Fans,O's share tears,memories

October 07, 1991|By John Eisenberg

The last out was history and the "Field of Dreams" commemoration was over, and now Earl Weaver was down beneath the stands wearing a T-shirt and smoking a cigarette, just like always, only now there were red tear stains at the edge of his eyes and a tremble in his voice.

"God, that was just gorgeous," he said, and he looked around the impromptu clubhouse where dozens of Baltimore Orioles from every generation dressed yesterday, all of them coming back on a cool, windy afternoon to say their goodbyes and pay their respects as the last baseball game was played at Memorial Stadium after 38 years.

He pointed at Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson and Boog Powell and Jim Palmer, at Luis Aparicio and Rick Dempsey and Don Baylor and Bobby Grich, at Dennis Martinez and Davey Johnson and Mike Cuellar and, by gum, even Jim Gentile.

"The people in here, this is what it all comes down to," said Weaver, who was the Orioles' manager for more than 2,500 games. "The people in here are the reason there is such a great sense of history about this stadium. We've got four Hall of Famers in this room. Four 20-game winners. We just had so many great players and teams here. That's what today was all about."

It certainly wasn't about the 1991 Orioles, who lost for the 95th and last time, taking a 7-1 shellacking from the Detroit Tigers. But the sellout crowd of 50,700 didn't come to see a victory so much as witness local history and, in the end, shed a tear as the stadium's past came to life for a few memorable minutes after the game.

After the grounds crew dug out home plate and put it in a limousine that carried it to the club's new home beginning next year, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the collection of ex-Orioles paraded onto the field in uniform, to thunderous cheers. There were no introductions on the public-address system. Just the music from the movie "Field of Dreams" and the sound of the center field flag flapping. The fans knew the players by sight, as if they were family.

"Every one of us went out there with a lump in his throat," said Boog Powell, the team's first baseman in its first days of glory. "They might not admit it, but they did.

To me, it sort of summed up what we were all about as a team. We had a special bond with the people here. And some damn good baseball teams."

The first ex-Oriole to take the field was Brooks Robinson, who emerged from the dugout carrying his glove and took his usual position at third base. As the crowd roared, Robinson, the only player on the field, kicked gently at the dirt with his right cleat. "It tTC was the most exciting moment of my career," he said.

Frank Robinson then ran out to right field, Powell to first base, Palmer to the pitcher's mound, Baylor to left field and Dempsey to where the catcher stands. Then the players began emerging in groups, 78 in all, joined in the end by the members of the 1991 team. Weaver was the last person in an Orioles uniform to take the field at Memorial Stadium.

Dempsey, who played for the Milwaukee Brewers this season, led the crowd in two O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheers and took another of his famous, comic pantomime trips around the bases. Then the players threw balls into the stands and "Auld Lang Syne" played on the loudspeakers. The words "So Long Friend" appeared on the scoreboard.

It was the end of a day that began before noon, as the crowd gathered for the last time along 33rd Street. The atmosphere reflected a mixture of celebration and sadness. A calypso band played by the front entrance. A stereo set up by a radio station played rock music. Vendors across 33rd Street sold unlicensed t-shirts for $10. A chilling wind and overcast sky had many fans wearing jackets over their sweaters.

"It's kind of a strange day," said Ken Hartman, a 28-year-old insurance salesman from Lutherville. "There's a real touch of sadness in the air. The weather is appropriate, no sun, kind of sad. But so many people are here to celebrate the joy of the memories they've got. So how do you feel? I'm not exactly sure. It's sad, but it's not sad."

The sun appeared, and the Baltimore Colts Marching Band played the national anthem, conjuring up memories of the other half of the stadium's history, the football history, which ended when the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984. Then Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas, the Colts' Hall of Fame quarterback, emerged from the dugout arm in arm to throw out the first balls. Robinson threw a baseball to Cal Ripken Jr. Unitas threw a football to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

The Tigers immediately threw a cold bucket of water on the warm feelings, though, scoring four runs in the first inning. The Orioles scored a run in the bottom of the first off Detroit pitcher Frank Tanana, but it soon became apparent that Tanana was up to the challenge of holding the big lead.

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