A fan seeks to retrieve lost time

July 25, 2008|By JEAN MARBELLA

Someone told me once that the two most evocative things, the two things that could hurtle him back to a place and time, were scents and songs.

It's true. Every once in a while, I'll catch a whiff of Aliage, a 1970s-era Estee Lauder perfume that seemed to hover in the air of every sorority house during rush week my freshman year of college. And I can't hear that Lion King song, "Hakuna Matata," without thinking about 1995 and the two weeks I spent with a summer camp for kids from a tough inner-city neighborhood who nonetheless seemed so sweet and innocent when they sang along with a tape, "It means no worries for the rest of your days."

But I'd add a third memory-trigger as well - the baseball team. Not a team generically, as in love-dem-O's, but a team of a specific season, a serendipitous sum of its parts, a group that for whatever reason has one singular summer. For me, it's the '69 Cubs - ouch! - my first baseball love and, not coincidentally, my first baseball heartbreak, and the '89 Orioles, the scrappy why-not team that got me back into the ranks of fandom after a long absence.

For many Baltimoreans, though, the team of memory is the '83 Orioles, most of whom came back this week for a 25th anniversary celebration of the O's' last World Series championship. A couple remain familiar, what with Flanagan at the Warehouse and Dempsey and Palmer broadcasting locally, and Cal with his team up the road in Aberdeen - when he's not, that is, being a worldwide ambassador for the sport.

Watching the old players handing out pennants at the gates, taking the field for a pre-game ceremony and tossing balls into the stands to a warm and nostalgic crowd, I kept trying to imagine the current Orioles, 25 years from now. Obviously, Millar would be a broadcaster, but maybe also B-Rob? Or would he be managing? Would Markakis be in the Hall of Fame? What about the inscrutable Mora - would any of his quints be playing the game?

Imagining them graying or balding, or stooped and limping, and gathering at Camden Yards for a reunion, was almost impossible. For one thing, without the most remarkable, bizarro-world reversal of baseball fortunes ever, it's safe to say this team isn't going to the World Series. And, for another, if the O's are serious about rebuilding the team for the future, this particular group of players no doubt won't be the same ones who are still around at the end of the season.

So I'm trying not to get too attached to these O's, although they've been much more of a delight to watch than their current bottom-feeding standing would indicate. Last Saturday's back-and-forth game, ending finally with a walk-off win when Luuuuuke Scott homered and slid home? Priceless.

Still, there probably isn't going to be an '08 Orioles, in the sense of a team that triggers the kind of unabashed, memory-triggering tide as those guys from 25 years ago.

"I was 10, I used to go to the ballpark with my parents," Kevin Bohrer told me Wednesday night before the ceremony that brought the '83 team back onto the field. "I just remember the fun of going to the ballpark with my parents, and how it was always packed."

He's 35 and a new parent himself, working in IT and living in Newark, Del., but he and his wife still have a season-ticket plan, and they'll add a third seat eventually for their daughter, now 3 months old.

Bohrer brought a seatback from Memorial Stadium on which he's been collecting the autographs of the '83 team. "I have almost the entire team. I still need Cal, Eddie and a couple others," he said.

It's been quite a drought for the O's since then, but he sticks with them, even if sometimes it's only because of a single thread: "the memories."

At the gates, the lines to get into the park sometimes got gridlocked in such memories. Fans grabbed pennants being given away, some not realizing immediately who was handing them out.

"El Presidente, all right!" one guy said in surprise when he recognized pitcher and would-be Nicaraguan president Dennis Martinez. Pictures, hugs, more pictures and more hugs ensued - particularly when other players showed up.

Martinez gave former teammate Al Bumbry such a big bear hug, he knocked the one-time outfielder's World Series ring off his hand. "Hey, whassup, B?" Ken Singleton roared as he joined the gate greeters.

Part of the fun was seeing almost the entire team, not just the stars like Cal, but the lesser-knowns - like Todd Cruz, walking with a cane and speaking about how he couldn't sleep, like a kid the night before Christmas, before his trip back to Baltimore. "I had a little part of it," Cruz said of the championship year. "I'll be an Oriole the rest of my life."

"They're my boys," fan Jimmy Carmichael, 58, said rapturously after getting a hug from Rick Dempsey. "Eighty-three was the greatest time in baseball."

Still, Carmichael, a Sparrows Point guy who grew up with Wild Bill Hagy, isn't one to live totally in the past. Even this year.

"Build the pitching staff," he would advise O's honcho Andy MacPhail. "Everything else is fine."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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