Some stadium neighbors to miss fans

April 08, 1991|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Evening Sun Staff

On your way to the game you may see them.

There, on the old front porch, sits Sarah Spellman, watching the people, as she has ever since people started coming to Memorial Stadium. Before that she watched the chickens.

"Hi Mom," people call to her.

And in the shade of his old pear tree sits Otto Schmied, who built his house in 1937 when there weren't any other houses on the street, let alone Memorial Stadium down the street. He turns 100 next month.

Spellman, 88, and Schmied, who drove a Volkswagen bug until he was 97, say they will miss you when Memorial Stadium closes. After this season, the Orioles will move into their new stadium downtown at Camden Yards.

But today, of course, is Opening Day, the last Opening Day for the Orioles at Memorial Stadium, and the last Opening Day for the residents around the stadium.

Spellman has lived in her house on Independence Street for 69 years. Independence dead-ends into the parking lot on the south side of 33rd Street. From Spellman's front porch the stadium, which occupies the higher ground, seems ready to charge across the lot and capture Waverly.

Spellman recalls that people had chickens and ducks when she moved in. And everybody had a dog, she says, "but they didn't run like they do now."

Spring was so rich, people didn't have to plant anything. Flowers came up by themselves, she says.

Memorial Stadium went up in the early 1950s. The first Opening Day was in 1954.

Spellman was not in the stadium then. She will not be there today. Although the stadium looms so large it could be a picture on her wall, she has never been to an Orioles game or a Colts game.

"I never was interested in it," she says.

But she likes the people. She likes the excitement. And she likes it when you call out, "Hi Mom."

Steve Weissenberger lives on the other side of the stadium, the north side. He is past president of the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Civic Association.

He and other activists in the neighborhood say that most residents think of Memorial Stadium as a neighbor with more good habits than bad. You learn to live with the traffic and the illegally parked cars, he says, just as you learn to look forward to the festive atmosphere of Opening Day.

"Spring and the Orioles are kind of one and the same," he says.

But when the season is over, and the Orioles are gone from 33rd Street for good, Weissenberger says, make no mistake about what the majority of the neighbors want: Memorial Stadium torn down.

Residents do not want an empty, decaying stadium as the centerpiece of their neighborhood, Weissenberger says.

The Memorial Stadium Redevelopment Task Force is a group of stadium neighbors, area business leaders, city planners and others whose job is to recommend what to do with the 55 acres on which the stadium and the old Eastern High School sit.

The task force has recommended a combination of homes, offices, open space and recreational use. It has also recommended tearing down the stadium once the Orioles move downtown.

City Council member Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, lives on 36th Street, directly behind the stadium. He fought to keep the Orioles across the street.

"This is open space to me," he says, motioning out his front window.

People who live near the stadium consider it a park. Kids fly kites in the parking lot, play baseball, roller-skate and ride bikes. They sled down the hills in winter.

People also walk dogs around the stadium, especially along that narrow grassy slope next to 36th Street. Cunningham watches as fans arrive early to the games and spread out picnic dinners -- where? -- on that narrow grassy slope next to 36th Street.

With a hearty laugh, Cunningham says that grassy slope must contain the greatest concentration of canine waste of any place in the city, except maybe "those little planters around the trees at Bolton Hill."

Cunningham, 40, has attended games at Memorial Stadium all his life. He grew up in Northwood and moved less than a block from the stadium in 1977. He has lived in its shadow ever since.

He remembers the early days when Colts' fans parked rudely on people's lawns and in their driveways. Residents learned to push the cars into the street, where the police towed them away. Residents also took to pulling off distributor caps.

"There's a certain justice to that," Cunningham says.

He says the most relaxing place to him in the summer is the upper deck at Memorial Stadium, down the right field line on a steamy night. It is a tonic, he says, walking through the portals and seeing the lighted green grass, and looking out beyond the stadium into the neighborhoods at the trees shaped like broccoli and the houses set warmly in rows.

And he recalls some of the great moments at the stadium: the Colts' games, the Orioles' World Series games, Brooks Robinson Day, the Frank Robinson home run that soared completely out of the stadium.

"It's going to be a sad day when they tear it down," Cunningham says. "It's all gone then, because the place is gone. It contains the history."

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