Season's Farewell Begins At Crowded, Steamy Stadium

April 09, 1991|By Mark Hyman

Anywhere else, Don McCreadie probably would have raised a ruckus about this particular seat.

This seat -- in Section 3 of the lower deck -- failed Mr. McCreadie's 6-foot-1 frame in every conceivable way. It was too narrow, the perfect width only if you happen to be a strip of bacon. The leg room was lousy. There was too little space to cross legs, fold arms or, it seemed, breathe deeply.

From that cramped chair behind home plate, Mr. McCreadie watched the Baltimore Orioles play their 38th and final Opening Day at Memorial Stadium yesterday, an occasion you'd have thought would have been celebrated by him and his chiropractor.

It wasn't. Even as he wrestled to find a comfortable place for his legs, Mr. McCreadie, who lives in Towson and grew up a pop fly from the stadium in Govans, spoke sadly about the team's scheduled move next year to the new, roomier ballpark at Camden Yards.

"For young people, the new stadium is fine -- it will take us into the next century," he said. "But I'm 45 years old. I'm not opposed to progress. I am opposed to seeing an old friend die."

Mr. McCreadie let his eyes search the old ballpark, filled with 50,213 spectators for the last Opening Day.

"Come on, that's what we've got here," he said. "An old friend is dying."

That sentiment appeared to be the prevailing one yesterday, one of record warmth and nostalgia at the stadium. The temperature at game time was 89 degrees, passing the old Opening Day high of 85 set in 1964 and turning fashion toward bikini tops and shorts.

The season began on a note of high ceremony and a 9-1 Orioles loss to the Chicago White Sox. Vice President Dan Quayle threw out the first ball -- it was "high and to the right," Mr. Quayle said -- and the biggest ovations went to a returning Orioles pitcher, Mike Flanagan, and to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who watched the game from the private box of Orioles principal owner Eli S. Jacobs.

Affection for the old ballpark never has run higher than it did yesterday. Few ticket holders eagerly admitted they were looking forward to next year's move to comfort and convenience. Even fans who found themselves in trying circumstances had kind words.

Put Paul Mayhew in that category. Mr. Mayhew, a University of Baltimore law student, bought his ticket for yesterday's game from a ticket peddler outside the stadium who assured him it was in a good location. In fact, his view of the game was blocked by two posts and clipped by a concrete overhang from the upper deck. Anyone watching at home on a portable television saw more.

Mr. Mayhew did not complain about his obstructed view, one of the fans' sourest complaints about Memorial Stadium through the years. He appeared charmed by it.

"It's a great view of the strike zone, if not much else," he said.

With each pitch, Mr. Mayhew and fellow UB law student David Goldman stretched and strained to follow the ball. Occasionally, they saw a play from start to finish. Both said they were having a wonderful time.

"You're on top of the game here," Mr. Mayhew said. "This is probably one of the top 10 ballparks around."

The Orioles and the company that brings you Orioles memorabilia on 33rd Street, ARA-Martin's, have plans to capitalize on this explosion of good feeling about Memorial Stadium. They expect heavy demand for souvenirs tied to the last year of the stadium, and are gearing up to meet it.

Yesterday, the Orioles sold out of their inventory of 10,000 Opening Day game programs. Bob Brown, the team's publications editor, said he believed it was the first time demand for the program had exceeded supply. Imprinted on the upper left corner of the cover of the programs, which sell for $2 at the stadium: "The last Opening Day -- April 8, 1991."

At concession stands, the selection was vast. ARA-Martin's has developed a list of about 30 new souvenirs related to the Orioles' last year at Memorial Stadium. The items range from a Memorial Stadium crystal piece, which, when available, probably will sell for $150 to $175, an ARA official said, to a Memorial Stadium key chain, yours for $5.

In between, the list of items runs from day-glo hats to T-shirts to a stone-cast replica of the stadium that sells for $35 and keeps the memories alive, albeit in a small rock, forever.

Frank Brocato of Monkton couldn't resist. While the White Sox were pounding the Orioles for five runs in the sixth inning, Mr. Brocato, an auto mechanic who delivers pizzas at night, was loading up at the concession stand behind Section 40. He spent $12 for a handsome Memorial Stadium candy jar and $1.50 for a commemorative button. He considered this a good deal.

"This is it, the last year," Mr. Brocato said. "I'm going to miss this place a lot."

Sentimentality eventually gives way to practical considerations. Mr. Brocato said he planned to use the candy jar to store dimes.

One man wasn't all that moved by the creative marketing. Selby Thornton has sold hats and pennants outside Memorial Stadium for 30 years. Three hours before the home opener began, he had his inventory displayed on a folding table across the street from the stadium. This is a part-time job for him, but Mr. Thornton wondered whether he and other independent vendors would be able to continue at Camden Yards.

"We'll just have to wait and see," he said. "They built something they damn near can't pay for. I guess maybe they'll try to drag all the money inside and get rid of us."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.