Stadium swan song rekindles memories for players, coaches

April 04, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

For the Orioles who have spent the most time there, the thought of Memorial Stadium's baseball career coming to an end has yet to register.

But looking ahead, their feelings all run in the same direction. When the curtain comes down this fall, it will be like saying goodbye to an old friend while at the same time realizing you have to look ahead.

Elrod Hendricks, who has spent more days in a uniform at Memorial Stadium than anyone currently wearing an Orioles uniform, admits he doesn't like to think about leaving.

"To be honest with you, I've tried to avoid thinking about this as long as I could," said Hendricks. "I'm not looking forward to the end of the season.

"Memorial Stadium has been like my second home -- I've probably spent more time there than I have in my own house," said Hendricks, who started with the Orioles in 1968.

"I don't think it [the final season] has really set in yet," said manager Frank Robinson. "Later in the season I think you'll start to see some reaction. And after the last putout is made, there will be a lot of emotion.

"I have a lot of good memories," said Robinson. "It was a fun park to play in -- the field was always immaculate -- and I enjoyed playing there.

"But time marches on and we're going to have a great facility to play in next year."

Cal Ripken Sr. has been in the organization almost as long as Memorial Stadium has been standing -- but he saw few games there until joining the Orioles as a big league coach in 1977. "I hate to see it go," said Ripken. "There are a lot of fond memories there, but I realize that life goes on.

"I'm sure there were a lot of people who hated to see the old park leave 29th Street," Ripken said of Oriole Park, which was destroyed by fire on July 4, 1944. "You just go on and look ahead."

Cal Ripken Jr.'s first recollection of Memorial Stadium was one of the magical moments. "I remember seeing Frank hit a home run in the fourth game of the 1966 World Series," said Cal Jr. "I was 6 years old and was sitting in the upper deck on the first base line, so I had a good view of the ball.

"My first thought is that it is sad to see Memorial Stadium go because there is so much history connected with it. But the other side of you says that while it's sad to see that come to an end, the other side of you wants to move on, wants to be part of the tradition at the new park."

Nobody, it seems, can pick just one favorite memory of Memorial Stadium. They come in clusters.

"What stands out in my mind?" Robinson repeated the question. "Naturally, the 1966 World Series stands out, and so do the ones in 1969, '70, '71. But there were so many things.

"Frank Howard hitting a line drive, Brooks Robinson jumping and almost getting hit in the head -- and the ball bouncing off the left-field wall. Paul Blair with his body half over the fence in left-center field and bringing the ball back. Marveling at the way Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar worked against hitters.

"Just watching the talent we had performing on that field was enough to turn you into a fan," said Robinson, who nevertheless has a favorite personal recollection.

"The home run off Luis Tiant was something special," Robinson said. On May 8, 1966, Robinson became the only player to hit a fair ball out of Memorial Stadium when he blasted Tiant's pitch over the left-field stands. "That seemed to set the tone for me in Baltimore. I had been accepted by the team from the first day I reported, but when I went back into the outfield that day [after the home run] the ovation was something special. It was very touching. I just think that set the tone for everything the whole time I was in Baltimore."

Hendricks was an unknown when the Orioles acquired him on the recommendation of Earl Weaver, who also joined the Orioles in 1968.

"My first at-bat I got a [pinch-hit] single to drive in Boog [Powell] with the winning run," he said. "I got a single my first at-bat in the 1969 World Series.

"Catching Jim Palmer's no-hitter -- the 1970 World Series," Hendricks said. "There are just so many things to remember."

Ripken Sr. was managing in the minor leagues when the Orioles were in their heyday. "But we did get to see the World Series games," he said. His best Memorial Stadium memory is of the only world championship team of which he was a member -- and it took place on the parking lot.

"My favorite memory is winning the 1983 World Series -- and coming back to that rally at the stadium after it was over," he said. "To me Memorial Stadium really represents this organization -- because that's where it's been ever since the team came here from St. Louis. So when I think of that stadium, I think of the entire organization."

Like his dad, Cal Jr. didn't see that many games at Memorial Stadium until he got to the big leagues, because he was in the minor leagues -- either with his dad, or preparing for his own big league career.

"Personally I guess my biggest thrill was hitting a home run my first at-bat in my rookie year, 1982," said Ripken. "I had been up the year before, but that was my first full year. I remember Ken Singleton was on base and I was so excited I ran around the bases a little too fast. I caught Kenny between third and home and had to slow down so I wouldn't pass him.

"The last series of that year was probably the most exciting series I've ever been a part of," said Cal Jr. "And I've got a ton of memories from when we won it all in 1983."

All of the memories are countless. But they haven't really come to the surface yet.

There is still another season to play. As the end of September gets closer, that's when the closing of Memorial Stadium will come into perspective.

Until then, there are other memories to be made.

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