Charles Gibson is a guy who puts his money where his mouth is and, furthermore, he knows whereof he speaks when it comes to baseball and related subjects. That's why an extra charge of excitement will be included in ABC's "Good Morning America" show next Monday when it sets up shop at the new ballpark.
The GMA co-host, long a fan of the Orioles since working in Washington and still part of a co-op that purchases six season tickets, literally can't wait to catch his first glimpse of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The heck with waiting for Opening Day; he'll be in town tomorrow working on a couple of features.
"I never had any problems with Memorial Stadium," says Gibson. "Sure, it had some whiskers on it, but as far as I'm concerned, the true test of a ballpark is its ability to get a fan involved. Everybody can't sit in the front row, but no matter where you are, if you can see well enough to feel you're really into the game, that will make it memorable and that's all you can ask for."
A Chicago native, Charlie recalls the first game his dad took him to at old Comiskey Park and he says it easily passed his fan involvement test. "Then last summer," he continued, "a friend and I went to the new Comiskey to do a piece and, over three games between the O's and Sox in August, I sat in at least 25 different locations. I always got a sense of the player and what he's about, so, here again, the test was met.
"As terrific as Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Philadelphia are, the ballparks there are abominations. It's such a relief seeing parks being constructed today headed back in the right direction."
The baseball and OPACY features that will be included in the 7-9 a.m. show are a chat with commissioner Fay Vincent (obligatory); a discussion among Frank Robinson, Larry Lucchino and the planners of what the architects were going for with the park; something on the Ripkens (obligatory); and, a look at the nooks and crannies of the field and its Camden Yards surroundings.
"One of the things that disturbs me about baseball is the number of season tickets sold nowadays, 25,000," says Gibson. "That pretty well precludes you getting a really good seat on a one-shot basis. That's why it's essential that the seat down in rightfield or out in the bleachers be good.
"I was at the last game of the 1979 World Series in Memorial Stadium, the one in which Willie Stargell broke everyone's heart with that big home run, and I couldn't have had a more Bob Ueckerish seat: I was in the last row of the second deck way out in right. I still felt like a part of the game."
The ambience of Baltimore baseball has always been such that Charlie and a few of his friends at ABC chipped in for a box nearly a decade ago and didn't hesitate to have their 33rd Street deal transferred downtown: "Our greatest pleasure was to get on the visiting players, always in a civilized manner, of course. The highlight of one season was the night Bert Blyleven made a gesture toward us as he came to the dugout after being knocked out of the box."
Gibson has a theory that the most important architecture in a city is that found in its symphony halls, its museums, its art galleries and, yes, its ballpark, "places that gather people and involve the community. Nothing bespeaks the soul of a city better."
He's hopeful GMA's one-day visit to Baltimore not only freshens up the show for viewers -- "going on location rarely boosts ratings and can get to be a hassle frequently" -- but he would like to see it capped by an essay espousing the theory that each year contains three New Years: "The first is Jan. 1; the second is the beginning of school, which everyone relates to from their youth; and, probably the biggest of them all, Opening Day. It's such a part of the American psyche. We've survived the winter, it's the start of the planting season, warm weather's ahead, all is right with the world."
Why worry about someone coming aboard to clarion such thoughts, Charlie, go for it yourself . . . and don't you and your gang get on the Cleveland pitcher too vociferously afterward; hey, this ain't New York, y'know.