A fitting Memorial for stadium's fans

Open house tomorrow will allow farewells, preview of sale items

May 20, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Two men with long baseball and football memories stand in what they call "our sports cathedral" of childhood, Memorial Stadium, now as ghostly as a Roman ruin with a field full of knee-high weeds and wild strawberries.

"Right about here was home plate," John W. Ziemann says as he holds out his arms to mark the site.

Mike Gibbons describes another memory: "Vince Lombardi stalked those sidelines," he says, speaking of the larger-than-life coach of the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins.

Their roles seem reversed -- Ziemann is president of the Ravens marching band, Gibbons is executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum -- but their goal is the same. They've been preparing for tomorrow's open house at the stadium, which will allow fans to say farewell, and preview items that will be sold in September.

Admission is $5 for the tours, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. "House of Magic," a book about the ballpark, will be sold, and visitors can pay for photographs of themselves standing near trophies marking Orioles and Colts championships.

About 25,000 seats will be sold, the prices of which will be determined in coming months. Additional items to be auctioned include hundreds of signs and dozens of lockers which Ziemann counted and cataloged in a report to the Babe Ruth Museum and the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The state agency and the sports museum are working together to preserve as well as dispose of artifacts that have accumulated since 1954, when the stadium opened. Ziemann, working through the museum, is director of the project to identify, select and salvage artifacts.

Nostalgia isn't the only motivation. With demolition costs estimated at $10 million, sales -- even of bricks and odds and ends -- can help pay the bill.

Not everything will be for sale, Gibbons says. Some itemswill go to the Baseball Hall of Fame and others to the Babe Ruth Museum.

A senior citizen housing community and a YMCA are slated to be built after the site is cleared next year. Both men accept that, but Gibbons regrets that the exterior lettering of the dedication to war veterans will not stay intact on 33rd Street. The large steel letters will be warehoused until city officials decide what to do with them.

As he strolls through the stadium, Ziemann points out the referees' dressing room and the band "ready" room.

The demolition plans weigh heavily on him and on Gibbons. "Sad, ain't it?" says Gibbons. "Thank goodness the Romans didn't have the money and the technology to implode the Coliseum."

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