.

Baltimore has two major professional sports teams: the Orioles (baseball) and the Ravens (American football). Baseball season runs from April to September and football season runs from September to January. I was home during that magical month when baseball season is drawing to a close and football season is just beginning, and I caught one game of each.

My dad is a die-hard Orioles fan and raised his two daughters accordingly. I remember when my sister Susanna and I watched on TV when the Orioles (who we call ‘the Os’) won the World Series in 1983; it was the best day of my nine-year-old life.

Sadly, the Orioles are woeful now. They’re one of the worst teams in baseball and haven’t had a winning season since 1997. But they still have one of the nicest stadiums in the country, and Dad is still a faithful season ticket plan holder. Dad, Susanna and I don’t have many opportunities to see the Os together anymore, so I’m glad we made it to a game while Susanna and I were both home. They played the New York Yankees and it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Os would lose.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards. This stadium was groundbreaking when it opened in 1992. The architecture is a throwback to the baseball stadiums of the early 1900s, and incorporates an old renovated warehouse. Several players have hit homeruns into the street in front of the warehouse, but no one has hit the actual building during an official game.

We did our best to enjoy the game, even though the stands were more than half empty and there were as many Yankee fans there as Oriole fans. (The Yankees, perennial World Series contenders, are the most popular baseball team on earth and tend to flood into Baltimore whenever the Yanks come to town. We hate them.)

Food, drink, and smartphones were welcome distractions.

Susanna enjoys a Natty Boh (local Baltimore beer) and an ice cream sundae in a plastic baseball helmet. Dad checks his email.

The Os did indeed lose, 3-2. But we had a lovely evening at the ballgame. Watching baseball with Dad and Sue is an experience — they’re the most knowledgeable baseball fans I know.

Sue shows off her newly purchased Orioles fan gear.

I was also in town for the National Football League’s opening weekend. Dad has season tickets to the Baltimore Ravens, who are consistently one of the top teams in the league. (Dad and I used to co-own the Ravens tickets but I gave them up when I moved to South Africa. I miss the Ravens a lot.) Dad and I went together to the Ravens’ season opener against their arch-rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game happened to fall on September 11.

A sea of purple-clad fans pours down a Baltimore overpass, ready to enter M&T Bank Stadium for the first game of the season.

Every football fan thinks her team is the best, and that her team’s fans are the most passionate (and insane). In my case it happens to be true. The vibe in that stadium — with 70,000 people ready to watch one of the biggest rivalries in football, on the anniversary of one of the worst tragedies in American history — was indescribable.

A football-field-sized flag is unfurled in the stadium during the opening ceremonies. Similar ceremonies took place at all the other NFL stadiums around the country.

I don’t normally consider myself to be a super-patriotic American. But I was happy and proud to be ‘home’ on this important day, surrounded by thousands of other Americans, celebrating a truly American sport.

That’s my team in white. The guy in the middle of the field, #52, is Ray Lewis, one of the greatest linebackers of all time. He’s like a god in Baltimore — I admit to worshipping him myself. There’s a great Ray Lewis video in my old post about rugby, if you’d like to check it out.

And to top it off, the Ravens stomped the Steelers, 35-7, in one of the worst (or greatest?) thrashings in the history of the two teams. It was one of the best games I’ve ever been to. I don’t think I’ve ever given so many high-fives. I’m still hoarse from yelling ‘DEE-fense!’

This is ‘Tater’, the mascot of section 512 in M&T Bank Stadium. One of the great things about football is that most of the seats are owned by season ticket holders, so you sit with the same people every week. Tater has been at every Ravens game I’ve attended for the last 14 years. He high-fives every fan in the section before leaving each game. Can you see the pure joy on is face? This victory made Tater’s entire year.

I usually feel that it’s unsportsmanlike to insult your opponent rather than supporting your own team. But this shirt is really funny. I asked the guy where he got it but he was too drunk to form a complete sentence.

I feel very, very fortunate to have been home at a time when I could go to both an Os game and a Ravens game. Sports are more than just a game in my family.

I’m in the airport now, getting ready to embark on a 30-hour journey back to South Africa. It’s been an amazing trip home.

Dad, Mom and Susanna: I love you.

Me at M&T Bank Stadium, with the Baltimore skyline behind me. (Photo: Tenney Mason)

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