In The Beginning: An Origin Story of My Love of Baseball

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

Hollywood loves creating origin story movies of established characters as a way for the viewer to see how the protagonist on screen rose to become who they would be in later films.

Off of the big screen, 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 opening lines 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.  Were someone to stop at the beginning line of “A Tale of Two Cities,” they 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 becoming far more than just knowing to call a guy Ishmael.

So, it is with all of us. While we are not classic literature or action heroes on the silver screen. We all have origin stories and events that shaped 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 something straight out of Dickens, the tale of my first baseball game experience was both the best of times and the worst of times.

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 always the sport that drew me in just a little bit more.  As such, I tried to catch all the Oriole games I could on the radio and television.  I could recite lineups and stats that would make even the most avid statistician take notice.

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

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

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

Of course, I am getting ahead of myself since no one knew for sure in September 1983 what October would hold. 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 get all kinds of player autographs before the game, and even catch a home run ball hit by Cal Ripken, Jr. during the game. I truly had great expectations for my first trip to the ballpark.

I was joined in my traveling party to the Ballpark 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 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 Baltimore in plenty of time before the game 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 hit 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 in the best of times, and even further away in the worst of times of rush hour 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 while getting all of those autographs.  Now, all of that was in jeopardy. As a result, I was not pleased and I was far from calm.

In the end, after driving back to  retrieve the tickets, 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.

I did not catch a home run ball hit by Cal Ripken, Jr. or any other player for that matter. I also did not get any autographs. However, I did eat a hot dog and I most definitely discovered that baseball is so much better in person and hot dogs taste so much better in the ballpark.

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, one must experience it in person.

Since moving to Texas, I have adopted the Astros into my stable of teams that I follow. I 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 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 it 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 stadium, I don’t worry about the stress of life, or the outside world. It is just the game and me; well and thousands of my closest friends.

Although 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’ll excuse me, I think I need to catch up on some Dickens.

 Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Remembering the Earl of Baltimore

As noted in the About Me section of this website, I grew up as a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and bled orange and black from a very young age.

Although, as my mother recently pointed out, it is entirely likely that had the Washington Senators not left town first for Minnesota, and then for the suburbs of Dallas, my Baltimore Oriole fandom would not have come home to roost.

Instead, I would have been a Senators fan like my mother and grandfather had been before the team left town.

But, as fate would have it, when I was growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C. the only baseball game in town was happening in Baltimore.

Growing up as a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, as I did, there were several faces of the franchise that helped shape opinions of the Orioles among the fan base.

The names and faces that one most identified with were determined mainly by when one first started following the team.

The Orioles had a long roster of notable players from Brooks and Frank Robinson to Boog Powell and Davey Johnson who took the diamond before I was born.

For me, the names most associated with the Orioles were Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Palmer, Rick Dempsey, Eddie Murray, and of course the leader of the bunch Manager Earl Weaver.

Earl Weaver’s retired number 4 at The Baltimore Orioles Spring Training home Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.
Photo by R. Anderson

Weaver recently passed away at the age of 82 while on a Fantasy Cruise for Orioles fans.

To think that a man so associated with the Orioles would spend his final moments in the presence of Orioles fans, despite having last managed the team over two decades ago, is a testament to the lasting impact that Earl Weaver had on baseball, as well as the Orioles who were the only Major League Team that he ever managed.

Weaver was a talented innovator of the game. He could even be called the father of sabermetrics if one were so inclined based on his extensive use of binders and match up tendencies that were far ahead of what his contemporaries in the other dugout were doing at the time.

In paying tribute to Weaver, former Milwaukee Brewers owner and current Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said, “Earl Weaver was a brilliant baseball man, a true tactician in the dugout and one of the key figures in the rich history of the Baltimore Orioles. Earl’s managerial style proved visionary, as many people in the game adopted his strategy and techniques years later. Earl was well known for being one of the game’s most colorful characters with a memorable wit, but he was also amongst its most loyal.”

The Earl of Baltimore, as he was known, led the Orioles to the World Series four times over 17 seasons winning the title in 1970. His .583 winning percentage ranks fifth among managers who served 10 or more seasons in the 20th century.

Earl Weaver finished with a 1,480-1,060 record and won Manager of the Year honors three times. Earl Weaver was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

I only ever saw Earl Weaver manage the Orioles in person once during a 1986 Spring Training game at Orlando’s Tinker Field against the Minnesota Twins.

Earl Weaver retired at the end of the 1986 season and I had feared that I would never get a chance to see him in action again.

Fast forward three years, and I was fortunate enough to meet Earl at Tinker Field on December 17, 1989. After retiring from the Orioles for a second time, and like many retirees before him, Earl had found his way to Florida.

Ticket stub from the December 17, 1989 Orlando Juice versus the Gold Coast Suns Senior Professional Baseball League game where I met Earl Weaver. Photo by R. Anderson

On this particular day, Earl was managing the Gold Coast Suns of the Senior Professional Baseball Association (SPBA) against the Orlando Juice.

The SPBA was an eight-team winter baseball league based in Florida for players age 35 and over who had retired from MLB but still wanted to play ball. The league folded after a season in a half, but it lasted just long enough for me to realize a dream.

For me, Earl Weaver could have been managing a team of preschoolers in Tee Ball; it didn’t matter. What mattered was I was able to walk onto the field before the game and meet one of my early heroes.

We talked, he signed an autograph and it became the first of many brushes that I would have with sports figures, and other public officials through my career as a journalist and a fan.

Despite the ensuing years and other high-profile meetings, I still consider standing on the third base line of Tinker Field talking baseball with Earl Weaver one of my favorite baseball memories.

Looking back at it now, I realize how fortunate I was to have that experience. Although I have had field access to myriad events during my career as a journalist, I doubt in the heightened security times that we live in now that random fans would be able to walk onto any baseball field before a game and chat up the manager.

Getting to spend a few moments talking baseball with Earl Weaver on a professional baseball diamond was one of the highlights of my personal and professional career. To this day, I have the framed autographed baseball card I received that day hanging in a place of honor in my office.
Photo by R. Anderson

To this day, I have the framed autographed baseball card hanging in a place of honor in my office.  Other autographs lose their luster or stay hidden away but not Earl’s.

It sort of reminds me of the man himself. Earl Weaver was a larger than live personality who could not hide.

Earl was often shown on the nightly sports casts kicking dirt on umpires or having temper tantrums before getting ejected from a game.

However, those theatrics tended to overshadow the fact that Earl Weaver had many ideas and techniques that were ahead of their time 20 years ago, and have now become common place.

Earl was able to see his beloved Orioles reach the playoffs last year after a long drought.  I like to think that put a smile on the old school manager’s face.

Maybe he even went out in the backyard and kicked some dirt around his tomato plants just to feel like he was back on the field and part of the action.

I highly recommended searching for Earl Weaver vs. Umpires videos. There were some classics that make some of the theatrics of the WWE seem pale by comparison.  But what else would one expect from an original like that?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find some dirt to kick Earl Weaver style.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Covering the world of baseball one pitch at a time.