Calling the Pen: The best time and place to be an Orioles - and Colts - fan - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: The best time and place to be an Orioles — and Colts — fan

Photo illustration: Joy R. Absalon

I moved from New York to Timonium in 1965, not knowing much about the area. I was told there wasn’t much snow, then came the blizzard of 1966, when we got more than a foot.

When we moved, we became Orioles and Colts fans instantly. They were our state’s teams.

On one occasion, my brother and I went to the local elementary school to hang out and hit some baseballs. In the ’60s, walking everywhere within 10 miles was the norm.

When we got there, we saw an adult pitching on one of the school’s fields. We were 6 and 8, and thought talking to strangers was OK. So, I asked the man his name. It was Jim Palmer.

He was just throwing on the field, getting ready for spring training. I would come to find out he lived two streets down from me.

We started each Little League season with a parade from the local Topps store to Ridgely Junior High School. Andy Etchebarren, Elrod Hendricks, Brooks Robinson and Dick Hall took part in the parade. We even had Colts running backs Don Nottingham and Norm Bulaich.

It was a dream come true to be an Orioles and Colts fan in those days. We played Little League with Brooks’ sons and occasionally saw him at the games. When I was 10, it didn’t seem odd. But looking back, it was really cool.

We went to elementary school with Dick Hall’s daughters, and my dad played tennis with him. Brooks lived about five minutes away, and Johnny Unitas lived on top of the hill, only three minutes away.

A number of the Colts lived in the Warren Lodge apartments in Cockeysville during the season. As I grew older, I would run into Eddie Murray, Scott McGregor or Mark Belanger at the bank or the grocery store.

I played against Cal Ripken Jr., when he played for the Putty Hill Optimists. We would occasionally see him at Chi Chi’s or the Corner Stable restaurants.

When you read the names of the professional athletes mentioned, you might think I lived in an affluent area. It was more of a lower-middle to upper-middle-class community. I was just raised at a time when athletes were paid the same as the average person and didn’t need to live in gated communities.

They weren’t harassed for autographs while in public, and you went to public school with their kids. Those experiences make me smile when I think of them.

It was a different time, and I’m glad I got to experience what seemed normal at the time; it seems extraordinary now.

 

Vernon Hallis lives in Eldersburg, Md., and has spent much of his life – 36 years – as a math teacher at Liberty High School. Raised in Timonium, he has spent even more of his life dedicated to the Orioles.

Editor’s note: Baltimore hasn’t lost that small-town feel. When my oldest daughter was in middle school, she went to a friend’s house after church. I told her I’d pick her up after the Ravens’ game. When she got in the car, she said there was a man watching the game, from the recliner, with an odd-sounding last name. She said she thought he played for the Colts. “Unitas?” I said, rather loudly. “Yes, that’s it,” she said matter-of-factly. She wasn’t impressed, which I think was exactly the way Johnny U would have wanted it.

Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] and [email protected] for consideration.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. PA Bird Lover

    June 30, 2018 at 9:32 am

    Love both stories.

    • Jack Gibbons

      June 30, 2018 at 11:39 am

      PA Bird Lover, My daughter was also friends with Terry Crowley’s daughter. I thought of him as a skilled hitter and batting coach. She saw him as a dad.

  2. HOF19

    June 30, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    Do not live in Maryland but as 13 year old fell in love with the Colts #19 and the Robinsons of the Orioles so those are still my teams……(Not living in Maryland the Colts moving to Indy just could not change how I felt about them).

  3. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    June 30, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    Baltimore was blessed to have two iconic HOF players – Brooks & Johnny U. Both men were great interacting with fans. They were both very humble about their achievements. Players at that time did make the millions their current counterparts do. However, these two men would have acted the same in any era. Another excellent fan story about Baltimore sports.

  4. Jack Gibbons

    June 30, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    HOF19, It’s interesting how the bonds we develop when we’re young remain strong as we get older, even though circumstances might change. And, Grand Strand Bird Fan, you’re right about Brooks and Johnny U. I once saw Unitas standing alone, wearing a Colts blue windbreaker, while watching one of his sons play youth lacrosse. My son was also playing, so we talked about our observations. He was kind and low-key, just another parent watching his child.

  5. bv22

    July 2, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    My father grew up in Timonium during the same time period and has told me many stories about old Colts and O’s players living near him and seeing them around the neighborhood. My favorite story has to be my Aunt babysitting Jim Palmer’s kids when she was younger. Nothing really memorable about it, except that she actually babysat Jim Palmer’s kids…..

  6. Jack Gibbons

    July 3, 2018 at 11:30 am

    That is memorable enough, bv22. It’s uplifting that so many of the Orioles and Colts, and now Ravens, still have a strong presence here, if not a home.

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