In Dan Connolly’s invitation to readers to write baseball essays, he stated that it’s the most lyrical of all sports, and that, “maybe it is how the history is woven into the fabric of this country.” I would amend that slightly. “Maybe it is how baseball’s history, and Orioles’ history, are woven into my fabric.”
I am no longer young, when things seemed simpler. I look around the rooms of my grandchildren and am amazed by the amount of stuff. Stacks of books, dolls, games, and, well, stuff. I remember waking up as a preschooler in a spartan room — a ball, a glove and a cap sitting on a wooden chair beside my bed. My excitement over these presents — when the only holiday was a spring day — cannot be overstated. My father and I worked for weeks on that glove with Neatsfoot Oil and rubber bands until it was perfect for my hand.
I had other toys, but few left the closet. The important things were kept in a toy box my grandfather created from an old Army trunk. In the toy box were a football, a cap pistol, some “Hot Wheels” and my new glove and ball. These were all I needed.
The grandfather who gave me the toy box died in 1969, when I was 3. I remember a couple of years later rolling a “Hot Wheels” car around the large, oval rug in Granny’s living room. The rug had rings of colors like an archery target. It was perfectly suited as a race track for a small boy with a small car. Granny sat on the sofa, doing her needlepoint and watching me play. I remember asking, “Where is Granddaddy Bill?”
“He is in heaven,” she said.
“What does he do in heaven?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t really know, but I think people in heaven do whatever makes them happy.”
“Then he is playing baseball.”
“Yes, maybe,” Granny said, smiling.
When I was 6 in a small Virginia town, I looked up to an older kid, a good athlete and family friend named Greg. I can remember him asking me, “Do you like baseball?”
“Yeah!” I responded.
“Who is your favorite team?” he asked.
Not knowing what team to say, I asked, “Who is yours?”
“The Baltimore Orioles.”
And so began a long and often painful love affair with Brooks, Eddie, Cal, Adam, and many others.
My father took me to my first game in the second grade. We made the three-hour drive to Baltimore for an evening doubleheader. For good reason, they rarely play two at night anymore.
When I think back to those days at Memorial Stadium, the flood of memories starts. To this day, I can see Jim Palmer’s delivery, his high kick, toes to his eyes. I see Earl Weaver scampering from the dugout in frustration, and Mark Belanger’s silky-smooth glove. I hear the bugle’s charge, and the crowd’s roar, and smell the hot dog with mustard and onion. And I recall the Doug DeCinces’ blast that sent us all home happy.
Damn the Angels for taking DeCinces away.
I learned to read with the afternoon boxscores, and I learned to work to buy bubble gum cards. I made friends on ballfields, and some enemies, and I experienced the highs and lows of being part of a team.
Through junior high, I was a heady slap-hitter with a perpetual green light on the bases. I played a fair shortstop, my father’s position, until I ran into a kid named Dozier, who later played tailback for the Minnesota Vikings and center field for the New York Mets. Fast, smooth and explosive, D.J. forced me out of short and into catcher, where I found a new home.
I loved the pace from behind the plate, and I loved wearing the gear. I loved bending and shaping the game as an on-field general. I discovered that when the catcher gives orders, they are followed. Granddaddy Bill had caught at Ole Miss, where he started for three years without a passed ball, according to my father.
Dad even gave me his dad’s old catcher’s mitt, a shapeless leather pillow with a hole the size of a baseball in the center. I learned to use that glove, and to Coach Meyer’s chagrin, I even caught a game or two with it. With that glove, Granddaddy Bill taught me to block balls in the dirt, rather than stabbing at them back-handed. It was great because of its sweat stains inside, and because of its blood stains on the outside. I hoped Granddaddy Bill could see it at work.
When my afternoon games were over, my mother and I would hurry home to catch the O’s on TV. We never missed a game, and rarely a pitch. We were in despair in 1979, when Kent Tekulve and the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series in seven games. We had a happy ending in 1983 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Mom was the ultimate fan, bringing lemonade on game day or screaming at a late-inning homer against our beloved O’s.
She never missed a game, and I loved her for it. I specifically remember one Little League game. A kid homered in the first, and his mother got loud. The next time he came up, the kid’s mother yelled, “Them boys can’t get you out… hit it where you want!” My mother yelled, “He better not hit it to short!” The line drive was a rocket, diving sharply with spin, right at me. He was out. My mother’s loud response to the play was, “I told him not to hit it to short,” as she cackled with delight. At that moment, I was an eight-foot 11-year-old.
The years have passed quickly since my playing days. I live in Nashville now, but technology keeps me connected to my Orioles. Last summer my wife and I took our grandchildren to Camden Yards. We toured the stadium and spent a small fortune in the gift shop. It was a beautiful night in a beautiful park — warm, sparkling, surreal. Adam Jones and Manny Machado were giants. We booed, and made faces at every Angel run, and we cheered when the O’s won. I was glad we had beaten Mike Trout’s Angels.
Damn the Angels still for taking DeCinces away.
Charles T. Morris grew up in Virginia (Waynesboro and Virginia Beach), and became an Orioles fan at a young age, initially to impress an older kid (Greg Chambers, now a tennis pro in Nashville). A proud husband, father and grandfather, and still a diehard Orioles fan, Morris is a store manager for Lowe’s Home Improvement in Gallatin, Tenn. He is BaltimoreBaseball.com’s first community member to share his baseball story with Calling the Pen.
Calling the Pen, a periodic feature highlighting essays about baseball, is edited (and occasionally written) by former Baltimore Sun sports editor Jack Gibbons. If you want to submit an original piece for consideration, email a 750-to-1,250-word essay, formatted in a Word document, to both [email protected] and [email protected]. For more information on the feature, click here.