After a year of planning, Orioles' final curtain comes down with nary a wrinkle

A GOOD 'BYE'

October 08, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

If the post-game ceremony following Sunday's final baseball game at Memorial Stadium put a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye, congratulations.

You reacted just the way the Orioles hoped you would.

And if the setting reminded you of some movie or distant memory, well, that was OK with the Orioles, too.

For, you see, Charles Steinberg and Rick Vaughn -- the two in charge of coordinating the final weekend's programs -- were determined to bring down the curtain on Memorial Stadium as elegantly as possible.

"If a Broadway play ran for 38 years and was coming to an end, you'd want an opportunity to savor it one last time," said Steinberg, the director of Orioles Productions. "We viewed this as the ultimate curtain call to a 38-year performance."

Indeed, through a weekend filled with fireworks, music, good weather and a strong blast of nostalgia, the best laid plans of Steinberg and Vaughn, the director of public relations, came off largely without a hitch.

"To do what you hope for exceeds your expectations," said Steinberg. "We thought this was a great idea, but we didn't know if we could have everything fall in line."

"It exceeded our expectations, but it was what we hoped for."

Planning for the final season and the concluding weekend began last October, as Steinberg and Vaughn and their staffs sat and brainstormed about the kind of send-off they wanted to give Memorial Stadium.

In November, the "Season to Remember" campaign was formed, and a series of minor celebrations, recalling specific moments in Orioles history, were held throughout the year.

"We knew that we had the opportunity of a lifetime to let people really feel the emotions they feel inside," said Steinberg. "We just wanted to have a bunch of little events that would make fans think, 'Gosh, I remember that.' "

Meanwhile, plans and ideas for the final weekend -- which wound up costing more than $100,000, including transportation and lodging of the 78 former Orioles -- were put in motion, with the blessings of team president Larry Lucchino.

"He wanted something that was very classy, that was worthy of this moment," said Steinberg. "He wanted it to be not overdone, but wholly emotional."

David Cope, assistant director of marketing, and Stephanie Kelly, the assistant community relations director, coordinated last Friday's mammoth fireworks show, which lasted for about 30 minutes after the 4-hour, 14-inning marathon game.

Saturday's brainstorm to have current Orioles meet fans entering the stadium for "Fan Appreciation Day" was the product of Evelyn Ehlers, Vaughn's administrative assistant.

All of those were mere lead-ins to Sunday's pull-out-the-stops finale.

Steinberg said the Orioles and WIYY-FM had attempted to get rock legend Bruce Springsteen to sing the national anthem.

When Springsteen's representatives declined, the Baltimore Colts' marching band was called to do what it had done on countless fall Sundays in the stadium.

Likewise, the team invited John Denver to come to sing in person "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," the longtime seventh-inning stretch song, but Denver's staff said the singer had a concert that evening in Colorado.

Steinberg said the team offered to fly Denver in and out of town, promising to get him back in time for his concert, but to no avail. The recording, however, satisfied the crowd, which cheered its reappearance in the eighth inning, after booing its absence in the seventh.

The club began inviting many of the 512 players who had worn an Orioles uniform to come and take the Memorial Stadium field one last time informally as far back as last fall, Steinberg said.

Formal invitations were made in May and June, and the acceptances rapidly came back.

As many former Orioles, like Brooks Robinson, Willie Miranda and Jim Palmer, still make their homes in the Baltimore area, their participation was easy to coordinate.

Matters were trickier for former players who lived out of the area, and former Orioles like shortstop Luis Aparicio and second baseman Davey Johnson were flown in at club expense.

Trickiest of all were former Orioles who are still active like Montreal pitcher Dennis Martinez and Milwaukee catcher Rick Dempsey.

Though Martinez, who pitched a perfect game this season, and Dempsey, who gave an impromptu concert at a Cockeysville nightclub earlier this year, were interested in coming, both had to wait until their teams were eliminated from pennant contention.

In addition, Harry Dalton, Milwaukee's general manager, who held the same post in Baltimore, would not release Dempsey for the ceremony until both the Brewers and their last opponent, Boston, had been knocked out of the pennant race.

Steinberg said his first personal lobbying effort was to former first baseman Eddie Murray, who now plays for the Dodgers.

He said he spoke with Murray throughout the season and thought the first baseman was interested in coming if not for the fact that Los Angeles was not eliminated until Saturday.

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