Southpaw Flashback: In the Beginning

Editor’s Note: For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 1 on our countdown is a column from January 25, 2013.

It has been said, rightly so, that every story has a beginning.

One need only look at literature to see some opening lines that have definitely stood the test of time.

From Charles Dickens declaring in A Tale of Two Cities that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to Herman Melville inviting the readers of Moby Dick to “Call me Ishmael,” history is full of great opening lines and beginnings of stories.

These classic openers have grabbed the reader’s attention hook line, and in Moby Dick‘s case very large sinker for generations.

While beginnings are important one cannot and should not stop there.

By stopping at the beginning line of A Tale of Two Cities one would know nothing more than that times were both good and bad.

The same can be true of Moby Dick where the hunt for the white whale consumes Captain Ahab and his crew and becomes far more than just knowing to call a guy Ishmael.

So it is with all of us, while we are not classic literature we also have our origin stories and events that shape who we are and what pursuits we follow.

Don’t worry, this is not a back in the day when little Ryan was born kind of story.

Although, it is safe to say if we weren’t all born, none of us would be here.

No, this is a tale of when my love of baseball took root. And much like Dickens the tale of my first baseball game experience was the both the best of times and the worst of times.

Memorial Stadium 2
Memorial Stadium in Baltimore circa 1983.
Photo by R. Anderson

As I have mentioned previously, I grew up as a Baltimore Orioles fan who bled Orange and Black pretty much from the time I can remember.

I followed football as well but baseball was also the sport that drew me in just a little bit more.

As such, I tried to catch all the games that I could on the radio and television. I could recite lineups and stats that would make even the most avid statistician take notice.

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that I was going to get to go to Memorial Stadium to see the Orioles play in person in September of 1983.

Aside from the thrill of going to the game for me, 1983 was a very pivotal year for the Orioles as they were in the first year under new manager Joe Altobelli following retirement number one of Earl Weaver and spoiler alert they went on to win the World Series that year over the Philadelphia Phillies.

Of course I am getting ahead of myself since no one knew for sure in September what October would hold but needless to say there was a buzz throughout Birdland on the anticipation of what could be.

Speaking of anticipation, like most young boys gong to their first baseball game I had high hopes and higher expectations that I was going to catch a home run ball hit by Cal Ripken, Jr. and get all kinds of player autographs before the game.

I was joined in my traveling party by my mom, a family friend and his nephew. The sky was the limit and I was ready to make the most of the ballpark experience.

We all loaded into the car and headed up to Baltimore (or Balmer if you are from there) which was about a 30 minute drive from where we lived.

Throughout the drive we excitedly talked about who we would see first and which inning we wanted to catch the home run ball in since it would be greedy to want to catch all of the home run balls that were hit our way.

Orioles Program
The 1983 Baltimore Orioles game program.

We arrived in plenty of time having pledged to arrive early and see the sights to avoid the traffic.

After walking around the Inner Harbor area it was time to head to the stadium.

It was at this moment that the realization occurred that the tickets that would gain us entrance into the hallowed walls of Memorial Stadium were not with us in Baltimore but were in fact back in Gaithersburg which was 30 minutes away and at this time even further away in traffic.

Looking back now with 29 years or so of hindsight I want to say that I handled the news of the ticket situation with dignity and grace and the cool assurance that comes from knowing that things like this happen and that the world goes on but the key is to keep calm.

The reality of course is that 8-year-old me did not take the news well at all. And who can blame young me?

I was at the cusp of seeing my heroes, of eating hot dogs until I was blue in the face and of course catching that pivotal home run and getting all of those autographs. Now, all of that was in jeopardy and I was not pleased and was far from calm.

In the end, we made it to the game around the fifth inning, found our seats and watched the Orioles play the Milwaukee Brewers who had not yet moved to the National League at this time. (Why the Brewers did not move back to the American League instead of the Astros for 2013 is another story for another day, but is no less puzzling).

I did not catch that home run ball. I did not get any autographs. I did eat a hot dog and I most definitely discovered that baseball is so much better in person.

There is a buzz around ballparks that really can’t be duplicated even with the most high definition of televisions with Dolby surround sound and the freshest of popcorn smells being pumped into the media room. To truly experience baseball is to experience it in person.

Since moving to Texas I have adopted the Astros into my stable of teams that I follow and try to attend as many games as I can each year in Minute Maid Park in addition to traveling the country and going to ballparks both small and large.

I have also since caught my share of balls despite striking out in my first attempt in 1983.

No matter the ballpark size I still get the same feeling walking in as I did as that 8-year-old boy experiencing it for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a huge fan of crowds so the push and shove on the escalators and concourses can get tiring but once I am in my seat the magic begins all over again and it is like I am seeing it all for the first time through the eyes of younger me.

For those few hours in the Ballpark, I don’t worry about the stress of life or any of the outside world it is just the game and me; well and thousands of my closest friends.

So while that September night in 1983 did not go completely to plan it was indeed the best of times and the worst of times and introduced me to the white whale that I have chased across state lines ever since.

It also taught me to always check and double check that I have the tickets before leaving for the ballpark.

Now if you will excuse me I think I need to catch up on some Dickens.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Advertisements

Southpaw Flashback: Orioles Rout White Sox and No One is There to Hear

Editor’s Note: For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 2 on our countdown is a column from April 29, 2015.

Earlier today The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox tested the baseball equivalent of the old adage about what happens when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it.

Instead of a forest though the two teams were in the nearly empty Oriole Pak at Camden Yards for a Major League Baseball game in which the Orioles defeated the White Sox 8-2.

The National Anthem was still played, and a stretch was still made in the seventh inning complete with the John Denver song that has entertained Birdland for the better part of four decades but something was definitely missing.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans.
Photo R. Anderson

With only players, team officials, some scouts and members of the media allowed inside the Ballpark the game marked the first time in MLB history that fans were locked out of the Ballpark when a game was going on.

While there were fans who gathered to watch the game from outside the gates no ticketed fans were allowed through the turnstiles.

With no fans inside the Ballpark home run balls and foul balls went uncaught and parts of the Ballpark were so silent one could likely hear a pin drop.

Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter noted after the game that it was so quiet that he could hear the bullpen phone ringing from the other end.

As strange as playing in an empty Ballpark is today’s game was merely one of many things to occur during a strange week for the Orioles who briefly told fans that they could not leave the Ballpark on Saturday night and then saw games on Monday and Tuesday completely cancelled.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend. Photo R. Anderson
Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will also fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.

The reason for all of the juggling of the schedule is protests that are occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding the Ballpark which have led to the city of Baltimore imposing a 10 p.m. curfew.

Even with all of the efforts to shorten the pace of play a regular MLB game could not be finished in time for fans to all get home before 10. Ironically though the game in the empty Ballpark was finished in just a little over two hours which might lead some to believe that the ultimate way to shorten the game is to lock the fans out all the time.

With police and National Guard troops trying to restore order within Baltimore to prevent future acts of violence and looting, the Ballpark will stay silent until it is deemed safe to once again play ball.

Part of the freedom Americans have is free speech and the ability to show displeasure with things in a way that very few other countries have.

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a "home" series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals. Photo R. Anderson
The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.
Photo R. Anderson

But there are limits to the protection of free speech. Just as it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire it is also illegal to burn buildings and other property as a form of protest.

The violence and destruction over the past few days takes away from those members of society who are trying to peacefully demonstrate and have their voices heard.

As is almost always the case a small minority of protestors escalated things to the level of violence so any generalizations about the behavior of all of the protestors would be false. Sadly, the actions of the few far out shadow any peaceful message that the many may have been trying to share.

And while a baseball game being played in an empty Ballpark is likely something that will be forever mentioned as part of Baseball lore and may even warrant a small exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is those few individuals who turned to violent protests that caused the community of Baltimore to lose the economic benefit from at least six baseball games.

Granted two of the cancelled games will be made up as a doubleheader later in the season but the fact remains the protests took money out of people’s pockets.

Bars and restaurants near the Ballpark did not benefit from the game day crowds and the various vendors who sell peanuts and Cracker Jacks missed out on income from the games as well.

Hopefully the Orioles are able to come home to roost by the time of their next schedule home game, however, Major League Baseball has made it very clear that fans will not be allowed inside the Ballpark while protests are still actively occurring.

While it is certainly unfortunate that games are being played without fans and Camden Yards, the safety of the thousands of fans had to be taken into account so while it was a difficult decision to move out of Baltimore it was likely the only decision MLB felt they could make.

When the dust settles it is the images of the burning police cars and looting that most people will remember more than any peaceful demonstration that may have occurred.

In previous times of despair, such as the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, baseball has served as a way to unite the community and help heal wounds.

Hopefully baseball in Baltimore can once again unite the community to focus on being one Baltimore cheering together for the men wearing the orange and black.

That is not to say that Esskay hot dogs, and crab cakes can solve all of societies problems nor is diminishing the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful demonstrations to stand up when they feel they are being wronged.

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it. Photo R. Anderson
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it.
Photo R. Anderson

Regardless of whether one agrees with the protesters or not one should agree that they have the right to demonstrate within the boundaries of the law.

It is when those protests fall outside the boundaries of the law that action, even the difficult action of looking fans out of a Ballpark, must be taken to ensure that innocent people are not harmed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see what sporting event will be aired next without any fans.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

Southpaw Flashback: With Great Fame Comes Great Responsibility; or Does It?

Editor’s Note: For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 3 on our countdown is a column from February 6, 2013.

We are a society that enjoys placing people on pedestals.

Whether it is actors, athletes, or any number of other categories, people who possess certain skills are often elevated above the rest.

As long as the elevated people behave in the manner that the masses below expect there are no issues.

But, once they start to slip, the lofty spot gets a little wobbly ahead of the inevitable crash back down to earth.

As a youngster I had a few role models/heroes from the Baltimore Orioles. I would watch these players and coaches on the television each night and all I knew of them was the persona that was projected through the broadcast.

These were the pre internet years and still part of the time when the media didn’t feel the need to report every aspect of a person’s private life.

So the elements that were broadcast were largely related to actual performance on the field. If a player happened to go home with someone other than his wife after a game, or went to a bar until it closed, it was not blasted across the sports section the next day.

The media considered it their job to cover the game between the lines and anything else was considered a personal matter between the player and his family and not something to be broadcast across the wire for the world to see.

This relationship tended to bond the players and the media together as did the countless hours that the media spent traveling with the players. It was not that the reporters were withholding information from the public, it was that they respected that the athletes were flawed people like the rest of us and there was no need to air dirty laundry that was not related to their jobs.

Sadly by the time I entered the profession the 24-hour news cycle was already in place and the players lost some of their privacy forcing reporters to dig deeper into stories that were not really stories leading to a tabloidization of the sports section.

I would love to think that we would grow tired of trash journalism and return to a more noble way to handle things. Sadly, that genie has been out of the bottle for far too long to go back now.

Adding to the difficulty of returning to simpler times is the fact that we have generations of people who don’t know any other way to do things.

Frank Robinson at Tinker Field 1986
Frank Robinson at Tinker Field in Orlando, Fl. in 1986
Photo S. Quandt

A few years back, okay a decade or two back, my mother picked me up from school to go see a Spring Training game for my birthday.

This particular game featured the Baltimore Orioles and the Minnesota Twins.

We arrived early at the ballpark and as we were reaching our seats Hall of Famer Frank Robinson came out to the wall where people were signing autographs. I took my game program over and waited to get his signature.

Instead of moving through the line of children that were waiting Mr. Robinson proceeded to flirt with a pair of women and totally ignored the waiting children.

And while this event happened over 25 years ago the memory is still as fresh today as it was then.

While Frank Robinson had every right to not sign the autographs, the manner in which he left me and the other kids waiting left a lot to be desired.

He could have just said, “sorry kids, I don’t sign autographs” and we would have gone back to our seats but for this “role model” to totally ignore his fans was not the best way to handle things.

Actress Natalie Portman has famously said on numerous occasions that she is not a role model and that her celebrity alone for doing her job does not make her feel any additional pressure or responsibility to all of the people who look up to her.

While Natalie is right, what is it that makes people look up to celebrities and athletes and consider them role models?

For me, I consider a ball player who plays the game the right way and doesn’t get caught up in scandal a person I can respect.

Of course it is getting harder and harder to know who to respect as there are almost daily reports of players who were caught or suspected of using steroids and other banned substances to get an advantage over the competition.

Often times it is a no brainer to catch the cheaters. There was never any doubt in my mind that Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez had a slight advantage that perhaps was pharmaceutical based when they were posting their monster numbers and crashing through the record books like a runaway train.

While certain players make it easy to determine guilt or innocence through failed drug tests and other means the line between guilty or not guilty of Performance Enhancing Drugs, or PED use is a little murkier for some.

Another player caught up in the web of suspicion of using PED’s was Roger Clemens.

While only “The Rocket” knows for sure what he did and didn’t take, I, and a federal jury, do not believe that he took anything that was illegal to gain an advantage.

Do I think that he is a good role model? Not really based on some of his off field activities.

Despite not considering Roger Clemens a role model, I do respect the way he played the game and the dominance that he showed for decades.

Despite being cleared by a jury in a perjury trial Roger Clemens will face an uphill climb in his bid to gain entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Logic says that based on his career numbers and the legal victory he should be a lock for Cooperstown.

But after failing to gain entry on the first ballot it appears the voters have a different take on the matter and the guilty by association tag will follow him for years to come.

Photo R. Anderson
Cal Ripken, Jr. at Baseball City Stadium in 1991.
Photo R. Anderson

One player that I followed that always seemed to play the game the right way, and never got into any controversy was Cal Ripken, Jr.

Cal was the longtime shortstop and third baseman for the Orioles.

Cal played all of his 21 seasons with the Orioles and became known as “The Iron Man” for breaking Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record of 2,130 consecutive games in 1995 and playing in 2,632 consecutive games overall before missing a game for the first time in 1998.

To put things in proper perspective from 1981 to 1998 Cal Ripken, Jr. did not miss a single day of work. Granted, work consisted of playing baseball from April to September so one could argue he had around half of the year off.

Still, I am not sure there are many people in any profession that can say that they have gone that long without missing work for vacation or sick days, etc.

So I looked up to him for the way he played the game and the quiet manner in which he approached things while amassing some huge numbers for his position. Cal Ripken, Jr. has also written several books on how to play the game and in his retirement is active in placing ballparks in underprivileged areas to ensure that everyone has access to quality baseball fields.

So do players and other celebrities bare a responsibility to be role models?

It is hard to say.

Is Natalie Portman correct in her assessment that she just does a job and people need to leave her alone or should ballplayers and other celebrities be expected to be more like Cal Ripken, Jr. and continue to give back after their playing days are done?

I like to think that players would want to be someone that is worth looking up to but I also know it is the media and the public’s responsibility to identify people who are worth emulating, and those who have behavior traits that should be ignored.

Do I realistically think that this approach will ever come to pass? I like to think that I am optimistic about most things but must admit a large dose of pessimism on that regard.

It seems we have now entered a phase where pedestals are built to be broken and while we tend to honor people who build themselves back up after the fall it also seems like many people are knocked down just for sport and the people who just go about their business without drawing excessive attention to themselves are ignored.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think younger me needs to come to terms with Frank Robinson giving him the brush off.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Southpaw Flashback: Impacts of a Brave First Step Still Being Felt

Editor’s Note: For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 4 on our countdown is a column from April 17, 2013.

We are a country that enjoys commemorating achievements in all shapes and sizes. Some call it the American spirit while others might call it an attempt to ensure that the sacrifices of those that have gone before us are remembered long after they are no longer walking amongst us.

This past Monday was set aside by Major League Baseball to pay homage to an achievement of courage and determination as part of the annual Jackie Robinson Day.

Each year on April 15 Major League Baseball teams stop to remember Jackie Robinson. Photo R. Anderson
Each year on April 15 Major League Baseball teams stop to remember Jackie Robinson.
Photo R. Anderson

On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African American to step foot on a Major League Baseball field when he suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The world of baseball for Jackie Robinson, and many other players like him, was far different from the world of baseball today.

I am not referring to jumbo trons and jumbo hot dogs or any of the other things that have found their way into the modern game. I am not even talking about the designated hitter.

Prior to 1947 there were no minority players in the highest level of professional baseball. It took an owner willing to do what others wouldn’t in Branch Rickey and a player willing to withstand insults from on the field and in the stands in Jackie Robinson to pave the way for those that came behind them.

For people of a certain age, like me, it is nearly impossible to picture a segregated baseball diamond. From my earliest recollections there were people of all shapes and sizes and races on the field.

Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.  Photo R. Anderson
Jackie Robinson Day at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Look at the rosters of the 30 MLB teams today and one will find players from six continents.

None of that would have been possible without someone taking the first step to desegregate the diamond.

So it is fitting to take time to honor Jackie Robinson’s sacrifice and to ensure that generations who were not alive back in 1947 can learn the story and know that without the sacrifices of people like Jackie Robinson the world would be an entirely different place.

One of my favorite quotes is “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It was first stated in the early 20th century by George Santayana, but the phrase is still as true today as it was when first spoken. Society must continue to learn from history so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros celebrates Jackie Robinson Day in 2011. Photo R. Anderson
Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros celebrates Jackie Robinson Day in 2011.
Photo R. Anderson

As another outlet to learn from the mistakes of the past this week also marks the release of the movie 42 which provides a big screen treatment of the momentous event and allows generations who were not alive in Jackie Robinson’s time to see what it was like.

As part of Jackie Robinson Day each player on every team wears the number 42 as a show of respect and solidarity. Of course one player still wears the number 42 every game but more on that in a bit.

While each team celebrated the moment in their own way the main celebration occurred in Los Angeles, CA where Jackie’s widow was in attendance at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

During the annual celebration of Jackie Robinson there are always a select few who will state in various outlets that the inclusion of Jackie Robinson in the Baseball Hall of Fame was based solely on him being first to break the color barrier and is not reflective of his playing ability.

Of course, a quick look at his career statistics show that based on the merits of his play alone Jackie Robinson is every bit of a Hall of Fame caliber player and is included as much for what he did as a player as well as what he did as a trailblazer.

In 1997 all 30 MLB teams were told to retire the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. Photo R. Anderson
In 1997 all 30 MLB teams were told to retire the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson.
Photo R. Anderson

In 1997 Major League Baseball retired the number 42 on all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. As part of the retirement players who were still wearing the number were grandfathered in and allowed to keep wearing it for the remainder of their careers.

Currently Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is the only active player still wearing the number 42. Rivera is expected to retire at the end of this season so the number 42 will be officially retired 15 years after the announcement to retire it was made.

This means that starting in 2014, no player will ever again wear the number 42 in Major League Baseball. It is likely that the Yankees will retire Rivera’s number as well based on his impressive body of work. That will lead to the hanging of two 42 banners in Yankee Stadium with one for Robinson and one for Rivera. Then again the Yankees always did like to be a little different.

Of course this years celebration of Jackie Robinson Day was marred by the cowardly act of the Boston Marathon bomber.

At the time of the bombing only one MLB game had been completed with the Boston Red Sox and the visiting Tampa Bay Rays wrapping things up shortly before the first bomb was detonated.

The remaining MLB games Monday featured moments of silence for the victims of the attack. Acts like the bombing of innocent bystanders at the Boston Marathon show that the world is still as full of hate today as it was on that April day in 1947.

But just as was the case in 1947, there are still people willing to rise above the hatred and do what is right. And that is something worth remembering every day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to catch a screening of 42, perhaps I will see you there.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson

Southpaw Flashback: Orlando’s Historic Tinker Field Felled by Progress

Editor’s Note: For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 5 on our countdown is a column from May 6, 2015.

After receiving a one year stay of execution, the appeals process for a historic ballpark in Orlando, FL. ran out last week and the grandstands of Tinker Field began to crumble in the name of progress.

Think of almost any baseball player from the 20th Century and odds are pretty good that they stepped foot on the infield grass of Tinker Field at one time or another.

For several years one of the highlights of my birthday was seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles play at Tinker Field. Photo R. Anderson
For several years one of the highlights of my birthday was seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles play at Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

From Spring Training for Major League Baseball, to full seasons of Minor League Baseball, the quaint little ballpark in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl was a unique venue where a who’s who of baseball players played from 1923 to 1999.

The last professional affiliated baseball at Tinker Field occurred in 1999 with the Orlando Rays who were the Double-A farm team for the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the Orlando Rays were the last of the Southern League teams to call Tinker Field home, they certainly weren’t the only ones.

The Orlando Twins, Orlando Cubs and Orlando Sun Rays were among the many teams to call Tinker Field home.

The Orlando Juice of the Senior Professional Baseball Association (SPBA) even spent a season playing on the hallowed field in the shadow of the Citrus Bowl.

This ticket stub allowed me entrance to Tinker Field where I ended up meeting one of my favorite baseball figures Earl Weaver outside the third base dugout. Photo R. Anderson
This ticket stub allowed me entrance to Tinker Field where I ended up meeting one of my favorite baseball figures Earl Weaver outside the third base dugout.
Photo R. Anderson

Eventually it was the shadowy neighbor looming over right field that signed Tinker Field’s death warrant.

While time and neglect certainly played a role in the demise of the nearly century old facility, it was a massive expansion of the Citrus Bowl that hastened the demise of Tinker Field.

The expansion of concourses crept into right field to the point that Tinker Field could no longer function as a professional baseball field due to an outfield depth that would make a Little Leaguer feel like Barry Bonds sending everything he hits over the fence.

Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida.  Photo R. Anderson
Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

So, despite being declared a national historic site, the demolition of Tinker Field is in full swing with the goal of removing every trace of grandstand, bleacher and dugout before a June Rolling Stones concert takes place at the Citrus Bowl.

Of course, while I can’t get no satisfaction in the fact that the stands where I spent summer nights of my youth will soon be reduced to dust, I can take some solace in the fact that the actual playing field will be saved as a small nod to the history that occurred there.

There is also some solace in the fact that many of the seats from Tinker Field were removed and will be sold to fans for use in their dens and Florida rooms.

Still despite saving some seats and the clay and grass part of Tinker Field, it will not really be Tinker Field anymore without the stands which once echoed with the sounds of the crack of the bats, cheering fans, and the Caribbean accented shouts of a peanut vendor who looked an awful lot like O.J. Simpson.

Tinker Field becomes the third ballpark from my youth to be torn down joining Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and Baseball City Stadium in Haines City, Florida. Of the three lost Ballparks the loss of Tinker Field hits the hardest as it is the one where I made the most baseball memories.

Tinker Field was where I first was able to see a live Spring Training baseball game on my birthday which is a tradition I still try to maintain each year.

Tinker Field was where I met and spoke with the late Earl Weaver on the third base line.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark. Photo R. Anderson
While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Tinker Field was also where I saw the Clown Prince of Baseball himself, Max Patkin, perform his shtick on a sunny Florida day.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.

During our trips to Tinker Field my mom and I were often joined for a few innings by team president, Pat Williams, who was also the General Manager of the Orlando Magic at the time, and I used to think how cool it would be to be a team executive getting paid to watch baseball.

I have yet to fully realize that dream of spending all of my summer nights as a Minor League Baseball employee but I may yet before all is said and done and when I do it will be because of those nights at Tinker Field.

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World and it was easier to sell everything at a discount instead of moving it to the new facility.

I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap. To this day I am amazed that the employee correctly guessed my hat size just by looking at me. I am also amazed that in the years since my head has grown to the point where I can no longer comfortably wear the fitted wool cap.

I don’t know what happened to that vendor but I like to think he lived out his remaining years comfortably after his days at the ballpark were over randomly telling people on the street how big their heads were.

I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World.  I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap that I treasure to this day. Photo R. Anderson
I last visited Tinker Field in 1999 when the souvenir stand was offering clearance merchandise since the Rays were moving to a ballpark at Walt Disney World. I ended up getting an Orlando Rays fitted cap that I treasure to this day.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orlando Rays’ time at Walt Disney World was short lived and the team moved to Montgomery, Alabama and became known as the Biscuits.

To this day there are still no Minor League Baseball teams in Orlando making the decision to tear down Tinker Field an easier pill to swallow for some.

Others point to the peeling paint and overworked plumbing as reasons that it is best to raze the ballpark instead of spending money to preserve it and bring it up to current code.

In Houston people are dealing with a similar potential loss of a treasured sports fixture as the pending demolition of the Astrodome seems all but certain.

Recently fans were allowed inside the Astrodome as part of its 50th birthday celebration. The long term fate of the so called “eighth wonder of the world” is unknown. Like Tinker Field the Astrodome last hosted professional baseball in 1999.

With each year that passes it seems more and more likely that the Astrodome will also fall victim to a wrecking ball despite its historical significance.

The loss of the physical building, while difficult, does not take away the memories that occurred in those facilities.

Just as I am sure that there are people with fond memories of whichever Ballpark they grew up with, I can close my eyes and still picture Tinker Field the way I remember it right down to the tennis ball throwing peanut vendor, and the sounds of the rattling ceiling fans that tried their best to cool fans on those humid Florida nights.

I prefer to think of Tinker Field like it was, and not like the neglected facility it became.

The wheel of progress is always turning and sometimes it brings a bulldozer with it to raze the buildings of our youth.

Ticket stubs like this one from a Spring Training game at Baseball City Stadium, and memories are all that are left from the three Ballparks from my youth that have been torn down. Photo R. Anderson
Ticket stubs like this one from a Spring Training game at Baseball City Stadium, and memories, are all that are left from the three Ballparks from my youth that have been torn down.
Photo R. Anderson

I guess the morale of the story is to treasure your brick and mortar Ballparks while you can while building up memories that can last long after the Ballparks are gone.

Or as Simon and Garfunkel would say, “Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Ballpark memories to preserve.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson