For love of the game.
We’re not talking about a Kevin Costner movie here, but rather the love of baseball that probably all of us have, to some extent. For some, maybe love is too strong a word. For me, it’s not. I fell in love with baseball as a kid and I still love the sport.
Almost everything about it.
From a well-executed relay that gets the runner at the plate to that line drive double in the gap to that great play in the hole at short. I love big swings leading to dramatic big hits and big pitches that blow hitters away. I love a good pitchers’ duel. That’s a personal favorite.
I often wonder: If the Orioles had been a terrible team during my formative years with the game, would have that same love today?
But I consider myself lucky in that between the ages of 10 and of 20, when that love grew and grew, the Orioles won and won.
For me, those years run from 1970 through 1980. In that span, the Orioles were in the playoffs five times and in the World Series three times. They were in first place five times. They won 100 or more games four times. They averaged 95 wins. That was the average! They were winners and they were my hometown team. It was great.
It was also a simpler and very different time. A kid of 10 or 12 that lived on Third Street in Overlea back then could walk to Belair Road and catch the No. 15 bus to Erdman Avenue and transfer to the No. 22. Moments later, there it was in all its glory on 33rd Street - Memorial Stadium. So our parents would let us go on our own to the game, but someone’s dad would always pick us up to end the night.
In those days, if I remember right, the games began at 8 p.m. and were usually done by about 10:30 p.m., if not sooner. But our day started well before that. We would get to the stadium about two hours before first pitch and wait for the gates to open 90 minutes before. Then we’d run to the left field bleachers and wait for the batting practice homers to come our way.
The pursuit of a ball was what put us there. And I feel lame admitting this, but I never, ever got one. I seldom had a homer hit near me is what I recall. That seems almost impossible, considering I attended hundreds of games, but no, I didn’t get one. Once in the early innings of a game against the California Angels with it raining hard and a delay imminent, Bobby Grich hit one right to me in the first row of Section 41 of the upper deck. I tried for the catch. It bounced out of my hands and right to the guy in the row behind me. Hey, no problem, happy to slow down that screaming liner for you!
By the way, Section 41 was my favorite place. Great view, right behind home plate. Before they tore that grand old stadium down (and wasn’t that very, very hard to watch) I got a few treasured mementos. One I cherish the most is the section 41 sign we saw above our heads as we came up the ramp. Yep, I’ve got that one. Section 41.
The greatest days were when they played those 5:30 p.m. doubleheaders. We ran into the park at 4 p.m. and were happy to stay all night. Two games for one price - what a concept! They actually scheduled doubleheaders so you could plan ahead.
I guess I might have developed the same love for the game had I been following a team of lovable losers like the Cubs. But my team was a winner. The Orioles. It seemed like every September they would start a few games out of first and then go 22-6 or something like that and blow by everyone. We just knew they would win.
From Brooks and Boog and Jim to Singy and Flanny. The Earl of Baltimore. Loved them all and knew all of their stats. In high school, my friend Scott and I passed time in boring classes by predicting the lineup for that night’s game.
It seemed every day and just about everything I did involved baseball and the Orioles. I can remember watching what was then a rare telecast on Channel 13 and waiting to see who got the Ezrine Award after the game.
So that is how I fell in love with the Orioles. How about you? What stories do you have about growing up with the Orioles, attending games and/or learning about the sport?
Talkin’ baseball and the O’s: Yep, did that yesterday with host Paul Mancano on “MASN All Access.” Click here to see the video and check out the somewhat blurry look at me in the home office from Harford County. Maybe I never looked better! I enjoyed being on and Paul has good content even before and I after I showed up.