All-Star overflow would happily fill Memorial Stadium


July 11, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

You know what they should have done? For the fans, I mean. For all those who worship at the shrine of the Orioles, who consider baseball an heirloom passed from one generation to the next, but now find themselves shut out on their way to a seat inside the ballpark for Tuesday night's All-Star Game?

They should have turned back the clock. They should have opened their hearts, and opened the ballpark on 33rd Street one more time. They should have brought back the Diamondvision scoreboard, and sold tickets at 1958 Memorial Stadium All-Star prices and welcomed about 50,000 people inside to watch the game together on the big screen.

They'll have the usual Baltimore sellout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Tuesday, but it won't begin to touch the overflow of all those feeling left out who don't particularly want to watch the game at home, in isolation, when they should be sitting in the stands with their friends.

We find ourselves, instead, grasping for a piece of the action, something to tell ourselves we're involved. Emotional fallback position: FanFest, with the miniature Baseball Hall of Fame at the Convention Center, and the loving exhibits on the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Elite Giants next door at Festival Hall.

You think people aren't hungering for a piece of the action? Check out the autograph-seekers standing in long lines for the likes of that immortal reserve third baseman, Todd Cruz. Todd Cruz, we're settling for!

Or those walking through FanFest's carnival-style aisles who are willing to fork over $75 for a 1966 World Series program, or $70 for a 1955 Willie Mays Topps baseball card, or $20 for a 1947 copy of Sport Magazine.

"You gotta be a ballplayer to afford this stuff," says a fan drifting through the big Convention Center exhibit booths. Of course, he'll be lugging a shopping bag out of here filled with the delights of his semi-vanished youth.

And there it is: It's $75 for the '66 Series program but, hey, that was the Orioles' sweep of the Dodgers, wasn't it? It was Frank and Brooks with those opening-inning shots off Drysdale, who expired just last week, and it was Drabowsky out of the bullpen and Brooksie leaping into McNally's arms when it was all over.

Yeah, it's $70 for the Mays card, but the mere sight of it takes you back: Not only to Mays, but to lazy afternoons in

everybody's old neighborhood when you flipped those cards with your friends and traded them with the cunning of stockbrokers and studied the batting averages on the back because they were opening a new culture to you.

And it's $20 for that Sport Magazine, but look who's writing inside: Red Smith and Grantland Rice and Dan Parker and Stanley Woodward. To open the magazine is to remember entering not only a world of sports, but a time when the printed word still moved the world.

To walk through FanFest is to feel a sense of conflict. The sheer marketing volume is beyond belief: uniforms and helmets, pins and insignia, jackets and gloves. Not only baseball cards, but boxes of plastic card holders. Not only baseballs, but plastic baseball holders. Not only ex-major leaguers signing autographs, but a desk nearby that will "authorize," for $5 per autograph, that the signatures are legitimate.

In truth, the sheer abundance robs the stuff of all pretense of exclusivity. All those souls collecting memorabilia for the economic value, thinking they had something rare on their hands to be sold at some future date, will be saddened to discover otherwise.

But, for the sheer trip back to the past, for the pure reminders of yesteryear, there's some lovely stuff. The exhibit loaned from Cooperstown -- Babe Ruth's locker with its bat and glove, the ancient black and white photos -- bring you back to a simpler, greener time.

Next door at Festival Hall, the Home Town Heroes exhibit on the Orioles -- the old videos, the giant photos -- is a love offering from the folks at the Babe Ruth Museum. Seeing the grainy, blown-up snapshots of the Baltimore Elite Giants of the old Negro League is to be reminded of all those whose potential was cruelly killed because of their skin color.

The All-Star Game reminds us how thoroughly baseball has invaded not only our lives, but our souls. We want to cheer on the '93 Orioles, but we also want to hold on to that '66 Series. We'd like to have tickets to Camden Yards Tuesday night, but we also remember the glow of sitting in the stands on 33rd Street. Too bad nobody gave it a thought for Tuesday's overflow.

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