Many of my early childhood memories were of pieces of vacations, astronaut missions and Orioles baseball. I grew up an ardent, avid, passionate (some would say obsessed) baseball fan. The ’60s and ’70s were good times to be a baseball fan in Baltimore. That was the Golden Age of the Orioles, to be certain. Broadly, we took winning for granted; losing was uncommon and inexplicable.
Whether we finished with a world championship or not, we just knew we possessed the best team in baseball. Statistics — “w’s” and “l’s” — proved it, generally, over the period 1960-85. By the time I hit adulthood, I had amassed a large collection of World Series tickets from games I attended and seats in which I sat. The Orioles have never lost a World Series game with me in the stands. Of course, I took it all for granted.
Many of these experiences were the basis of a lifetime of positive memories associated with baseball and my dad. My parents gave me my own radio for my room on my fourth birthday. We would listen to spring training games from Florida. By the time the season started, I knew the names of all the players on the 1965 Orioles, and many of the stars on other teams.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, I must have listened to between 120 and 150 games per season on the radio. Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell were the background soundtrack of every childhood memory from elementary school onward. In 1966, my dad took me to the first Orioles game I recall; it also was Game 4 of the World Series. I was 5 years old, and what I remember most about the experience was the popcorn megaphone. I did understand that it was special, especially when people ran onto the field after the Orioles had swept the Los Angeles Dodgers. We were in the lower deck and could have, but dad’s fatherhood instinct kicked in and he said, “Don’t even think about it.”
Though I attended that game, my recollection — other than of the clown giving away balloons shaped like animals and the cardboard, popcorn-filled megaphone –is fuzzy at best. The real dawn of my baseball fandom came the following year. Injuries and cockiness had doomed our championship defense, but the American League pennant race — one league, no divisions — was one for the ages. Dad would make breakfast in our house on Sunday mornings, and on that last Sunday of September, French toast swimming in real maple syrup was on the menu. Dad sliced my piece into quarters. He named them Boston, Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago.
By sliding those quarters through the ocean of syrup, he proceeded to illustrate the two-way and three-way ties and tie-breaker playoffs that were still possible going into the last day of the regular season. I was hooked. I woke up the next day and asked Dad what had happened because one of the West Coast doubleheaders had ended after my bedtime. He said, “A man called Yaz…” Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski, who won the Triple Crown the year after Frank Robinson had captured it, went 7 -for-8 in their doubleheader and propelled the Red Sox to their “Impossible Dream” World Series.
Dad and I attended World Series games in 1969 (Game 1 vs. the Mets — the only one we won), Game 5 vs. Cincinnati (another Series-clinching game and another time that running onto the field was a parental no-no), and two games in 1971 (Games 1 and 6). I was undefeated at World Series games as a fan, but for reasons still inexplicable, in 1979 I judged college more important than the Series, did not drive up from College Park despite having a car, and am personally to blame for that “We are Family” defeat at the hands of the Pirates.
By the time the 1983 World Series rolled around, Dad was ill — he had a stroke and a heart attack in 1980. I had not gotten playoff or World Series tickets in Baltimore, as my name was not drawn out of a hat, which is how the Orioles allocated tickets then. I also was not living in Baltimore, as I was attending graduate school in Newark, Del., which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Both the Orioles and the Phillies were in their league’s respective playoffs, but Newark is much more Phillies’ territory.
I had traveled home on an October Saturday to watch Game 4 of the ALCS with Dad, and we saw Tito Landrum deliver a dramatic pinch-hit home run in the 10th inning to beat the White Sox and propel us to yet another World Series. That evening, as I was driving up I-95 back to Newark, I was listening to the NLCS game on the radio. The Phillies’ announcer said, “This again is a reminder that World Series tickets to Games 3, 4 and 5 will go on sale at the Veterans Stadium box office immediately following the conclusion of tonight’s game, should the Phillies hold on and win.” A plan formed…
I stopped at Wilmington Trust, withdrew all the money I had to my name — $100, from the brand new ATM machine — and drove to Philly. I reasoned that if I could find the Goodyear Blimp, I could find the stadium, which worked. I got in the longest line in the universe, bought four tickets at 4:30 a.m. — two for Game 4 and two for Game 5 at $25 each, face value in 1983. Then I called Dad to let him know that this time I was taking him to the World Series.
A week later, we were in attendance to see the magic in person one more time. I wore my black-and-orange “Tonight Let it Be Lowenstein” sweatshirt. It was surreal and a wonderful memory I will always have. I bought season tickets in 1984 and have had them since, vowing never again to be shut out of at-home World Series tickets. I guess that joke remains on me.
Dad’s been gone for more than a quarter century and a new generation of Oriole fans exist in our house, possessing some of his DNA. For them, the defining moment of their fandom has been and remains “Delmon’s Double.” Of course, this was when pinch-hitter Delmon Young cleared the bases in a thrilling comeback in Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series. I used to plan that one day I would take them to a World Series game at Camden Yards. That seems no time soon, after a near miss in 2014. At least, I hope I’m still around when they take me.
Mark Eisner is a husband, father and born-and-raised Baltimorean with a master’s in geology from the University of Delaware. He’s an environmental consultant, small business owner, lifelong passionate O’s fan and partial season-ticket holder since 1984. He’s also 7-0 in personally attended Orioles World Series games.
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.