The sun had dropped down behind the left field grandstand and a chilly wind blew trash across the empty infield as the last fans left Memorial Stadium last night. Orioles baseball had left the old neighborhood and was moving into a new gentrified home downtown.
People trudged out of the old ball park talking the way people do when they move out of an old house they've lived in for years, where they'd come when they were married, where they raised their children.
The whole of the Orioles last day in Memorial Stadium had the tone of a family reunion. Nostalgia washed over everything like the crisp autumn sunshine that broke through murky clouds about the third inning.
Fifty thousand fans stood up and roared when Brooks Robinson trotted out to third base, the first of the Orioles in the post-game ceremonies. He flicked a ball into his glove with a gesture as familiar as your father's touch, your brother's arm across your shoulder.
Nearly 80 old Orioles came out and took their positions on the field, famous and obscure, more or less in order of veneration by the fans. Frank Robinson jogged out into right field. Boog Powell sort of stomped out to first base. Jim Palmer took the mound.
The loudspeakers played the theme from the film "Field of Dreams." The crowd cheered as each player came out of the dugout: pitchers Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Dennis and Tippy Martinez; infielders, Bobby Grich, Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Doug DeCinces, catcher Rick Dempsey. . .
Dempsey stepped up to home plate and waved a towel, cheerleading as he did in 1983. He and the Baltimore fans love each other. Dempsey's always had the in-your-face irreverence of the fans who made Section 34 famous in the late '70s and early '80s.
Dempsey put his hands together over his head and did an "O," and the stadium echoed "OOOOO" in a Niagara of sound. Dempsey did it all: "O-R-I-O-L-E-S!!" Twice he did it.
Then he stuffed something in his jersey and did a Babe Ruth imitation, pointing at the fence, pantomiming a home run, then chugging around the bases like the old Baltimore Bambino. Dempsey's the comic hero of the afternoon.
Up in Section 34 where the O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheer originated, Wild Bill Hagy, the inventor, was missing. Hagy hadn't been seen around the Stadium much lately. His country-boy-hippy-biker style clashed with the upscale, family-oriented, George Will image sought by contemporary Orioles ownerships.
But a fair number of "34" denizens showed up yesterday, among them: Pat Sullivan, head nurse and aficionado; Bonnie Bonnell, artist and sometime fan; Tom Dantoni, editor of Harry, and David Frank, Harry columnist; Jeff Amdor, who led the section in kazoo cantatas.
David Spero, a veteran 34er who moved to San Francisco in 1983, flew in Friday to come to the last two games in the Stadium. He's already part of baseball history: he was at the first game of the World Series when the 1989 earthquake rocked Candlestick Park.
"The most memorable season for me was 1979 when the Orioles would come from behind every night in the ninth inning," Spero said. Seventy-nine was the year of multiple miracles on 33rd Street, and much more memorable than an earthquake.
"And I remember the camaraderie of Wild Bill's Section 34," he said.
Down in the lower boxes behind home plate, little Maija Castro was seeing her first game on this last day of the Orioles in the Stadium. She's just about 5 months old. She wore a pink, green and blue Gymboree cap, a sort of bunny suit with pink polka dots and a dimpled smile.
Maija came with her brother Miguel, who says he's 2 1/2 , her mother Peggy and her father David.
"I've been coming here since I was six," Dave said. His father, Dr. Miguel Castro, brought him. "I remember being pulled out of school in the first grade for the '66 World Series.
"We've been in these exact same seats since '74," he said.
Ann Oakes and Kitty Davidson have been sitting behind them almost all that time. It's a kind of tight little community that may not survive the shift to the new ballpark, although box holders have been promised "comparable" seats.
"We came when I dated my husband at college," Peggy Castro said. "They watched us date. They watched our marriage, my first pregnancy and Miguel's birth and now Maija's birth."
And now Oakes and Davidson help watch the kids.
"This is our wedding anniversary," Peggy Castro said, "and my mother-and-father-in-law's anniversary, too."
Every section had its own little chunk of Stadium history yesterday.
"We've seen so much history over the years," Dave Castro said. "I remember the old scoreboard and I was here when Frank Robinson hit a home run over it. There's too much to remember, but not enough."
The stadium was certainly full of heartfelt nostalgia. There was plenty of hype, too, as when a white lim
ousine whisked away home plate immediately after the game. But it was tolerable, like your brother-in-law trying to sell you insurance at the family reunion.