Oriole Park at Camden Yards… My Love of Baseball

There is something about the crack of a bat on the ball and the ball hitting a mitt that just puts me both at ease as well as give me boundless energy. One of my favourite things to do is goto a ballgame. I love baseball. I have since I was a little kid when I first moved to the States. I learned how to read English before I could speak it. So much of what I am I attribute to my love of baseball. While I don’t feverishly memorize every players’ stats anymore like I once did, I still keep my hand in the game, whether it’s when I’m at the park or it is during the postseason. A lifelong Brooklyn (and later Los Angeles, when I turned to that part of the book as I was learning to read English) Dodgers fan with the Boston Red Sox a close second (essentially, between the two of them, hating the New York Yankees), I also grew to love the Chicago Cubs when I lived there, my last baseball season there even enjoying season tickets to Wrigley. I have attended ballgames at many parks – countless games at Wrigley Field (Cubs) and US Cellular (White Sox) with a train (the Red Line) as well as familial and geographic loyalties fiercely separating the two, Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine (Los Angeles), old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Candlestick Park and PacBell – the old and new homes to the San Francisco Giants, the Oakland Colosseum for the A’s, Kaufmann Stadium where the Kansas City Royals play, Jacobs Field – home of the Cleveland Indians, both old and new Busch Stadium for the St Louis Cardinals, Bank One Ballpark (In Phoenix where the Arizona Diamondbacks play) and Citizens Bank Ballpark (home of the Philadelphia Phillies). And I’ve taken a tour of the Boston Red Sox’ historic Fenway Park and Sky Dome in Toronto (Blue Jays). I’m sure I’m missing a few.

And today, my dad and my sister joined me for a ballgame in Baltimore at Camden Yards. This was only the second time my dad had been to a ballgame (his first one almost seventeen years ago not a particularly memorable one for him, as he sat way high in the upper deck at Wrigley barely able to see let alone understand the game). My sister was a veteran. More specifically, she’s a veteran Cardinals fan, while I “hate”, I also thoroughly appreciate and love. My dad’s experience this time was different, as our seats were incredible, 23 rows up from the first baseline almost directly behind first base itself manned by the O’s Chris Davis. We were in the middle of the action. My two favourite moments outside of the action on the field itself was my sister teaching my dad the rules of the game (he’s an avid football – Indianapolis Colts – fan, diehard, actually; but the nuances of baseball always alluded him somewhat) and the turning point when I caught a glimpse of my dad leaning forward and clutching the back of the seat in front of him as the action on the field tensed. He was into it. My sister and I smiled.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the first of the new ballparks built over twenty years ago with a retro-feel, a stark contrast to US Cellular built at the same time, the stadium that replaced Old Comiskey where the White Sox played. Camden Yards was every bit as magnificent as I had imagined. Along with several colleagues a couple years ago, I had dinner with Cal Ripken, Jr. once; and I was ashamed to admit that I had never been. And now a dream had come through; another item from my bucket list could be scratched. The Minnesota Twins visited the Baltimore Orioles. This game was an offensive explosion with five homers- three by the Orioles (including a grand slam by JJ Hardy) and two by the Twins. Caleb Jones for the Orioles went 4 for 5; and a season .200 hitter for the O’s – Ryan Flaherty – hit a home run and a triple. The O’s beat the Twins 12-8, the Twins spunky despite a well pitched game by the Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen. 

Some of my best memories can be attributed to a ballgame. I’ll never forget 1981 for as long as I live, when Fernandomania gripped the country for a summer. A 19-year-old phenom took the baseball world by storm, starting the season with eight straight wins to a Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Award season helping the Dodgers to the World Series against two come from behind five-game series (beating the Houston Astros then the Montreal Expos) taking on the hated New York Yankees. Down two games to zero in New York, the series shifted back to Los Angeles when on national TV, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda told the national audience that he had prayed to that great big Dodger in the sky. We would not lose again, en route to winning the World Series. The Dodgers had rallied from series deficits of 2 games to zero, 2-1 and 2-0, to beat their opponents to capture the title; that Great Big Dodger in the Sky was looking out for them and me. Fast forward seven years, Gibson’s homer against the A’s in 1988 will forever be the single greatest moment in sports I’ve ever experienced, watching it in the basement of my childhood home with my dad and my youngest brother. I’ve written about that moment as nauseum (and I never tire of it). 

Flash forward many years later to a bar on Chicago’s Northside in 2003, Game 7 Marlins at Wrigley Field. The Bartman game (sorry Steve Bartman) was behind us and though we lost in epic fashion, there was still another game to be played. And the Cubbies had their best pitcher of the year, young fire baller Kerry Wood on the mound (mad respect to Mark Prior); he hadn’t lost in six weeks at Wrigley. Though he fell behind early, when Wood hit a two-run homer (in the bottom of the second) to tie the game, I knew we were going to the Big Dance. I wish I could bottle that feeling I felt as Wood circled the bases. I felt that feeling years before as Gibson rounded the bases. It was incredible; everyone in the bar was jumping up and down, hugging each other, and hootin’ & hollering’. The next inning Moses Alou another two-run homer to give us the lead. We were going to win.

We didn’t.

Meanwhile, in the American League, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees were waging their own version of a holy war. As epic as the Cubs/Marlins series was, so was the Red Sox/Yankees, even more so because of the historic rivalry between these two enemies. And even more dramatic than the National League Series, this one came down to one player. One at bat. One pitch. Red Sox fans know this only too well, a pitch that broke the hearts of Red Sox Nation, and much like 1977, the ending was the same. Instead of Bucky f-cking Dent, it was Aaron f-cking Boone. Game over. Season over.

But this time it was different. Red Sox Nation would have to wait one more year to be a part of the most epic comeback in the history of sports. Down three games to nothing in a seven game series, down to their final three batters, with the unshakeable future HOF Mariano Rivera on the mound, all the Yankees needed were three outs to go back to the World Series. Rivera gave up a leadoff walk to Kevin Millar, who was replaced at first for a pinch runner Dave Roberts, who stole second. Bill Mueller then looped a single to score Roberts and tie the game. In the bottom of the 12th, up stepped Big Papi David Ortiz to the plate. He had other ideas. With a two-run blast, he kept Red Sox Nation’s hopes alive for another day. And Papi did it again, hitting a single to center with two outs in the bottom of the 14th to win the game once again. Game 6 was Curt Schilling’s ‘bloody sock’ game, and the BoSox won again to force a game seven. The Red Sox crushed the Yankees in the final game, becoming the only team in baseball history to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series.

I always get the chills when I think of those great moments. And I always think of my brothers and my sister as many of those memories bring me back to my youth.

Going to baseball games has given me so many great memories, in no particular order… Sitting in the bleachers of Yankee Stadium with my cousin Tobin (a self-admitted Yankees fan at the time) over one 4th of July to watch the Red Sox stomp on them… Going to the Cardinals game with my cousin Betsy and her husband Litten the day after my sister’s wedding sitting six rows behind the first base line just mere feet from the great Albert Pujols… Sitting with my sister and future brother-in-law in the outfield of old Busch Stadium as they cheered their beloved Cardinals… Sitting with my best friend Derek (also a diehard Cardinals fan- I must be a glutton for punishment) eating a Dodger dog in the bleachers when the Cubs came to Chavez Ravine… Going to Giants games with my best friend Tad drinking beer and eating Gordon Biersch garlic fries… Sitting with my brother George on his birthday in my season seats on the upper deck of Wrigley Field… Sitting in the outfield with my friends Garrett & Andrea in US Cellular… My closest friend Paulie’s bachelor party with other close friends at US Cellular after a day of golf… Taking a road trip to Cleveland with my friend DaveRisner to Jacobs Field to watch the Indians… Cliff Lee’s first game pitching for the Phillies as a gun-for-hire at Citizens Bank with my sister her husband, a game that ended in the biggest rain out I’d ever been a part of, thoroughly drenched as we drive home… Several years of my company renting out Wrigley Field for a day for all of its employees so we could walk it and play ball, not to mention countless actual games attended at Wrigley with family and friends… So many memories and so many more. “People will come, Ray. People will most certainly come.”

I’ve always envisioned I’d someday play ball with my son and/or daughter. Perhaps that’s why I spend so much time, energy and money on physical therapy, chiropractic care, yoga, Pilates, and massage. As my body ages, so too do the aches and pains. I’m forever cognizant that my body is unlike others my age, as age itself has deteriorated it, but being in a pedestrian & moving vehicle accident has exacerbated it significantly more. That dream of playing with my kids-to-be spurs me to keep caring for my body. And when I am unable do that, I’ll take them out to the ballgame. 

All that brings me to yesterday, when I went to Oriole Park at Camden Yards with my dad and my sister. It was a perfect day.

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