With limo, transplanting home plate job worth digging THE FAREWELL: AND THE RIDE HOME

October 07, 1991|By Mark Hyman

The white, stretch limousine was 66 feet long, another way to say that leg room was not a big problem. The windows were frosted, presumably so people outside could not peer in at the leg room.

There was a moon roof, a privacy partition, a television and, in the back seat, a fully equipped bar.

Late yesterday afternoon, this luxury car had an unusual job: Pick up a home plate.

Baseball paraphernalia seldom rides in such comfort. But this was a special occasion. As part of yesterday's final-game ceremonies, the Orioles announced they would uproot the plate at the stadium and plant it again in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It sounded simple enough. But you should have been there.

Paul Zwaska was. He is the Baltimore Orioles' head groundskeeper, a job that usually is performed in khaki work clothes. Yesterday, the Orioles asked him to wear an all-white tuxedo with orange bow tie, to ride into the ballpark in the white limo and, with five members of his crew, to dig the plate out of the ground.

As the final-day crowd of 50,700 looked on, Zwaska and his men did just that. Then they hoisted the plate into the trunk and rode off beyond the left-field fence.

Probably you don't know what happened after that. Unless you are a student of home plates, maybe you don't care.

For posterity, here are a few of the critical details. Home plate got the hero's treatment, though it probably did not notice from the trunk. As the limo left the ballpark, a young man in a rugby shirt reached out to touch the window. Several people whipped out cameras and took pictures.

It was quiet inside the limo. The plate said nothing. Zwaska admitted he was a little tired and a lot thirsty. Digging the plate out had been a rigorous job. Usually, the crew can do it in 10 to 15 minutes. Yesterday's ceremony demanded speed. The job was completed in less than five.

"My throat hurts from breathing so hard," Zwaska said. "That was a bigger workout than rolling out the tarp."

Time was everything. The limo and the plate had to arrive downtown quickly because its ceremonial planting at Oriole Park was being shown on Diamond Vision at Memorial Stadium. A delay and the dramatic effect might be spoiled.

The motorcade arrived at the new ballpark on schedule. A few minutes later, ABC sportscaster Jim McKay, who was the host for the ceremony, was standing on the field and on top of the largest pile of sand this side of the Sahara.

Orioles president Larry Lucchino and Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad then dropped a home plate -- but not the Memorial Stadium home plate -- onto the exact spot where it will sit when the new ballpark is finished.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer had been expected for the ceremony, but did not show. Lainy M. LeBow, director of scheduling for the governor, was at the new ballpark and said of Schaefer's absence: "Something came up. He couldn't come."

After all that fuss, the Memorial Stadium home plate did not leave the trunk of the limousine. Instead, a new and much more portable home plate was substituted. Zwaska explained the reasons. The real plate was too heavy to be lugged to the ceremony. Including its wooden anchor, it was nearly 50 pounds. Then, he said, the field at Camden Yards is not ready for a real plate. Sod won't be installed for another two to three weeks.

When the TV cameras were turned off late yesterday, the Camden Yards plate was picked up. Everybody went home.

Still, at Camden Yards, as at Memorial Stadium, something significant had happened.

"When they open the Olympics every four years, they light a torch," Belgrad said. "We're moving home plate. It's a very symbolic occasion."

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