Groups are the backbone of baseball attendance numbers. It's a simple equation, really - a block of tickets sold to a group inevitably includes ducats in the hands of casual fans or people who have never been to a game before. They come to a game at a usually discounted price and hopefully like what they see and feel. Amid all the sodas and hot dogs, beer and peanuts, souvenirs and actual baseball action, maybe you entice them back again at full price. And maybe a non-fan or casual fan becomes something more.
But groups at the ballpark are also a social endeavor, an opportunity for members of a club, workplace or organization to enjoy a night or afternoon out. And what better place than the ballpark, that magical tapestry of greener-than-green grass and, in these parts, splashes of orange and black. In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you right off the bat that I've organized group outings for two previous places of employment and a couple of civic organizations to which I've belonged over the years. But it's not like I ever need an excuse to go to a baseball game. The mere existence of a game has always been reason enough.
In Baltimore, if you've attended a game at Memorial Stadium or Camden Yards, you know just how prevalent groups have been at Orioles games over the years. Listen to the pregame announcements, or watch the names roll by during scoreboard welcomes, and you'll realize the intricate relationship between the Birds and groups of fans who buy their tickets in bulk.
The Holy Names Society, Social Security Administration, BGE, Boy Scouts, college and university alumni associations, Optimist Clubs, Special Olympians - the list goes on and on. All have enjoyed baseball in Baltimore over the years. Over and over and over again.
This photo from the late 1950s, or maybe 1960, shows just how strong the bond was between the O's and their fans in the club's formative years. How else could you explain the presence of then-Orioles right fielder Al Pilarcik, a guy who drew a paycheck in the majors for six seasons (which might have been more if not for two seasons spent in military service during the Korean War), seated on a stool at the controls of a Cloverland cow during Dairy Night at Memorial Stadium? Such activities were fairly commonplace during the Birds' early seasons, as they tried to establish their place on the Baltimore sports landscape. It was also an era before the days of multi-million-dollar deals with provisions to exclude specific off-the-field activities. I've heard of things like motorcycling, skiing, off-roading and snowboarding being contractually prohibited. Wonder if anyone would have banned cow-milking?
Many times, these kinds of activities forced the club to call on a player's pre-baseball days as a means of deciding who would participate in certain festivities. Say you grew up on the farmlands of the Iowa plains. If so, you might be drafted to milk a cow since, presumably, as a Midwestern farmboy, you might have some hands-on experience at locating and manipulating udders. Not sure if this is how Pilarcik ended up beside ol' Bessie in this black-and-white throwback. He hailed from Whiting, Ind., part of the Chicago metropolitan area. But he was certainly a good-natured enough sort to give milking a whirl. See Pilarcik's hand on his uniform pants? He might have been warming up to facilitate better milk delivery (yes, I learned this fun fact when I beat Miss Maryland Dairy 1989 in a milk-off at UMBC Stadium in 1989). Cold hands are a cow-milker's enemy.
Pilarcik is no longer with us; he passed on Sept. 10, 2010 in Schererville, Ind., at age 80. From 1957-59, he played 100 or more games for the O's, but his playing time tailed off in 1960, his final season in Baltimore. Pilarcik, however, was in right field on Sept. 28, 1960 in Fenway Park for Ted Williams' final major league game. And Williams sailed a home run over Pilarcik's head into the right-field stands in his final career at-bat. Pilarcik hit .263 with 17 homers and 106 RBIs in 517 games as an Oriole. He was traded to Kansas City in January 1961 in the deal that brought Russ Snyder and Whitey Herzog to Baltimore and split 1961, his final major league season, between the A's and White Sox. He retired and taught at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., for more than 30 years.
Cloverland Farms Dairy was a Baltimore-based institution that started as a horse-and-wagon operation in 1919. During the 1960s, it had a thriving home delivery operation that included the Kerzel household on Bloomsbury Avenue in Catonsville. Its radio/TV jingle - "If you don't own a cow, call Cloverland now. NOrth9-2222" - is burned into a generation's collective memory. Cloverland was acquired by Green Spring Dairy in 1995 and the newly named Cloverland Green Spring Dairy still operates a facility on Loch Raven Road and continues to serve everything from convenience stores and schools to supermarkets and hotels.
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.