A family tradition, from Preakness infield to grandstand

May 21, 2011|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

John Lawrence started coming to the Preakness in 1987, when he moved from a little town in Pennsylvania to York, Pa.

He told friends back in Leechburg, Pa., about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, that he had just attended “the biggest party I had ever been to.”

Thus was born an annual event when Lawrence and a group of boyhood friends and relatives come to Baltimore for the Preakness.

The numbers grew to as many as 20, but today there were only seven, representing three generations of Leechburg families. The group came Friday, spending the day in the Inner Harbor, before making it out to Pimlico early this morning.

As usual, they were at the gates a few minutes before the 8 a.m. opening.

When they were in their 20s, they spent the day in the infield. But as they added years and kids, they gravitated to the grandstand and eventually bought seat near the track. They also set up a row of chairs in front of the television sets inside that show the races.

“It’s cooler here,” Lawrence said.

Jeff Cleaver, who came with his father, brother and son, is hoping the Preakness stays in Baltimore. “You always worry that it could go to Florida, or to California, or something like that,” he said. “It would ruin our tradition.”

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