Where does Memorial Stadium end?
I am stumbling through dimly lighted corridors, deep beneath the right-field grandstand, searching for answers.
Twenty feet up, through a cavern of concrete, Orioles fans scramble for their seats in the cool pre-game twilight. They think they are inside the stadium. I know better. I am inside the stadium. At least I think I am. I lost my bearings in one of those twisting passageways a while back. A wrong turn at the umpires' room could have sent us winding down a subway tunnel. So I am struggling to keep up with my guide, Orioles public relations director Rick Vaughn, who is leading this two-man safari through the bowels of the ballpark.
My mission is an exciting one: to explore the restricted areas of Memorial Stadium; to boldly go where no fan has gone before.
I have come to examine the inside of Cal Ripken's locker . . . thtop drawer of Roland Hemond's desk . . . and the vast underbelly of a leaky old structure that is going on hiatus when the Orioles lock up next week.
Save for disoriented sportswriters and inebriated fans who stagger down here, the public never sees this shadowy side of the stadium. It's probably a good thing. Longtime Orioles employees have gotten lost in the labyrinth. Several years ago, a secretary in the ticket office who was returning to her desk
wound up instead in the umpires' dressing room, one-quarter of a mile away. Others have been locked in the stadium at night, where wild, feral cats prowl the darkened recesses of the doomed ballpark.
L After next week, the cats will have the place to themselves.
We have seen catacombs, but no cats as yet. We haven't seen a soul for several minutes. Worse, I can't smell pizza anymore. The corridor ahead is black and desolate, and the silence is spooky.
Somewhere to our left, the Cleveland Indians are taking batting practice. I'm more concerned about meeting Injun Joe.
Finally, Vaughn stops and, wordlessly, unlocks a dark greedoor.
We are greeted by a 10-foot mound of dirt, steel girders, air ducts and utter darkness.
The stadium winds on, but civilization ends here.
We peer into the void, expecting to see Lon Chaney shamble toward us at any moment.
"If there were a Phantom of the Stadium, this is where he would live," says Vaughn.
"Let's go," I croak, and we retrace our steps down the tunnel, past an underground batting cage used by the Orioles in winter. Here too is the umpires' dressing room, a private little world located beneath Section 35. The umps have their own showers, sofa, TV, microwave, coffee maker and refrigerator. The fridge is stocked with milk, beer and cranberry sauce. Sorry, no rhubarb.
No manager, not even Earl Weaver, has ever set foot in the umpires' quarters, probably because they can't find it.
"Nobody comes down here because we're so far off the beaten track," says Ernie Tyler, the umpires' attendant who has worked every Orioles home game since 1960. "Newspaper guys who get lost just keep walking until they meet somebody."
The lucky ones meet Tyler, who knows these corridors and who can walk the entire half-mile circumference of the stadium during a game without being seen by fans.
"I could take you into rooms that nobody knows are there," he says.
Working regularly until 1 a.m. doesn't bother him, says Tyler, nodding toward a passageway: "I know Freddy is right through that door."
"Freddy Tyler, my son. He works here, too."
We pass through Freddy's door, and many more, in our pursuit of unseen marvels. Do fans in Section 9 know they are sitting on a 20-foot mountain of canned beer stored beneath their feet? Do they care what owner Eli Jacobs keeps in his sky box icebox? (Several bottles of Saratoga mineral water and five packets of tartar sauce). Nosing around, I'm starting to feel like Geraldo. I'm also getting hungry. Mr. Jacobs doesn't keep leftovers in his refrigerator. I checked.
Food! I need food! Momentarily, I am standing inside a 30-foot freezer, flanked by 15,000 pounds of beef and 2,000 pounds of ice cream (three days' worth for Orioles fans).
The food locker is not what I expected; the temperature is minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit. I can see my breath in the ballpark for the first time since the Colts played here. Can the folks above me in Section 11 hear my teeth chattering?
Shirts! I need shirts! Nearly $500,000 worth of T-shirts and other novelty items are kept in a damp old warehouse beneath the left-field bleachers, where plastic tarpaulins cover pennants, buttons and hats when the ceiling leaks. Which is always.
Still, the storeroom has charm. One brick wall is a chip off the old block, a piece of Municipal Stadium (c. 1922) that once stood on this site. A ticket window in the wall was boarded up long ago.
Meanwhile, business is brisk at the Orioles' ticket office, wherone needs a map to enter through the maze of carpeted passages and locked doors.