Flashback: Going batty over giveaway lumber

No doubt about it, Orioles fans love their giveaways. From brandishing T-shirt Tuesday handouts to lining up bobbleheads as part of their office decor to loveable but goofy looking floppy hats on the beaches in Ocean City, Md., and Rehoboth Beach, Del., those premiums distributed at the Camden Yards gates become prized possessions.

Over the years, the O's have scheduled some pretty interesting giveaways. Remember seat cushion night at Memorial Stadium, where a debatable umpire's call resulted in hundreds of plastic seat cushions being tossed Frisbee-style onto the field? How about halter top day back in the 1970s, with the Base Belles modeling the fashionable orange attire on the home dugout? Several years ago, on Father's Day, painted baseballs were handed to all the dads passing through the turnstiles (there were six designs, and fans were urged to visit local Ford dealerships to complete their collection for free). This year, the replica statues of the six Orioles in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., will be the prized possession. You can make bank on it.

One of my favorite giveaway memories dates back to the late 1970s or early 1980s, when the Orioles actually gave a whole uniform out to youthful fans, piece by piece. One game, kids got a jersey. The next scheduled giveaway game, they got pants. Then came a cap, shoes, socks, even a glove and a bat. By the end of the season, your Little Leaguer had his or her own Orioles uniform.

Yes, they once gave out bats at Orioles games. I have vivid childhood memories of attending bat day on 33rd Street and cradling my new favorite piece of lumber in my arms through the entire game. Some young fans, however, didn't have such reverence for their bats - they held the handle and used the barrel end to tap the concrete as they chanted, "We want a hit." Back then, the sound of maybe 10,000 kids (15 and under, of course) rhythmically rooting on the Birds was music to the club's ears.

This photograph from the late 1950s gives you an idea of how coveted a giveaway a kid-sized stick could be. And we're talking regulation Louisville Slugger here, folks - probably a 28-ounce model that could be used in anything from neighborhood stickball to pickup games to regulation rec league contests. This shot is from a bat night at Memorial Stadium, presumably before the sun set on another spectacular night at the ballpark (the kind where the welcoming voice of play-by-play man Chuck Thompson implored over the radio just as dinner was winding down, "If you're close, we've got plenty of space, so come on down and cheer the O's to a victory.").BatNight.jpg

Of course, bat day is a thing of the past, concerns over safety getting in the way of a treasured rite of childhood. For a time, the O's solved that dilemma by distributing the bats as young fans left the stadium. The practice had a two-fold benefit - it kept kids in the seats longer, providing a crowd throughout all nine innings, and drove parents crazy as restless youngsters pestered them for lukewarm hot dogs, watered-down sodas and those little cardboard popcorn contraptions that functioned as a hand-held megaphone ready for rooting.

Tankards, plush cows, backpacks, batting gloves, baseballs cards, flowers on Mother's Day, sunglasses - admit it, you've got some of these goodies stashed away in a desk drawer or the back corner of your closet. Over the years, what's been your favorite giveaway? And what's the giveaway you just don't understand everyone's fascination with?

Photos used in the Flashback feature come from the Orioles' photo archives. From time to time this season, we'll take a look back at interesting people, places and events in Baltimore baseball history through the camera lenses that captured them and lend a historical perspective to what's shown.

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