GIVING THE BIRD TO BALTIMORE
As a young man growing up in D.C., Baltimore was strictly "second-city." After all, Washington had NATIONAL Airport. Baltimore had Friendship Airport. Our city was named after the man who won the Revolutionary War. Their city was named after a British Lord, and according to my Fairfax County Public Schools education, they're the ones who lost the war. My first trip into Baltimore was in 1964. I remember vividly the Baltimore City clock tower. It had black block letters across its face, and as I stared through the windshield of my Father's Buick Wildcat, the words became readable. "Bromo Seltzer." Bromo Seltzer?? "Dad," I began, "Why did Baltimore put 'Bromo Seltzer' on their city clock?" "Because," my Dad began, with that rich, reassuring voice that all fathers had in the early '60s, "It is a reminder to take it because living in Baltimore makes you sick."
Now, that's not why I disliked Baltimore. It was the Orioles. The Senators invited them to leave St. Louis and play in our back yard, and they repaid us by beating the snot out of us every time we played. The Orioles would trade for Frank Robinson and the Senators would trade for Greg Goosen [sigh]. In 1969, the Senators won 86 games and were competitive the entire year. The Orioles won twenty games more and went to the World Series. In baseball, Washington was the weak sister. When Robert Short did to Washington what he did to Minneapolis a dozen years earlier, I was crushed [bet you didn't know he was the Lakers owner who moved them to L.A. - that's why they are the "Lakers," because Minnesota is known as the "land of 10,000 lakes"]. But even Robert Short's "Texas Two-step" couldn't make me an Oriole fan. For five years, I rooted for the Redskins and the Bullets, and spent my summers at Ocean City. But things changed in 1976. Her name was Sharon. Having dated many girls, Sharon was the first "woman" I had gone out with. I had known her throughout high school and had been friends, but I was never considered to be in her "league."
She was an avid Oriole fan, and wanted to see a game in Baltimore.
Hmmmm. Hatred of the Orioles vs. a vivacious redhead [actually, the decision was closer than you'd think]. Just a few days before our country's Bi-centennial, Sharon and I zipped down the parkway towards Baltimore in her yellow VW convertible. I had a great time until we pulled into the Memorial Stadium parking lot. I got kind of clammy. My stomach began to hurt.
RFK was [at this time] sleek and modern, and Memorial Stadium looked out of date, with its brick façade and 1930's brushed aluminum lettering. I kept muttering to myself, "vivacious redhead...vivacious redhead" as we walked into the stadium.
I still don't get it.
Here, in the middle of a large urban city, sitting among 35,000 people, the loudspeakers blared John Denver's "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" after each inning. Didn't see a single country boy in the stands. And people from Baltimore must like the sun, because there was no roof on the stadium and I boiled like a crab from their harbor. Oh, and the Orioles lost. Reggie Jackson hit his 11th homer of the season and Doug DeCinces made a couple of good defensive plays, but the O's fell to the Angels 8-6 (Don't think my memory is this good -- I remembered Jackson walloping two homers and that the Orioles lost 14-6. I was sure, though, that the game was against the Angels, and that is was just after the "American Bi-Centennial," so it was pretty easy to check retrosheet.com and get it right). But I couldn't watch the game. I just couldn't All around me were these giant Oriole bird faces with huge grins, staring right at me! They were laughing at me because Baltimore had a baseball team and I didn't. When we got home, the redhead wasn't feeling very vivacious because her team had lost, and she asked me to leave so she could "rest." Crap. The Orioles were even destroying my love life!
I had to get away from that stupid bird. I moved to Pocatello, Idaho 15 years ago, where I don't have to see that beaky bird mocking my misfortune. Alas, the wrongs of the world have been righted with baseball again being part of my life. This time, Washington has Frank Robinson, and the Orioles have the modern day equivalents of Greg Goosen and Jim French. Just as Sir Peter feared, the Orioles will be but a postscript in Washington history. Way back there, in the deep recesses of Washington's memory junkpile, next to the A, B & W Bus company, People's Drug Stores and Glen Echo Amusement Park, will be the faint odor of the Orioles.
Thirty years from now, a young boy will dig up an old picture of his dad wearing an Oriole's cap and, with tears in his eyes, ask "Why?" "Son," the dad will begin, using lyrics from a song that rocked D.C. the summer of the Senators greatest year, 'If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.'" Baltimore, we were lonely. We're not lonely anymore. Deal with it.
I also remember in 3rd grade at Hardy Elementary all the boys being excited about Del Unser paying us a visit to our classroom, and I had no clue what the excitement was about. I found out real quick-like.
I also remember the time Russie Hirshon's (yes, THAT one) mom took both of us to see our first baseball game at that shtinking old tank called D.C. Stadium. That was COOOOOOOOOOOOOL!
Be careful there about rooting for the Baltimore Bullets.
Don't worry, things are becoming right again. It's only a matter of time.
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