Forty years of Baltimore sports memories - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Forty years of Baltimore sports memories

Memorial Stadium
Photo credit: Associated Press

Wednesday’s fifth anniversary of the Orioles’ fanless game was widely noted. It was a sad time in Baltimore, and an especially sad time for me since I live less than 1 ½ miles from where many of the disturbances occurred.

A happier, personal Orioles anniversary came on Wednesday, too. It was on April 29, 1980, that I attended my first game at Memorial Stadium.

I had moved from New York three months before, and I settled in Bolton Hill, five blocks from where I live now, and I was delighted to find I was just under three miles from Memorial Stadium.

In New York, I lived a long subway ride away from Yankee and Shea stadiums, and didn’t get to them as often as I wanted, but I quickly surmised I could see many more Orioles games.

I could decide that I was in the mood for a game, and within 30 minutes, I’d be in my seat, usually a good one.

My first game wasn’t memorable. Until looking it up, I didn’t remember that the Orioles lost to the Yankees, 4-3, with Rick Dempsey homering and Scott McGregor the losing pitcher.

The ballpark was neat. It was a pleasant brick structure with houses, visible on television, in the background. At that time, I’d only been to five ballparks — both New York ones, Fenway Park, Veterans Stadium and Municipal Stadium in Cleveland — and immediately liked the intimacy and rabid fans.

Over the next 11 years, I went to countless games. I saw Cal Ripken Jr.’s first game, the game that began his streak, the August 1980 classic when McGregor struck out Reggie Jackson three times, and a longtime personal favorite, the 1982 finale that gave the AL East to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Don Sutton was the winner. Jim Palmer the loser. Robin Yount secured the MVP with two home runs, and Earl Weaver was called out of the dugout repeatedly by fans who wouldn’t leave. Weaver had announced his retirement, only to return for an ill-fated second act in June 1985.

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One night in 1980, I was with a group of friends who had gotten tickets behind home plate, and we were treated to a famous Weaver tirade, although we couldn’t hear it.

Mike Flanagan was called for a balk in the top of the first and Weaver was quickly ejected for disputing it. I’ve seen the entertaining expletive-laden tape many times since.

Memorial Stadium was also home to the Colts, and in some ways, I appreciated them more than the Orioles.

Giants and Jets tickets were nearly impossible to get, and I had attended only four NFL games before moving to Baltimore.

It was a delight to be able to purchase Colts tickets, and along with two friends, bought season tickets for the last three years they were in town.

If my first Orioles game was a blur, my first Colts game wasn’t. In September 1980, the Colts lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had won the their fourth Super Bowl in January.

The Colts lost to the Steelers, 20-17, and it was the only time I got to see some of the Pittsburgh greats — Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann.

It wasn’t unusual then for baseball and football teams to play in the same stadium. Now, none do, but some of the storied old ballparks — Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Tiger Stadium and Ebbets Field — regularly hosted professional football.

Most older fans remember Memorial Stadium’s final Orioles game. On October 6, 1991, Ripken bounced into a stadium-ending double play and Detroit Tigers starter Frank Tanana saluted the old ballpark as he walked off.

The postgame ceremony was unforgettable. Oriole greats trotted onto the field and took their position in a “Field of Dreams” moment. It was a perfect way to end the Orioles’ run on 33rd Street.

Memorial Stadium wasn’t perfect. If you tried to navigate the narrow concourse with a large crowd near first pitch, it was bound to be a frustrating experience. There weren’t many food choices and, of course, there were poles.

But it was a cool place to watch games. I really enjoyed getting seats in the mezzanine when you’d have to go to the upper deck and then step down into it.

In 1996 and 1997 when I covered Ravens games there, I discovered the cramped football press box tucked in the mezzanine.

It’s hard to believe that 40 years have passed since I saw my first game in Baltimore, and those are great memories. It’s sad that for now, there just aren’t any new ones.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. DevoTion

    April 30, 2020 at 9:31 am

    My favorite memories of memorial Stadium are from the late 80s when I started going to games. I don’t remember the games as much as the experience.
    I remember yelling at Ricky Henderson from the left field bleachers and getting a reaction. One game had fireworks after and we sat in the bleachers and the ashes and burning particle were raining down on us.
    Also my favorite memories were watching the Baysox play there and having the best time roaming the ball park as a 12 year old.
    Good times!

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 30, 2020 at 9:58 am

      Yes, Devo the Baysox did play there in 1993. Hopefully, we’ll have some new memories soon.

  2. ReichStuff

    April 30, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Living in Aberdeen for nearly 10 years during the late 70s and early 80s, I too spent many afternoons at Memorial Stadium, and loved every minute of it (after completing that climb up the Upper Deck). One very distinct memory I have is sitting in Section 34 and screaming with Wild Bill during the games.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 30, 2020 at 9:58 am

      I sat there once, Reich and had a great time.

  3. Orial

    April 30, 2020 at 10:40 am

    Oh the Memorial Stadium memories. April 1966,just moved to Towson after growing up in North Jersey. I said to my Mom please–“I wanna see where the Orioles play”. My Mom says “well ok”. Down Loch Raven Blvd we go. Then I see the light towers. I’m getting hyped. We pull in,park,walk and who do we see?– Brooks and Frank in full uniform standing outside under cameras and lights being interviewed. I nervously waved and they waved back. Wow what a thrill. I thought to myself–“welcome
    to Baltimore–this is gonna be great”. It was.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 30, 2020 at 11:31 am

      Glad you were there, Orial.

  4. Okoriole

    April 30, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Great article Rich. Nice to reminisce about Memorial Stadium. As a kid growing up in Annapolis, I got to 1-2 Oriole games per year in early to mid ‘60’s. How exciting it was traveling to the ballpark through the tunnel via Erdman Avenue to 33rd. Seeing my heroes on the field that I mostly knew by listening to the radio with Chuck Thompson providing such great play by play.

    The ballplayers included Brooks, Frank, Boog, Jerry Adair, Gus Triandos, Jim Gentile, Mark Belanger, Luis Aparicio, Dave McNally, Milt Pappas, Dick Hall, Steve Barber, Stu Miller, and of course Jim Palmer.

    We normally sat in the upper deck where seats were $1.50. One time for my birthday my Dad who was not a great sports fan took my brother and me and we sat in mezzanine box seats priced at $3. What memories of a special time and place.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 30, 2020 at 11:30 am

      Thank you for sharing, Ok.

  5. NormOs

    April 30, 2020 at 11:51 am

    Great article, Rich. My 1st time at Memorial was in 1956 and it was for the Colts. My friends and I bought season tickets……Six games – total cost for the six games – $18.00. I couldn’t make the O’s first because I didn’t get discharged till late ’55. What a lot of fun! Thanks again

  6. cedar

    April 30, 2020 at 2:33 pm

    I spent many an evening as a kid at Memorial Stadium. I loved walking up 33rd street, passing all the houses with fans and taking my seat to enjoy the game.

    In 1982 I attended the double header on Friday and then Saturday’s game. I wasn’t able to make Sunday’s. As a young superstitious kid I wondered if it had been my fault the Orioles dropped that last game!

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 30, 2020 at 3:32 pm

      I was at that game on Saturday, Cedar, but I didn’t see you.

  7. dlgruber1

    April 30, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    Loved the article Rich. So many fantastic memories. My grandfather purchased season tix to colts games when they arrived in Baltimore and I started going in 1970. My two greatest memories were Linhardt kicking the FG in O/T to beat Dolphins. It was loudest noise I’ve still ever heard in my life. My brother and I were standing on our seats when the kick went thru the fog and the uprights. We were screaming as loud as we could and couldn’t hear each other. My other favorite memory was when Mike Curtis, who passed away last week, layed out the fan who had run into the field and tried to take the football. Players from both teams were sorta startled and they all just watched as this guy comes running right thru all of them and reaches down and picks up the ball. Unfortunately for the fan Curtis football instincts took over and the guy didn’t make it very far. The crowd went absolutely nuts. As gorgeous as OPACY is I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Memorial Stadium.

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 30, 2020 at 3:33 pm

      Thank you for adding to the memories, dl.

  8. [email protected]

    April 30, 2020 at 9:53 pm

    Great story Rich. Thanks.

    My greatest memory at Memorial Stadium occurred on 6/22/1979, when Doug Decinces hit a 2 out, 2 run HR to beat the Tigers, 6-5. Not only was it a great moment for the O’s, but that come from behind win ultimately propelled the O’s to the ‘79 WS. Unfortunately they lost to Pirates after being up 3-1, but that night in June defined Orioles Magic!!

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 30, 2020 at 10:34 pm

      That’s a great memory, Steve.

  9. 89Ghost

    April 30, 2020 at 11:15 pm

    Congrats on 40 years Rich! I look forward to reading your articles each day, particularly your steady measured tone and insight. I grew up on Loch Raven Blvd in the late 80s, early 90s, so while I missed the glory years of the Os (and missed the Colts entirely), the Os were the only game in town in our house and I will never forget my childhood adventures at 33rd. Three that stick out in my memory – Milacki throwing a complete game shutout facing the minimum 27 batters early in the 1989 season, seeing Nolan Ryan pitch on a cold April day game in 1991 (I am certain Glenn Davis struck out, injured himself, and was never right again), and seeing a rookie Mussina go 8 innings late in the season in 1991 and realizing he was legit.

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