In 1997, Baltimore acquired a football team from Cleveland to replace one stolen away in the middle of the night over a decade before. (To this day, loyal, native Baltimorons will not speak the name of that owner without ejecting spit or emitting a least one bitter invective.) When the Ravens moved to Baltimore, it was the second time in it's history that a sports team named the "Browns" relocated to the fair city. The first, and most important was nearly half a century earlier, in 1954, when the St. Louis Browns baseball team relocated to the quiet neighborhood of Ednor Gardens.
Baltimore had a major league team named the Orioles in 1890, but after only two seasons, they moved to New York to become the New York Yankees. It is a shameful and embarrassing part of Oriole history that good fans refuse to acknowledge. After that, Baltimore had only a minor league team for the next five decades. The minor league Orioles played in the original Oriole Park, not far from Memorial Stadium until 1944. On a day that changed history, July 3, 1944, Oriole Park burned to the ground. Now homeless, the team played the rest of the season in Baltimore's football park, Municipal Stadium. Rebounding from the setback, the Orioles won the International League division in their new home and in so doing, generated new enthusiasm for baseball. That season finale led to an event that shaped the course of my life.
With new interest in baseball, the city decided to replace Municipal Stadium with a bigger and better facility, one that would be an appealing ballpark for both football and baseball and one that would attract any baseball team interested in relocating to Baltimore. In 1950, Municipal Stadium was complete. It was ready for a team, and in 1954, it got one. With a little work, the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore, were renamed the Baltimore Orioles, and played their first season in the new Memorial Stadium.
Meanwhile, at some point in the 1950's, my grandmother made a promise to my father to buy him a house near the stadium. When she eventually fulfilled that promise, my family had a home living nearly as close to the stadium as one could take up residence without actually inhabiting the stadium itself. By the time I came along a decade later, the Orioles were already the best team in baseball with three men on the roster who would later enter the Hall of Fame, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Earl Weaver. My parents' children never knew a world that didn't include the Orioles, and we didn't have a choice about liking them or attending the games, nor did we want one. Our summers were spent as a family either inside Memorial Stadium or listening to the game on the radio. From my bedroom window, I watched the crowds walk to the game, I listened to the cheers, and I memorized Rex Barney's pregame and postgame announcements. During high school, Thanksgiving day always started with my next door neighbors, also my best friends, and I watching the Poly vs. City and Calvert Hall vs. Loyola games played there as part of a long tradition. I also watched a few shiveringly miserable Colts games before that untimely nocturnal "event."
When the Orioles were away and in the off-season, my friends and I had acres of stadium parking lot to use as a playground. Ten of my twelve years of school required walking across some portion of it, either to reach my elementary school on Ellerslie, or in high school, to reach the city bus stop on 33rd Street. In the winter, it was the coldest place in Baltimore. With nothing to block the wind, there were many days when reaching the other side of the lot was the best part of the day, warmth only a few more steps away. With plenty of wide open space, the parking lot also featured into our driving skills. It was a tradition in the neighborhood, that as soon as one could legally sit behind the wheel, we would practice maneuvers. For teenage boys, this meant wearing out tires trying to do donuts. For all of us, it meant during the first ice and snow of the season, setting the car into a skid and learning how to regain control. To this day, I still have had only one accident, and that was from failing to check my rear-view mirror before backing into a colleague in my office parking lot. Not one of my proudest moments. I credit my nearly accident-free record mostly to good luck, but also some small part those days learning how to handle a car.
The stadium parking lot was also the scene where my brother and his friends attempted to imitate Evil Knievil, setting up complex ramps and jumps (all my brother's idea). It kept them entertained and sort of out of trouble for a least two weeks during the summer. I was the one who accompanied my brother to the hospital after one of his jump attempts resulted in a rather unfortunate amount of gravel being embedded in his face, my mother too fed up with her fearless son to sit through more stitches.
That grand structure Memorial Stadium and the Orioles are connected to so many of the memories for my first two decades.
It would be a lie to say that by college I hadn't learned to take a few things for granted. I thought Memorial Stadium would always be there and the Orioles would always be good. I was 22 when I moved away, and only then did I realize how much the Orioles were part of my life, even when I wasn't following them. Living in Tampa, 1000 miles away from home, my first April was sad and lifeless. There were no longer any crowds filing past my window, no traffic jams and honking horns, no sounds emanating from the stadium across the street. I felt so lonely. I missed my family and I missed the thousands of people who came to my neighborhood on summer days. I missed being in the middle of the fun. I missed the bright glow from the stadium lights. I missed knowing how a game ended just by listening to the crowd leaving the game. If we lost, it was quiet. If we won, there were at least a few shouts and cheers. Baseball marked the seasons for me and without it, I had to find other cues to mark the transition from winter to spring. Twenty years later, I still have not found any, as lovely as the Spring and Fall are, that creates the same stir of enthusiasm in me as the start of baseball and Opening Day.
Soon after I left home, a decision was made to build Camden Yards and tear down Memorial Stadium. I never had another chance to watch the Orioles play in Memorial Stadium. Combined with the grief from my dad's recent passing, for a couple of years the life and energy that used to permeate my childhood home was replaced with the silence of all the missing sounds, the absence of my father's voice and laughter and the sounds of the game-time bustle that I never minded, but until they were gone, I never fully appreciated either. The Orioles move to Camden Yards left Ednor Gardens a bit like a ghost town. We had to adjust to life without the Orioles across the street, a possibility that I had never considered or imagined. I am sure there were some who were thrilled to not have the game traffic, but for my family we had to grieve the loss of two treasures in a short space of time.
Eventually, of course, my family adapted to the changes and the idea that the Orioles had a new home. And then there was Cal Ripken's streak, which made the Orioles interesting again, even if they weren't playing just across the street and we couldn't hear the crowds cheering anymore. Still though, my heart will always ache for that grand edifice that shaped my childhood memories. When someone tells me that Camden Yards is beautiful, I cannot bring myself to remark anything other than, "Yeah, it's okay." I am biased. I would have been happy if the Orioles had played at Memorial Stadium until the sun burned out of existence. As pretty as Camden Yards is, it is not the home of my most precious memories. It cannot compete. Not even close.
I can show people my old neighborhood, but I cannot show them where I grew up, where my friends and I ice skated in the winter, where we waited for autographs, or peeked through the outfield fence to try to see the game for free, where I sat shivering during that rainy game in 1979 when we lost to the Pirates (spit), or we watched the Orioles tie the Brewers for first in 1982 (before we lost and sent the Brewers to the playoffs), Wild Bill's seat in Section 34, or where that legend stood when he filled the stadium with an energetic Orioles cheer, where my brother met his wife, or we sat every year behind the man my father disapprovingly nicknamed "headphones," where the twins and I ran through the aisles after games collecting left-behind ticket stubs, just because, and ran up and down the ramps on slow days, where I out-lasted Cal Ripken once (I swear it was only once), where my favorite climbing tree was, or where on a very odd date, my date's friend (he brought a friend) walked at full stride into one of those tall, white, wooden posts lining the parking lot and broke his glasses (one of the funniest moments in my entire life and it wasn't even polite to laugh).
That magnificent place that filled my life with so many rich experiences, that gave me a better childhood than anyone else I have ever met, no longer exists. The memories are relegated to pictures in my mind. There is nothing left to touch or photograph. I can explain, but I can never share with anyone the experience, or convey to them, what was my childhood. No one else in Ednor Gardens will ever grow up having the experiences I did and I can't help but feel a little sad about that. Yes, okay, I'll admit that Camden Yards is lovely, but it is a corporate ballpark, in the middle of a business district, designed with corporate money in mind. It will never provide a generation of neighborhood residents with the same memories or infuse them with the same affection that a stadium like Memorial or Fenway or Wrigley can. All others are buildings, they are not intimately tied to home. No, they are not home and they do not shape childhoods the way Memorial Stadium did and Camden Yards never will.
Now, I live in Charlotte. Until last year when MASN magically appeared on my television, I had a hard time following the Orioles. I had tried many times and many ways to see the Orioles in the intervening years, but none were successful. Still though, I had no idea how much I missed the team and baseball until MASN brightened my world. Summers are again just as they should be, with sounds of baseball warming my home, for home and away games, and perhaps even a little more often than in my youth. If only I could see the team in person more often or work for the Orioles, the picture of my life would be complete.
This website is dedicated to, if not the best team in baseball, the only one that will ever matter to me. It is named for Brooks Robinson, one of only two men in all of baseball to be awarded sixteen gold gloves. He is an exceptional human being and was a pleasure to watch, even if he did set my expectations unrealistically. This is for those of us who bleed orange and black, who loved Brooks, who loved all those great Orioles from our past, who ache as we hang out at the bottom for want of decent pitching, and who will learn to love many more in an Orioles uniform in the years to come.
The site is still a work in progress, but I will be adding all things Orioles as time permits. Please keep checking back.
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Contact SGG: Sixteen Gold Gloves
Last Updated: September 27, 2008