Beer here, get your yesteryear here

BASEBALL JOURNAL

July 28, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

In childhood summers, the baseball games began in the morning and went until dark.

Greg Schwalenberg remembers a couple of games before lunch, maybe one after and perhaps a fourth after supper. A handful of nTC kids to a side and as much fair territory as they could cover on the fields of West Baltimore.

"During the summers, that's what you did," Schwalenberg says. "It was amazing how much baseball we used to play."

He is 42 and no longer plays ball. Summer is still baseball, however -- morning, afternoon and about half the time, night. Such is life for the man who may be the country's only combination baseball museum curator and major-league ballpark beer vendor.

Find Schwalenberg during the day at 216 Emory St., Babe Ruth's birthplace and the site of the Babe Ruth Museum. When the workday ends there, Schwalenberg walks two blocks during Orioles homestands to Baltimore's other baseball address, Camden Yards, where he hawks Budweiser in the field-level seats on the third base side.

The little wire-rim glasses and the gentle face appear suited more to the museum curator than to the bark and hustle of the beer vendor. But Schwalenberg seems at home in both roles.

He was a vendor first, and a good one. Needing a second job, he started working at Memorial Stadium in 1979 and several times over the years was ranked top vendor in the park based on his attendance and sales.

Most of the time at Camden Yards, Schwalenberg has ranked No. 3. That was Babe Ruth's number, and it suits him fine. Last month, he slipped to No. 4, a move he says was orchestrated so that he might work into conversations with fans the latest museum exhibit highlighting years in Orioles history ending in four.

He has been the Babe Ruth Museum's curator since 1983, when he was offered the position in the spring after working as a volunteer during museum renovations. He accepted and left the Walters Art Gallery, where he had worked for nine years building displays and putting up exhibits.

That is, he learned about museum work much the same way he learned about baseball, by doing it, being there. His grandfather, who worked a night shift at the Sparrows Point Shipyard, used to take him to Orioles games during the day while his father worked. Then there was Little League and Community Youth Organization ball and the summers of baseball until dark.

"My, quote, idol, as a kid was Ron Hansen," Schwalenberg says. "He was a shortstop and I was a shortstop."

The kid is not so hard to find inside the museum curator. Ask Schwalenberg about some of his favorite artifacts in the collection and watch the wide-eyed boy run out to tell the story.

There's the one about the man who walked into the museum about seven years ago holding a brown paper bag, something he had in the house. He thought the museum might be interested.

Inside the paper bag was a baseball uniform the color of pale burlap with BALTIMORE written in black cloth letters across the chest. The uniform was fit to the size of a 4-year-old boy who was born before pro baseball came to town.

Harry Howe Sr. turned 4 in 1895. The year-old National League Baltimore baseball team needed a mascot, so it made a uniform to fit the boy and dressed him up and let him sit in the dugout that season for good luck.

Nearly a century later Harry Sr. was gone and the uniform had passed to his son, Harry Jr., who lived, appropriately enough, on 33rd Street. Harry Jr. figured the museum might be interested in having it.

"Of course, we went nuts," Schwalenberg says.

It was like that a couple of years ago when a local woman named Helen Hall called to say her mother-in-law had some old Orioles game programs she wanted to dispose of.

"She didn't realize what she had," Schwalenberg says. The woman walked into the museum with a box of perfectly preserved Orioles programs. From the 1890s.

"We saw these programs, we were ready to faint," he says.

Some artifacts fall to the museum like so many souvenir foul balls. Others take a little work.

The bricks, for example, which are not just bricks but part of the Baltimore baseball story. These 25 or so bricks were part of the outer wall on the left-field side of Memorial Stadium until a truck hit the wall during the 1989 season, knocking them loose. Schwalenberg, who was working as a vendor there, spotted the bricks and was struck by their historic value. Also the fact that they seemed to be available.

"I asked the security guy if I could take some of the bricks," he says.

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