Three cheers for the magic memories of Memorial Stadium

Jacques Kelly

July 25, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

The other day I glanced westward along Pratt Street and caught sight of light towers on the Camden Yards ball park. The same day I found myself looking wistfully at their counterparts at Memorial Stadium.

Like a lot of Baltimoreans, I'm more than a little reluctant to cut the emotional ties with that big old brick hangar on 33rd Street. These days, I swallow heavily every time I pass the place.

Was it so many lazy July Sundays ago when my grandfather, Edward Jacques Monaghan, escorted me to the ballpark? We walked along Old York Road and took a little cutoff on Tinges Lane, then across 33rd Street and its elm trees. As was his custom, Pop paid for our seats in silver dollars. It made the ticket seller's day.

There was some sort of ceremony on the field wherein Mayor Phil Goodman spoke. Goodman, who stepped into the mayor's office when J. Harold Grady accepted a judgeship, wasn't the most popular politician in town. The baseball fans booed him loud and long.

Pop Monaghan, who had no use for Goodman either, issued a lesson on ballpark behavior that day. Under no circumstance was I to boo Mayor Goodman. The game proceeded. I think Jerry Adair and Jim Gentile had good days. We walked home. Pop died that December but I never forgot his lesson in civic behavior. It was as classy as his silver dollars.

These were the lazy days of the Orioles. Not many people showed up at the stadium. Even when the team got hot and really delivered, Baltimoreans were rather casual about attendance.

The large gates of the late 1970s and 1980s seem a recent Orioles phenomenon. Back in the Milt Pappas era, wasn't half the stadium from York County, Pa.? Heaven help attendance if the school buses from Red Lion, Pa., ever broke down.

At this time, the Colts dominated the Stadium. There was no trying to hold a social event in Baltimore if the Colts were playing. If it were a home game, your intended guests would be at Memorial Stadium. On road games days, people were attached to their Sylvanias and Zeniths.

For many years, the grade school I attended tried in vain to compete with the Colts for Sunday afternoon dominance. The mothers' club held Sunday afternoon teas that butted heads with the Colts' schedule.

In the 1950s, schedule conflicts such as this were an act of social suicide. The mothers soon learned their lessons. The next Christmas when the invitations to the Christmas tea went out, printed on the bottom was the line, "Television provided for Colt game."

The school fathers' club scheduled a student Christmas pageant which required hours of musical preparation. But the fathers' club did not make the same mistake. They rented the Stadium's community room, which had a small, odd-shaped stage. It was difficult to wedge a Bethlehem tableau into that confining space. But when it was all over, and the Dixie cups and candy canes were distributed, we were all sure that Johnny Unitas and Gino Marchetti had their lockers only a few feet away. And all those Christmas trees being sold alongside the stadium's Ednor Road flank added to the scene.

At this time, there was nothing so precious in Baltimore as possession of Colts' season tickets. I can recallstanding on my family's back porch on damp November Sundays and hearing the war cries that exploded from 33rd Street after a touchdown. Once, my long-time school friend Raymond Marocco secured his father's tickets and invited me along. I felt like I had really made it.

But the greatest Stadium memory of all was my first trip to 33rd Street, sometime when the Yankees were in town. My father, Joe Kelly, took me out to the ballpark without my five other siblings tagging along. It was just the two of us. We had terrific seats, off first base, down near the field.

I was getting dazzled by New York's pin-striped uniforms, Mickey Mantle and everybody else, but then my father offhandedly pulled off a stunt I've never forgotten.

From some fans seated nearby, he called over to his friend Jim Hartzell, the man who drew the Orioles bird for the Sunpapers and every billboard, score card and piece of O's propaganda. At first, I didn't really believe this man to be the magic hand behind the Oriole bird.

Then Hartzell pulled a thick-leaded newspaper pencil from his pocket and drew me a real Orioles bird on a popcorn tray. Forget Mantle, Brooks and Hoyt Wilhelm. The Oriole bird had come to nest on my popcorn tray.

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