A ballpark's just a ballpark, pal, but Memorial means memories

MICHAEL OLESKER

October 06, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Memorial Stadium thrills? Hey, pal, I've had a million of 'em. Why, I was there when Don Larsen won three and lost 21. It's no misprint, you could look it up. I saw Gus Triandos run the bases like a guy with suction cups under his feet. You say you saw Frank Robinson hit it onto the parking lot? Hell, I saw him take a called third strike.

So long, old gal on 33rd Street. So long, visions of El Ropo and Skinny and Scrapiron. You say you remember Clint Courtney's homer in that first game back in '54? Hey, I saw Old Scraps find the secret of catching Hoyt Wilhelm's knuckle ball -- wait till it stops rolling.

Lord, the glorious moments. Could Brooksie go to his right to stuff a double into his glove? Yeah, but I remember him making three errors -- in one inning. Nobody's perfect, huh? Eddie Murray switch-hitting? Big deal, I saw Willie Miranda hit three ways -- righty, lefty and seldom.

See ya, Boog. See ya, Bee. See ya, Blair. Sure, pal, I can still see Blair racing through the grass in center. Who can't? But I remember Willie Tasby, on an overcast day, playing center in his stocking feet. He was afraid his spikes might attract lightning.

Yeah, pal, the memories I'll treasure of the old ballpark. I remember Earl Weaver fighting with Mike Cuellar. Poor Mike was fading so badly at the end that Weaver pulled him from the starting rotation. Cuellar said he wanted another chance. Weaver said forget it.

''I've already given Mike more chances than I gave my ex-wife,'' Weaver said.

Ah, memories. See, pal, it ain't just the homers, it's the human beings, too. You say you remember Mickey Tettleton the year of the Fruit Loop homers? Hey, gimme Rick Dempsey any day of the week. He reminded me of Belker, the cop on ''Hill Street Blues.'' If a guy slid home, you figured Dempsey would bite him on the ankle.

I remember Dempsey during a locker room celebration, shouting into a television camera in all his expletive-undeleted glory, ''This is a super bleepin' team.''

''Uh, Rick,'' said the TV reporter, ''we're on live TV.''

''We are?'' said Dempsey. ''Oops.''

Hey, I'll tell you about oopses. I saw Carlos Lopez approach fly balls like a bullfighter approaching a bull. I saw Phil Bradley lose a fly ball (and a ball game) in a fog. And I saw Jackie Brandt playing in a fog most of the time.

I see them all out there now, pal, it's what the years do to you at a time like this. Game-winning hits? Sure, I remember 'em, but I remember all of us up in the stands, too, nestled in our youth every time we walked into the place.

Remember Wild Bill Hagy? 'Course, you do. You remember him standing on the dugout and bending his body like some circus contortionist to spell out O-R-I-O-L-E-S. But I remember sitting up in Section 34 one afternoon in '79, and it started to rain.

Somebody started a chant: ''Wild Bill, make it stop.''

Hagy jumped to his feet. He looked to the sky, and then he held his palms up like Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea. ''Rain go. Rain go,'' he bellowed. The tribe in 34 picked up the chant. Hagy swung his big cowboy hat around, as though sweeping up moisture.

In exactly two minutes, the rain stopped. It's like the sky itself was intimidated into surrender, pal, that's what it felt like.

And then Wild Bill sat down, and very contentedly, he said, ''You know something? This just might be the most valuable section in the major leagues this year.''

Or any year. Hey, pal, Hagy's the guy who taught all of us to unbutton our emotions at the ballpark. In the '80s, I'd spend opening day in the stands with some friends of mine in law enforcement: cops, investigators, prosecutors, all of them alleged grown-ups.

Everybody brought kazoos to the ballpark. One time, we played a song and it was either ''Take Me Out to the Ballgame'' or ''Ave Maria.'' Nobody was sure. So we had our own Kazoo Band Theme, with the immortal lyrics: ''We're the famous kazoo band/Here to play at the game/Oriole baseball is what we love/We prefer our kazoos to a glove.'' We'd get ovations from our whole section.

Childish, I know. But that's what happened to us at the old place on 33rd Street. We'd cast off the cares of adulthood and wallow for a few hours in youth. That's why we're so sentimental about this place. It's not only ballgames, it's memories of ourselves, having a swell time.

You want to talk dramatic homers? Hey, I remember Rocky Colavito hitting four in one night here -- against us. You remember great defense? I saw Cal Ripken bobble a grounder. You want to talk pitching? I saw Palmer ask for help from the dugout.

It happens, and it doesn't quite matter any more. It's not the winning or the losing, it's the memory of glad moments in the stands. For a few hours each game day, we were a community. I know guys who started at Memorial Stadium back in '54 when their fathers took them. Today, they're returning the favor. They're bringing their fathers.

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