Lasting Memorial

Baltimoreans who recall summers and winters at the old stadium have made an uneasy peace with its passing. For some, the memories are enough. For the rest, an auction offers a piece of forever.

September 13, 2000|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,SUN STAFF

Most of us wrapped up our Memorial Stadium business nine summers ago. We made sure we got to a September or October game, cameras loaded with fresh film, memory banks primed to record the final images of baseball on 33rd Street.

It didn't matter that the Birds were about to conclude another forgettable season, at 67-95, that Orioles Magic had worn off and that the hometown was, by then, seven mostly awful seasons removed from its last World Series. This was family business, and you had to get to the stadium, one last time, to say goodbye.

Camden Yards was not yet real to anyone but the ironworkers and bricklayers. Besides, it was infidelity to fantasize too much about a future relationship with Oriole Park while Memorial Stadium was still in use.

For football fans, the feeling was different. The goodbyes already had been forced on them. When the Colts left town in 1984, the World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum ceased to exist, and for a lot of Baltimore football fans, the happy insanity had vanished years before that.

A Canadian Football League team would call Memorial Stadium home for a couple of seasons, and so would the Ravens of the National Football League. But those were just historical hiccups. Most of us closed the doors on the important Memorial Stadium memories in the late summer and early fall of 1991.

I made sure we took our son to a game then, though he was only 18 months old. I made sure we got a picture of him there. I cherish that picture now, the way you might cherish a picture of a small child with an aging, beloved relative who has since died.

We said goodbye to the people we'd come to know by sitting frequently in the lower reserved seats down the third-base line. There was no guarantee we'd see them again at Camden Yards. The most memorable character, of course, was Dan Mink, the barking man. He did an awesome imitation of an excited dog. When Mink barked, the opposing third baseman and third-base umpire snapped their heads back, expecting to see a boxer in the box seats. All they got was a load of Mink, a big, crazy, teasing smile beneath his Fu Manchu.

We made sure we looked up at Section 34, roost of Wild Bill Hagy in the Magic years. The "Here" flag was still waving beyond left field. I walked by the large garage doors facing Ednor Avenue where, after the World Series victory in Philadelphia in 1983, Rick Dempsey had led a raucous 'round-midnight crowd in cheers.

By 1991, Cal had reached a mid-career milestone - 1,500 consecutive games - and there was a banner congratulating him on the left-field wall. Cal still had dark hair then.

Later, he hit a grounder that turned into the final Orioles out at Memorial Stadium. It was on that bittersweet October afternoon, after all official commemorations and a terribly tacky home-plate extraction stunt, that more than 100 Orioles - Brooks, Frank, Palmer, Boog among them - jaunted onto the field in uniform, the elegiac strains of "Field of Dreams" coming through the big black speakers all around the stadium. It was a magnificently choreographed, astoundingly emotional farewell, and there seemed to be nothing more to say after that.

By then, most of us felt that we had taken care of the Memorial Stadium business in our lives. Some of us miss the old place, but avoid saying so to avoid being considered hopelessly nostalgic. A lot of us can't bear to look at Memorial Stadium anymore.

But whatever category you're in, you've probably hoped for some memento, at least a brick. You've always wanted one, haven't you? Even if you consider yourself done with it - a thoroughly modern Baltimore sports fan who doesn't look back - you're probably glad to hear that curators and contractors have carefully removed pieces of Memorial Stadium, sending some off to the Babe Ruth Museum, some to the halls of fame in Cooperstown and Canton, but setting aside thousands of other items for a public sale and auction that will be held over two weekends right on the old playing field of the stripped and doomed-to-demolition stadium.

It's hard to put a price on memories, but they've tried - $25 for a brick, the same for one of the small, round brass aisle markers that identified each row of seats; the same for the little green plates that marked boxes in the lower-reserved areas and mezzanine.

There are stacks and stacks of stadium seats - gray wooden ones that will sell for $100 to $150 each, blue metal ones that will be offered at $75 each. There's an array of signage - "Beer Sales Will Stop At The Start of the 4th Quarter," "No Standing On Ramp"- extracted from the stadium catacombs; odd black, megaphone-style loudspeakers from the 1950s; lamps, folding chairs, and portable steam-boxes from which vendors once tonged Esskay hot dogs.

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