Reviving spirit of Section 34

June 18, 2008|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN REPORTER

It wasn't the heat of a pennant race in Section 34 of Memorial Stadium, but rather a balmy late spring evening in Section 312 of Camden Yards. And the man who contorted his body in support of his beloved Orioles a generation ago had passed on.

But, for one night, the magic of Orioles baseball was back, as a few hundred of Wild Bill Hagy's closest friends gathered to salute his memory, reminisce about those special times and do the most famous cabdriver-turned-cheerleader proud last night to mark his birthday.

"He was a 150 percent Orioles fan," said Don Cross, 66, of Owings Mills. "He worked as a cabdriver. He worked his butt off, and he'd come to the stadium and had a good time leading the people on. That's what made Baltimore."

Hagy, who would have been 69 yesterday, died Aug. 20, and, in his honor, the Orioles issued bright orange T-shirts to fans with Hagy's name and 34, the number of the Memorial Stadium section where he led cheers and created an aura not seen in baseball stadiums before or since.

Atop the bar at Pastimes Cafe last night was a picture of the 1983 World Series victory parade with Hagy leading cheers. Kiki Dorer spotted herself in the picture in front of Hagy, with her daughter to his right and her husband, Skip, holding Hagy up by the belt loops to keep him from falling off the truck.

The era "was wonderful," Dorer said.

The prevailing wisdom at Pastimes, where many Section 34 denizens gathered last night to honor Hagy, was that those days where one Terry Crowley hit led to a Gary Roenicke game-winning home run and so on, are not likely to return.

"It's hard to have that same set of circumstances where something happened that year of magic, Orioles Magic," said Neill Barber, 53, of Perry Hall. "Everybody started congregating up there [in Section 34], because it was fun up there. It takes a special set of circumstances for something like that to happen. I don't think it will happen."

For some Section 34 veterans, the difficulty in recapturing those happier times is less about the play on the field than about today's perceived lack of innocence.

"When I was at Memorial Stadium, I saw a crew of people every night," said Til Strudwick, 57, of Roland Park. "We knew each other by name and became great friends. It's not the Orioles' fault. It's just a generational difference. When I go to games now, I never see anybody I know. Never. Ever."

That inspired Wayne Kaiser, a 30-year Hagy friend, to organize last night's get-together, not only for those who partied with Hagy as he contorted his body into O-R-I-O-L-E-S, but to spread that spirit to Camden Yards.

"It's obvious that they [the Orioles] are trying to grasp on to what it was like in those days, and we're hoping we can be a catalyst," Kaiser said.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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