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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