What could Daniel Cabrera have to do with Valentine's Day? Like most Orioles fans, I usually experience nothing but pain and frustration when he takes the mound. But believe it or not, this lanky, erratic Dominican hurler once played an important part in one of the best dates I've ever had.
It was Friday, September 22, 2006. I was about a month into a relationship with a girl named Melissa. We had been friends for almost five years, and when we both found ourselves single and realized that there was mutual interest, things came together quickly, almost effortlessly. It was as though we'd been together for years. Most nights, we didn't even have to make concrete plans to have a good time. We'd just sit around my apartment or hers, watching TV, maybe playing cards or video games. It was very low-key. But on this particular night, I thought it would be nice to do something out-of-the-ordinary and catch an Orioles game.
We met up at Union Station after I got off of work and took the MARC train to Camden Yards. It was a Student Discount Night, so we grabbed some cheap upper reserve seats down the left field line and settled in to watch the Birds take on the Twins. It was a beautiful night, a calm 72 degrees with just the slightest breeze. I was in my element, and I couldn't help but show off, feeding Melissa bits of trivia about the ballpark and the players. I probably mentioned that Oriole Park was built very near to Babe Ruth's birthplace. I mentioned the Baltimore Sun's neon signage on top of the scoreboard, and pointed it out to her as the "H" blinked when a batter was credited with a base hit and the "E" blinked when a fielder was charged with an error.
For all of my baseball knowledge and enthusiasm, I'm sure the night still would have been lacking if the Orioles hadn't held up their end of the bargain. Fortunately, they started strong, touching up Carlos Silva for four runs in the first two innings. Most of the excitement came in the second inning, as Brian Roberts walloped a two-run home run and Nick Markakis drove in another run with the first of his two doubles. Given some offensive support, Daniel Cabrera shook off the effects of a long and disappointing season. He allowed only one run before tiring in the seventh inning, and struck out eight batters. Brian Burres pitched out of trouble in relief, and Chris Ray slammed the door shut in the ninth on just nine pitches, preserving Cabrera's eighth win by a 7-3 margin.
When a crisp autumn chill settled into the stadium as the evening wore on, I slipped into my Orioles windbreaker. I was grateful that Melissa had come along, and I pulled her closer to me to keep us both warm. Even though she called things off a month later, ending the relationship almost as abruptly as it began, we're still good friends. One of my fondest memories of our time together was that night out at the ballpark.