Celebrating a stadium

Baltimore Glimpses

September 10, 1991|By GILBERT SANDLER

OPENING DAY at No Name Stadium is April 6, 1992, and the team and the town are going to have to go some if they want to better the show Baltimore mounted for the "new" Memorial Stadium in 1954.

That "new" needs some explaining. In 1954 the team wasn't new. The old St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles, but the stadium was a $6 million redo of what was once, tracing its beginnings to 1922, Municipal Stadium. The Baltimore Orioles of the International League played there following the 1944 fire that burned down their home, Oriole Park at Greenmount and 29th. Municipal/Memorial Stadium had been gussied up in a major-league way for Baltimore's major-league team.

To the Spartan, horseshoe-shaped Municipal Stadium, which had been designed for football (Navy played Notre Dame there), were added the upper deck, 20,000-plus additional seats, many chair-back seats to take the place of traditional wooden benches, the mezzanine, a new administration building, light towers and a new facade on 33rd Street. George Weiss, then vice president of the powerhouse Yankee organization who visited the place a week before opening day, said, "I'm surprised with its vastness, and I'm pleased with its overall design for playing and watching. I just hope it'll be ready for opening day."

Weiss had reason to fear; it took a lot of hustle and hurry-up (and overtime) to get the job done.

In the opener, the Orioles beat the White Sox 3-1 before 46,354 delirious fans. Clint Courtney and Vern Stephens hit homers; Bob Turley pitched a seven-hitter. Vice President Richard Nixon threw out the first ball.

But the feeling of newness -- of the team and the stadium -- was best expressed in an outpouring of noise, confetti, floats, balloons, music and love that characterized the celebration parade.

It began at 34th and Charles near Johns Hopkins. Brass bands, beauty queens, merchants' floats, elected officials (though Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro had to watch on television from his room at Bon Secours Hospital), civic organizations, servicemen and women in dress uniforms, clowns and, of course, the uniformed ballplayers themselves headed down Charles Street. They threw plastic baseballs to the crowd, estimated at 350,000.

"It's the culmination of a great dream," said Clarence Miles, who, with D'Alesandro, helped bring the team to Baltimore. A lot of people who were there must relive still the color and music and civic good will that came together that day.

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