The dog days of August are upon us, and Orioles players scour the schedule for their precious off-days. Recharge the batteries, rest and relax - that’s the mantra whenever a blank square appears on the schedule during the course of a 162-game season.
Not so long ago, however, not all off-days were off-days. Once a season, the O’s used one of those coveted days when a regular-season game wasn’t scheduled and hopped a charter flight to Rochester, N.Y., home of their Triple-A affiliate, the Red Wings, for an exhibition game that didn’t count in the standings. The game occurred anywhere between May and August, whenever a mutual off-day and some creative scheduling made it possible.
The annual contest between the Orioles of the future and present drew sellout crowds to Silver Stadium (and, in the last game played in 1997, at Frontier Field) in an era before there were regional sports networks on cable television, the Internet and the increased ability for fans far and wide to follow their favorite teams. The minor league ballpark was the place to be for that afternoon and evening - for fans eager to get a glimpse at big leaguers - many of whom had passed through Rochester - and for local reporters who had a chance to interview future Hall of Famers, as this YouTube video of the Orioles’ 1981 visit to Rochester shows.
You’ll notice then-O’s coach (and future skipper) Cal Ripken Sr. outlining the order of batting practice groups and catch a 36-year-old Jim Palmer weighing in on labor negotiations. Former Red Wing Terry Crowley, by then a fixture off the Baltimore bench, was interviewed by a local TV reporter. Then-manager Earl Weaver was a favorite of the Red Wings faithful, having piloted the Triple-A affiliate in 1967 and 1968 - check out his pregame meeting with local reporters and his interaction with fans. My favorite part of this video, however, is the Earl of Baltimore meeting his Rochester lookalike and graciously telling folks how the guy might as well be his identical twin (even though the faux Weaver’s O’s cap and jacket go a long way toward carrying off the look).
The tradition of the Orioles meeting their top minor league team continued until 1997 when second baseman Roberto Alomar bailed on the July contest, much to the chagrin of O’s manager Davey Johnson, who fined him, setting in motion the series of events that would lead to Johnson’s resignation as manager after that year’s playoffs. New collective bargaining agreements eventually ended all in-season exhibitions, including the Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The Red Wings were an Orioles affiliate from 1961-2002, when the O’s decided to move their Triple-A team to Ottawa. The Minnesota Twins took over the affiliation, and on the current Red Wings roster are two players with strong Orioles ties - pitcher Jim Hoey, who was traded to the Twins last winter in the J.J. Hardy deal, and hitting coach Floyd Rayford, an Oriole in 1980, 1982 and 1984-87.