Calling the Pen: Growing up an Orioles fan and thankful for every minute of it - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Baseball Essays

Calling the Pen: Growing up an Orioles fan and thankful for every minute of it

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

My love affair with the Orioles started before I can remember. My father, who was a huge baseball fan before he moved to Baltimore in 1966, instilled his love of the game in me from birth. I arrived the day before the Orioles clinched their second World Series, against the Cincinnati Reds, in 1970. The year my parents arrived in Baltimore, the Orioles won their first World Series, sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers.

My first visit to Memorial Stadium occurred when I was 2 or 3 — an event I also don’t remember. My parents do because, evidently, I was not a fan of the postgame fireworks .

The first games I can remember came in the mid-1970s. I distinctly remember the Thanks Brooks night in 1977 and the orange Orioles No. 5 jersey given away by Crown. I remember the birth of the Oriole Bird in 1979 and the beginning of Orioles Magic, which was ignited by another third baseman, Doug DeCinces, when he hit a two-run, ninth-inning home run to defeat the Detroit Tigers, 6-5.

I woke up in our house in Bowie with my radio set to WFBR-1300 with Johnny Walker in the mornings because I had fallen asleep listening to the game the night before (to my parents’ chagrin). On the 10 to 12 occasions that we did go to Memorial Stadium, I was so nervous and excited that I had an upset stomach all day. I loved the drive through Baltimore and parking in the neighborhood south of the stadium and walking through the large lot across the street from the Majestic Lady of 33rd Street.

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I remember going to the 1979 World Series games at home (with the first getting snowed out!) and being devastated, to this day, by the lack of hitting once we got up 3-1 on the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Orioles scored two runs in the final three games, and lost the final two games at home.

My father bought us a Sunday partial season-ticket package beginning in 1982, the year I went to my first Opening Day. I’ve now attended 35 of the last 37 Opening Day games. The 1982 season was also memorable for its dramatic final weekend. The Orioles trailed the Milwaukee Brewers by three games with four to play. After the Orioles swept a doubleheader on Friday and won again on Saturday, the season came down to its final game — Jim Palmer vs. Don Sutton. But the Brewers prevailed — the heartbreak including manager Earl Weaver’s farewell.

But the pain didn’t last long. In 1983, the Orioles rebounded by winning their third and final World Series, in five games against the Philadelphia Phillies.

My grandparents lived in southern West Virginia, and I visited them every summer for a couple of weeks in my youth. I was always bugging them to make the 90-minute drive to Bluefield to catch the Bluefield Orioles at Bowen Field. I remember seeing Cal Ripken and Larry Sheets — among others — come up through the small, beautiful ballpark right beside a mountain.

I recall feeling down after getting swept by the Tigers in mid-June on a Sunday afternoon doubleheader in 1984, which I felt eliminated us from the pennant race after Detroit’s 35-5 start to the season. And I recall catching my first foul ball during the 1989 Why Not season (with a Rex Barney contract to boot!) off a foul ball by Craig Worthington.

I reminisce about my parents visiting me in college for parents’ weekend that fall and running all around Winston-Salem, N.C., to find a sports bar that would be televising the final three-game series in Toronto, when the Blue Jays ended the Orioles’ improbable playoff pursuit after losing 107 games the season before. I remember the final weekend for Memorial Stadium in 1991, with tears flowing everywhere, and Opening Day in 1992 at beautiful Camden Yards, as I was fortunate enough to come home from college for both of those grand events.

I was at the All-Star Game in 1993 and Cal’s tying- and record-breaking games in 1995—experiences I will remember for a lifetime. Taking my father and grandfather to those games remains among the most priceless memories I have.

Starting in 1990 with a trip to Cooperstown for Jim Palmer’s induction, my father and I started the tradition of a Boys’ Weekend following the Orioles (and trying to stay in the team hotel) for a weekend road trip. We have seen them in Anaheim, Oakland, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, New York, Tampa, Kansas City, Cleveland and probably some others I’m forgetting.

Those weekends are some of the most indelible moments of my life. Now, my son, Camden (guess how he got his name), is included in the road trips. I know one of his favorite moments (aside from the 100 or so baseballs he has caught or had thrown to him at O’s games over the years) is getting a game-used broken bat from Nelson Cruz at Fenway in 2014—the same bat that almost got him a cycle during that game (he was thrown out at third trying to leg out a triple to complete it).

Of course, being an Orioles fan has taught me a lot about disappointment—the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, the final weekend in 1982, the Series in ’79, the ALCS in 2014. I was at all of them.

I live outside of Charlotte, N.C., now and my son plays high school baseball, so we have to pick and choose our spots to follow the team in person, but I still look forward to any chance to get to a game and often try to schedule business trips around the O’s schedule. My son and I have had weekend trips to Boston, Tampa, Chicago, New York and Atlanta. I still view those trips as ways to see the great cities of our country that we have time to explore during the day, followed by the experience of the local ballpark at night.

After moving about a year or so ago, I actually had a large tree cut down in our backyard (to my wife’s dismay) because it was blocking the line-of-sight for DirecTV, which is the only way to get MASN down here in Charlotte.

As I write this Ode to the Orioles, I’m wearing my Orioles gym shorts and an O’s T-shirt and drinking coffee out of my O’s coffee mug—and I’m 47 years old and living 400 miles away from one of the worst (if not the worst) teams in baseball. (Luckily, since it’s summer, I won’t write about my annual Orioles Christmas tree filled with nothing but Oriole ornaments.)

But, other than my parents, there is nothing in my life that I have a longer relationship with and have loved longer than the Orioles. I bleed orange. The Orioles have been a very large part of my life. They have helped me learn how to deal with defeat and failure (as well as occasional successes), and I believe to this day that part of my stoic, calm nature is largely due to having grown up watching Cal Jr. every day.

The Orioles are more than a part of my life—they have helped shape my life. They are always there—every night for half of the year, and they are responsible for many of the red-letter dates in my life’s story.

My biography could not be written without the Orioles. I am forever grateful for the move by the St. Louis Browns to my hometown 16 years before my birth. As I watch my son grow up to be the passionate baseball and Orioles fans that I am, and that my father is to this day, I realize the Orioles and the game of baseball are one of the bonds that have tied us together and help keep us close.

I am forever thankful that my parents moved to Baltimore in 1966 and raised me to be an Orioles fan.

Christopher C. King is vice president of Investor Relations for Windstream Communications, a FORTUNE 500 telecom company. Before that, he was an equity analyst for Legg Mason and Stifel Nicolaus for 15 years, covering the telecom services sector. He received his undergraduate degree in politics and economics from Wake Forest University and his MBA from the University of Maryland. He lives in Charlotte with his wife, Shannon, and his children, Camden, 15, and Caroline, 12.

Editor’s Note: The type of fan loyalty Chris describes is put to the test when the Orioles play as poorly as they have this season. But a true fan rides out the ups and downs, even when they’re as down as this year. My wife, Barbara, wonders how Buck Showalter manages to stay positive and never criticizes his players. She also detected a sadness in Chris Davis when he was interviewed after he hit a double and a home run on Thursday. She sees the people struggling, not just their struggles. Like Chris, the Orioles are her team, no matter what.

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] for consideration.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. 5brooks5

    July 28, 2018 at 9:37 am

    Well there is nothing I could add to this at all. Except, that my son and I feel the same way about the black and orange. As did my father, and his father as well, this team gets into your dna. Well said

    • Jack Gibbons

      July 28, 2018 at 5:52 pm

      After my mother-in-law’s husband died, the Orioles kept her company almost every night during the season. As her hearing declined, the volume on the TV or radio rose, but her faithful companions were always there. Her mother also loved the Orioles, a tradition that was passed down to my wife and her siblings.

  2. Borg

    July 28, 2018 at 11:30 am

    It is hard to figure out why we get so connected, but there are countless fans just like this–there is something almost tribal about following a team with others that feel the same way. It becomes a huge part of our identity. When the Orioles turn it around and get back to being contenders, the joy of watching that is almost indescribable, which, I suppose, is why we watch in the first place.

  3. Jack Gibbons

    July 28, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    Borg, It is hard to figure out why we get so connected, and how it connects us. If and when this team regains its footing, the fans will be ecstatic — and filled with pride.

  4. Buckler89

    July 28, 2018 at 6:58 pm

    Great piece. I’m 29 and was raised as an Orioles fan as well. My parents attended a 1983 world series game, the All Star Game at Camden, and Cal’s record breaking game as well. I always wore number 8 in every sport that I played because of Cal. I have two baseballs signed by Adam Jones and Chris Davis in my apartment (an amazing birthday gift from my girlfriend at the time that will never be sold). Problem for me was I was only 8 in 1997, so those 14 years of losing were about half my life and being so young when they were good made it tough to truly enjoy / understand the experience of a playoff team.

    So when 2012 came around, I can’t explain that feeling for me. Being able to “truly” experience the Orioles in the playoffs – hell, just a winning season at all – was an awesome feeling after going most of my life without it. 2014 was an even better feeling and overall, the last 6 seasons had been a blast. I never wavered during those 14 years of losing and it makes the feeling of contending even better.

    I’ve tried explaining that feeling to my friends who are not sports fans and I’ve decided it’s just impossible to explain the passion and connection you develop with your favorite teams. You either get it or ya don’t (and there’s nothing wrong with not getting it). The O’s will always be my team, through good and bad, and they’ll continue to be on my TV every night from April – September and hopefully October.

  5. Jim skelton

    July 30, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    Great article. At 66 years of age, a Baltimore native, lifelong fan, I enjoyed the trip thru the history. My brother and another set of brothers, went outside of Baltimore to see the Orioles for thirty years. We went to Cooperstown twice to see jim Palmer and cal inducted.we too were at the one all star game at the yard and the lady game at memorial stadium and the first one at the yard. As bob rivers said many years ago, we stick with our team thru the good and the bad. This year has been tough to watch, even from Richmond where I live now. Will be at the yard. To see Brian Roberts inducted in a few days with my daughter who has my lifelong spirit for …our team…now and forever…go Orioles forever…..

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