Our heritage lies in rubble on 33rd St.

CITY DIARY

February 27, 2002|By Fred Shoken

DRIVING BY Memorial Stadium a few weeks ago, I saw the last wall coming down. Instinctively, I turned my car around and stopped to take one last photograph.

Four other men had also stopped to take pictures that Friday afternoon. Moments later, the sky opened up and it poured. The weather was more like summer than winter. It was the kind of storm that would delay an Orioles game only briefly until Brooks, Eddie or Cal would return and resume play. The storm did not delay demolition. Memorial Stadium is no more.

Why should anyone care about a pile of brick and concrete, out of date, obsolete, full of obstructed-view seats and cold, hard bleachers? Is it because of the war memorial -- mere words of stainless steel in a style difficult to read?

Memorial Stadium had no club level, skyboxes or any modern amenities. Among its deficiencies were dark concourses, confining ramps to the upper deck and narrow seats. There weren't enough bathrooms. No cup holders were anywhere to be found. The height of cuisine was served at the "Tower of Pizza."

Yet Memorial Stadium was important because it housed the memories of my generation. We saw our first ballgame at Memorial Stadium. We became a Major League city there after 50 years of waiting. We were world champions with youngsters named Unitas, Berry, Moore, Marchetti and Parker. We celebrated our first World Series victory with Brooks, Frank, Boog, Blair and Palmer.

Grainy black-and-white television couldn't capture the vast expanse of the field: green grass, brown infield dirt and gray cinder warning track. Being there to hear the crack of the bat and cheer of the crowd was more exhilarating than hearing the game over the air even when described by the incomparable voice of Chuck Thompson.

Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters spent precious moments together at Memorial Stadium and became one with fans from every part of town. Collectively, we spent more time there than any other single place in Baltimore. It was the great common denominator of our generation.

Who among us did not cheer "Eddie, Eddie," only to be rewarded with a game-winning home run? We joined Wild Bill Hagy in spelling out O-R-I-O-L-E-S and Big Wheel spelling out C-O-L-T-S. Nobody had to explain what the "HERE" flag meant far out in left field. Weaver's tomato patch and Orrsville were unique to Memorial Stadium.

The 15-star, 15-stripe flag beyond the outfield fence was distinctly Baltimore's star-spangled banner. The backdrop of Memorial Stadium was a rowhouse neighborhood, not a downtown skyline. Long before salary caps and free agency, ballplayers often lived near the stadium. We went to school with their sons and daughters. They were part of our community.

Although Memorial Stadium was primarily used for sporting events, we also were proud that it was named for our veterans. Nobody sold the naming rights to the highest corporate bidder.

The front memorial facade distinguished our stadium from all others in the country. The uniquely designed stainless steel letters, now missing from 33rd Street, eloquently expressed a sentiment that is as poignant today as when first installed 48 years ago.

Memorial Stadium was dedicated "as a memorial to all who so valiantly fought and served in the World Wars, with eternal gratitude to those who made the supreme sacrifice to preserve equality and freedom throughout the world."

It has been said that every day 1,000 World War II veterans die. America is losing its "Greatest Generation." Baltimore has lost its greatest symbol of that generation, and the self-proclaimed "greatest city in America" became less great.

Time will not dim the glory of their deeds, but the callous disregard of the past and the monuments of previous generations diminishes us all.

Today's writer

Fred Shoken, a Baltimore native, is a local historic preservation and planning consultant who lives in Bolton Hill. He is a past president of Baltimore Heritage Inc., Baltimore's nonprofit citywide preservation organization.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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