Field of Dreams

October 07, 1991

The old ballyard on Thirty-third Street was turned into a field of dreams late yesterday afternoon as the Orioles played their final game at Memorial Stadium before moving downtown next season. The greats of yesteryear did not come out of Iowa cornfields but from the Orioles dugout -- dozens of them, some graying, some expanding waistward, some household names, some but flickering memories from old scorecards.

Brooks Robinson was the first one out, and as he pawed third base in a luminous white uniform while shadows lengthened toward right field, a nostalgic, lump-in-the-throat sentiment engulfed 50,700 fans. Rick Dempsey was the last, prancing as an O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheerleader and --ing around the bases before landing splat on the dug-up area that had been home plate. The only thing missing was a rain delay and a slippery tarp.

Memorial Stadium was crammed unto its obstructed-view seats with 50,700 fans who boosted the season's attendance to a record 2,552,771. They demonstrated anew that Baltimore is one of the greatest sports towns of them all. Even though the Birds finished in sixth place, losing the final game to Frank Tanana's Detroit Tigers in a 7-1 blowout, the rooters were there to the end, in overwhelming numbers, showing their love for a part of their lives and their city and their own identity.

Ah baseball, the most individual of team games. Yet Memorial Stadium was also home to football, the most collective of team games. It was home to the Colts, the team that rose to football glory before being stolen in the dead of night to a faceless burg somewhere in the Middle West. The old Colts Band in traditional blue and white was here for closing day (it has never left) and many a spectator must have wondered if Baltimore would ever regain the NFL football franchise that is its due.

If this miracle comes off, a football stadium will go right next to the new Oriole Park at Camden Yard, which muscled into yesterday's ceremonies when the old home plate on 33rd Street was transplanted, via stretch limo, to its new abode.

Yes, there was a bit of hype, a touch of show biz, a dollop of schmaltz in yesterday's proceedings. But it is not often that a town can wear its heart on its sleeve and vent the feelings that bind it together in the breathtaking spectacle of a full stadium on a fine fall day. So let's join with ailing Rex Barney, the official announcer of the Orioles, in saying "thank yoooo" not only for an invaluable baseball franchise but to a neighborhood, Waverly, which knew traffic jams and excitement and now faces an uncertain future.

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