It was Opening Day in the early ’90s, a time when Camden Yards was packed not only for the first game but for every game. Still, the excitement for Opening Day was inescapable. The sun was shining, the air was warm. Baseball was back, and everything seemed perfect.
Until I got a phone call from my sister, Colleen. Dad had had a heart attack and was at Northwest Hospital.
As sports editor of The Sun, I was the on-site editor at Camden Yards. Each reporter and columnist had been given a list of the stories we planned, but it was more of an outline because the game would always dictate the final storylines. My storyline had changed, and I remember talking with news reporter Marcia Myers before I left the ballpark.
She was, and still is, exceptional at her work — now as editor of CQ magazine — but she was even more compassionate and caring. She assured me that everything would work out for our Opening Day coverage and that my family needed me more than our staff.
When I saw my dad at Northwest Hospital, he asked what I was doing there. He was doing just fine, he said, and would be doing even better once a stent was inserted. “You didn’t need to leave. It’s Opening Day,” he said, reflecting his own work ethic and concern for others. I told him I was where I was supposed to be, with family.
All these years later, I’m with family again on Opening Day in a place, Singapore, where there is no mention of the start of the baseball season. And yesterday’s 94-degree temperatures, with matching humidity, might have made it a little uncomfortable. Because it’s 12 hours ahead here, the opener against the Yankees started a little after 1 in the morning, when I was asleep after another full day with my wife, Barb, my son, Brent, his wife, Shaaretha, and their 4-month-old son, Kughan, who is already a Beatles fan. Baseball will come later.
When I woke up, I checked Rich Dubroff’s tweets about the game. The first one that popped up was Chris Davis’s three strikeouts. That, and the game’s outcome, felt a lot like 2018. As consumed as we are with the Orioles, Brent’s father-in-law, Pelly, knew nothing about their disastrous season last year and the wholesale changes it produced. I told him I liked the plan to build something that will last, but that it will take time and require patience.
And perspective. When I ran here yesterday, there was thunder throughout my run but no rain. There were dead leaves on the trail because of the overwhelming heat. It felt like summer and fall rolled into one but not spring, not the dawn of a new baseball season.
It made me think of Opening Day in 1988, when I went to the ballpark on crutches because of a sprained ankle and watched the Orioles lose to the Brewers, 12-0, the first of 21 consecutive losses. It made me think of Opening Day in 1992, the day Camden Yards was christened by a Rick Sutcliffe shutout. And it made it me think of the Opening Day when my dad had a heart attack and baseball suddenly didn’t seem as important.
But our family has been connected by it. My grandfather ignited my passion by listening to the games on the radio at his kitchen table after dinner. My mom encouraged my passion and sometimes reminded me it was still a game by saying things like, “You won’t believ-a Tony Oliva” just to get a reaction. And my dad, who didn’t play ball as a kid, built a ballpark in our backyard, where I spent hours playing imaginary games.
My son, Brent, played on a travel Cockeysville team that went 30-1 one year. Eventually, his passion for music, and the guitar, overtook his passion for sports, although he looks spiffy in his Steph Curry basketball shoes as he brushes off the dust in his game. Watching him run around the court one night reminded me of those days he played on our driveway. There is something therapeutic about sports, and nostalgic.
It will feel that way on April 4, when the Orioles play their home opener. It’s the same date they played the opener in 1983, the day our daughter Kelly was born.
Opening Day is not just the start of a new baseball season, it’s the key to unlocking our memories of times shared with family, and friends. It can touch us anywhere, even nearly 10,000 miles from home.
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.