Now pitching, Richard Nixon?
The marketing department of the Baltimore Orioles has a reputation for luring fans to Memorial Stadium with everything from corduroy caps to Day-Glo wallets. But next year, that promotional lineup may be expanding to include an even more offbeat bonus -- a view of a former president who knows a fair bit about comebacks.
The invitation apparently hasn't been extended yet. But the Orioles are giving thought to asking Nixon to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at their home opener next season at Memorial Stadium, said Martin B. Conway, the team's vice president for marketing.
An appearance by Nixon, a veteran right-hander, would qualify as a return engagement of sorts, which explains the Orioles' interest in him. In the first game played by the major-league Orioles at Memorial Stadium, April 15, 1954, the first pitch was thrown by then-Vice President Nixon.
Next year, the air will be thick with nostalgia at Memorial Stadium, as the Orioles look toward 1992 and their planned move to the ballpark under construction at Camden Yards. Many of the team's promotions will play on that sentimental journey, including a plan on Opening Day to recreate, as faithfully as possible, the home opener of 37 years ago, Nixon and all.
Already, the Orioles have received an assist from the major-league schedule-maker. They will open their '91 home schedule against the Chicago White Sox, just as they did in their first season. The team came into existence when the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season.
And Conway said the effort could become more elaborate -- possibly expanding to include dressing the Orioles in replicas of the team's original, shapeless, flannel uniforms.
"I think we'll do as much as we can to bring back the 1954 situation -- players, dignitaries, families of certain players who have passed away," Conway said.
Kathy O'Connor, an aide to Nixon, said she didn't think the
former president had heard from the Orioles yet, but she added, "I am sure it's something he'd look at and consider. He has not done this kind of thing in a long time."
Opening Day will be one day in a busy season of promotions for Conway and his staff, who have been working for the past six weeks on their list of Memorial Stadium farewell events. Conway said the festivities have been divided into four categories: off-season activities, Opening Day 1991, the '91 regular season and a three-day extravaganza planned for the Orioles' final home series, Oct. 4-6 against the Detroit Tigers.
Plans for the final weekend still are sketchy. But Conway said they would include a "gigantic" fireworks display and, after the last game, a finale to end all finales. He wasn't specific.
Conway said: "The expectations are going to be so great, it may be nearly impossible to meet everyone's [hopes]. But if there's a goal at the end of those three days, it's to leave people spent as far as their Orioles experience. We want them to feel like you feel when the Olympics are over -- there's no encore because there doesn't need to be."
By October, Orioles fans should be loaded with memories and souvenirs. One of the first events with a nostalgic flavor will be the annual Orioles winter carnival. It will remain a convention-style event at which fans can collect autographs, purchase memorabilia and hear from team officials and players. This year, Conway said, players representing each of the Orioles' five decades in Baltimore also might be invited to reminisce about their respective eras.
Conway said he has watched with interest as the White Sox bid farewell to Comiskey Park, the 80-year-old stadium in which they played their final game Sunday. But he said there are important differences between the circumstances in Baltimore and Chicago, including no plans to raze Memorial Stadium.
"This is the last time the Orioles are going to play at Memorial Stadium, not the last year of Memorial Stadium," Conway said. "This place isn't coming down."