One night this week, I heard a steady stream of automobile traffic outside my window. It was a late-night crowd coming home from Memorial Stadium.
However, this was not the late September sports traffic I wanted to hear. It was not the honestly joyous or excited bunch associated with a lively pennant race or a playoff game or a World Series. Nor was it the Sunday afternoon mobs of the great Unitas years.
No. The Oriole record this year isn't anything to justify packing the stadium on a cool and wet end-of-September week night. It takes a well-crafted gimmick to accomplish that.
The fans are there for one last outing at the old stadium before the move to the new one at Camden and Russell streets.
The Oriole promotional office has done its best to crank up the sentiment machines for the last season on 33rd Street. We don't talk about it too much, but it's the same management that held a gun to the taxpayers' heads and ordered, "New ballpark or else." Baltimore and Maryland meekly complied. Now that the act of high-toned extortion is virtually complete, we are asked to shed a collective tear for the stadium being rudely abandoned.
As the brick mortar dries on the new, downtown ballpark, the celestial voices are merchandising one last trip to our perfectly good Memorial Stadium. It's the ideal place to capture those golden, fuzzy, rich recollections of the big brick house on 33rd Street.
In the process, our grand old place is reduced to the status of a baseball tourist trap, something it never was during its greatest -- and most memorable -- Oriole-Colt years. Indeed, this is a house of keepsake memories for generations of Baltimoreans, and plenty of visitors from York County, Pa., and the Eastern Shore, too. Washingtonians were the last to have discovered the team.
I've never been a fan of last trips to anything. The temptation to capitalize on cheap sentiment is too great. When several of Baltimore's department stores shut down, the management crassly imported carloads of merchandise for going-out-of-business sales. Shoppers got caught up in the frenzy of a last chance at the cash register.
The last-day rides on the No. 8 streetcar in 1963 were jammed. Business picked up on the Old Bay Line, the night steamboat to Norfolk, once its demise had been sealed. There were packed final performances at Ford's Theatre. The people who never read the News American preserved its last-day issue.
Real memories of Memorial Stadium are not made on the last trip out. That building -- and the ground it stands on -- have been creating legitimate memories for too many years. If you didn't pick one up one July night in 1956 or a hot August Sunday in 1980, I don't think it's possible to purchase one before the permanent padlocks and wrecking cranes arrive.
I'll miss the stadium's role in my neighborhood. I'll miss the young fathers walking along 33rd Street with a couple of children. I'll miss the noise and honking horns after a come-from-behind victory. I'll miss the silvery glow of the lights over the next rooftop. I'll even miss my neighbors cursing the lack of a parking space during a World Series or playoff.
What I won't miss, however, are these September fans who have been duped into a synthetic, artificial appointment with spurious nostalgia.