The July 4th cookout menu had a healthy portion of baseball talk but not much on the Orioles. Hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken kebabs, baked beans and corn on the cob seemed to add flavor to the baseball-related stories. Discussion of the current team was considered light fare.
One story involved Grandmom, as loyal an Orioles fan as there ever was. Her son-in-law, Larry, who otherwise could do no wrong in her eyes, would tease her and his wife, Patty, by saying, “How about my Yanks?” The harshest response Grandmom could muster was, “Oh, Larry.”
One Sunday, Patty took her mom to Oriole Park, where they sat behind home plate. Grandmom noticed there wasn’t a screen overhead in case a foul popup should come her way. Sitting nearby was family friend Stan Charles, who promised to protect her. Sure enough, a foul ball found her, and Stan didn’t catch it. The ball hit Grandmom on the head and left her with black eyes but no other injuries. She went back to watching games from the safety of her living room, where she seldom missed one; they kept her company, and she kept the faith no matter what.
The episode made me remember a poignant scene on the day Grandmom died. It was a warm day in mid-March, and a man and a woman were sitting on an outside bench at Oak Crest listening to a spring training game on a transistor radio. With the world around them spinning in a high-tech rush, time had seemed to slow down for the couple, and they were enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures in its simplest form. It was how Grandmom followed her Orioles if she couldn’t watch them on TV.
When the conversation shifted to the Orioles’ minor leagues, Larry remembered taking Patty and the girls to a Delmarva Shorebirds game on a night when fireworks were scheduled. One of his girls was frightened by fireworks, so they hustled to the car. Only to find the parking lot overrun with toads.
I recalled going to an Orioles game with my youngest daughter Karalin and sitting in front of a fan who was growing increasingly exasperated with the home plate umpire and letting everyone know it. Loudly. Somehow, Karalin fell asleep in my arms, and he won me over by saying how beautiful she was.
A few moments later, as he began another outburst, I saw something fly out of the corner of my eye. The object hit the ground, landing at the feet of a young couple on his right.
His dentures had come out, and were now sitting among peanut shells. I heard him say, “Oh, that’s disgusting! That’s disgusting!” It was clear the young woman agreed, looking mortified, while her date tried to conceal his laughter.
Any kind of dignified response was out of the question. Slowly, the man leaned over, cleaned off the peanut shells and put the dentures back in his mouth. He was quiet after that.
I also thought about another game in which our grandson Noah, 4 at the time, was sitting with us. Behind us, a couple of fans were using language that a 4-year-old shouldn’t hear. Before long, Noah’s uncle, Cody, approached the young men, introduced himself and asked them to be mindful of their language.
It’s one of those encounters that could go either way. But the young men were respectful. Later, one handed Noah a baseball that he had caught during batting practice.
Baseball often moves at a clip that seems out of step with today’s hurried pace, but it allows space for telling and remembering stories — often ones that reconnect us with family and friends. It’s personal.
Those stories resonate with others with similar experiences. It’s why we developed Calling the Pen, so there would be a place where we could share stories.
The 4th of July holiday weekend is a good time for getting together with family and friends. And for telling stories.
We’d like to hear yours.
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.