'It's a sweet sadness' at old park's last day Farewell: Fans revel in memories as Memorial Stadium closes, and some can't wait for the Ravens' new field to open.

December 15, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

Daniel H. Burkhardt had a hard time sleeping Saturday night. In the morning, he would say goodbye to Memorial Stadium, a friend he's had for 59 years.

In this place, the 81-year-old former Marine has stood at somber attention to remember fallen soldiers and whooped for joy at killer passes and clutch hits. He has honored the dead here and tasted, in moments like the final out of the Orioles' improbable sweep of the 1966 World Series, something like the very essence of life.

"I realized this is the end, and the end is a hard thing," Burkhardt, a former American Legion adjutant who helped put the "memorial" in Memorial Stadium, said yesterday. "It's a sweet sadness, really. I'm happy to be here, so happy we're taking care of the memorial. But there is so much nostalgia, seeing it go."

He echoed the sentiments of thousands of fans who flocked to the old stadium on 33rd Street to watch heydays turn permanently to yesterdays, as the Baltimore Ravens played their final game on a storied field.

For many, it was a festive occasion. There was much to celebrate: the appearance of the old Baltimore Colts in their uniforms one last time for a postgame touchdown; Artie Donovan's affable growl, assenting to yet another autograph outside; a Ravens victory; a new stadium coming downtown, with roomier seats and better bathrooms.

They remembered the classic moments and the quirky ones, which told you everything about being a real fan in the world's largest outdoor insane asylum. They recalled that somehow, even when fog rolled in at the end of a game and you couldn't even see what was going on, it was electric just to be there, blind in love with your team.

"It's like a child growing up, moving into another phase of life," said Bill Cervenka, president of a Bowie-based Ravens Roost club, founded 20 years ago as a Colts Corral. He and members of the club started the day at 8 a.m., setting out a Christmas tree with purple ornaments and a tailgate feast with turkey, stuffing, rum cake and a host of other trimmings.

"It's great to have a new stadium and a new team in Baltimore," said Cervenka, 54.

Burkhardt, now of Severna Park, began going to games when he bought a house in the Northwood area in 1938, when the field was Baltimore Municipal Stadium and the Marines from Quantico, Va., played the Baltimore Fire Department.

As adjutant for Maryland years later, Burkhardt arranged and cared for a bronze urn displayed at the stadium with soil from military cemeteries around the world where U.S. soldiers are buried. Yesterday, he walked onto the field and presented the urn to American Legion state commander William B. Proctor, for safekeeping until it is installed in the new Ravens stadium.

To be sure, some fans were elated that they wouldn't have to endure the peeling paint, long lines and poor sightlines of the old stadium.

"Good riddance!" shouted Steve Sprecher, 39, of Catonsville as the song lyrics "Hey, hey, hey, goodbye" played on a friend's portable stereo in the parking lot. "It's a very appropriate song. There are lots of good memories here, but I'm looking for the future."

Jim and Jane Mulvaney of Parkville remembered when Colts games doubled as romantic outings, when you dressed up beforehand (wearing long underwear to ward off the cold) and topped off the day with a visit to a fine restaurant. Jane Mulvaney still has the small Colts jacket her son, then 8 years old, won in a Punt, Pass and Kick contest.

When the stadium is demolished, "I know I'll have a tear in my eye," Jim Mulvaney said.

His wife already did.

Some did not observe the occasion so gently, ripping seats, section signs and railings from the old stadium at the end of the game. Police said they had arrested 19 people for destruction of property and theft as of 6: 30 p.m. Security officers attempted to confiscate pieces of the stadium that had been ripped away, but they didn't recover everything. Three young men proudly held aloft an entire bleacher row -- in the parking lot.

A fan who identified himself only as Paul said he was justified in taking the gray seat under his arm. "Something for my son later on," he said.

Mickey Horn, postmaster for the town of Manchester, sat for the final time yesterday in the seat he purchased when the Ravens came to town. He had first come to Memorial Stadium as a 12-year-old boy in 1954, sitting in the end zone with the $2 ticket you could get if you wore your high school jacket. Now a 56-year-old man, he defended the honor of the place.

"People talk about the bathrooms and the concessions. But I didn't come here to eat and drink and go to the bathroom. I used to sit out in the outfield and see Kenny Singleton make a catch right up against the wall."

When former Colt John Unitas handed off to Lydell Mitchell, who gave the ball to Lenny Moore for the final touchdown at Memorial Stadium, Horn simply beamed. The ending -- complete with a 21-19 victory over the Tennessee Oilers from this maddening new puppy of a football team -- had been perfect.

Horn looked a row ahead, at a lanky kid aggressively stamping his blue seat out of its moorings, and shook his head.

"He hasn't been to a game all year, and now he's doing this," he said. "It's a sad day when you see them tearing the stadium apart."

Horn shook hands with his neighboring regulars, the fans he'd come to know since the return of the National Football League play to Section 36, lower level. "See you in the new stadium," he said to the father and son in front of him.

Then Mickey Horn gathered up his souvenir Ravens photo and his commemorative Colts program and his Ravens blanket and his seat warmer that he'd faithfully put in the microwave that morning. Wouldn't he treasure a piece of the old place as well?

"They can have this," Horn replied. "I'll always have my memories, hon."

Pub Date: 12/15/97

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