Because of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, there is a good chance that none of us will see a Major League baseball stadium this season. I was lucky. Before we all were mandated to stay indoors for the foreseeable future, I did manage to find myself staring out over the expanse of a big league ballpark at least once this year. Right before I was politely asked by a security guard to leave the premises of Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. It was something I will always remember as long as I live.
For most people, a four-hour layover in Baltimore is a fate worse than drowning in their own mucous. When I learned that I had my return flight from Alabama, where I had been covering this year’s Bassmaster Classic, included the circuitous route as my quickest way home, I took it as a sign that the universe had places for me to be. The home of the Orioles was calling my name.
Brooks and Franks and Boog
My dad was always a huge fan of the Orioles. He grew up in Indiana so the closest team he had to root for was the Cincinnati Reds. As a kid, he became a huge fan of Frank Robinson. When Robinson was traded to the Orioles when my dad was 12, he transferred all of his allegiance to the O’s. The baseball gods rewarded his newfound childhood fandom by joining Frank with Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and an amazing pitching staff anchored by Jim Palmer. Baltimore would become a powerhouse of the late 60s, winning four American League Championships in six years. He was one of their biggest fans for the next 50 years.
That fandom carried over over to adulthood and into the Cal Ripken era. As a kid, I was a Kansas City Royals fan. I had George Brett and Steve Balboni and Dan Quisenberry. He had Eddie Murray and Mike Boddicker. When the Orioles moved their spring training camp to his hometown of Sarasota he was in heaven. We even made a road trip to Cooperstown to see Ripken inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of course, I was an adult by then so we managed to hit every brewery and casino along the way.
It was just one of many epic baseball-themed road trips we took over the years
We saw Fulton County, Chavez Ravine, and almost every park on the Grapefruit League circuit, usually including a fishing trip in the plans. We went to Kaufmann Stadium. Twice. Including the Royals’ magical postseason run in 2016. As a professional sportswriter, I would document our adventures, gonzo-style. It was always front page material.
We never made it to the home of his beloved Orioles. It was the next big adventure on our combined bucket list. Unfortunately, a sudden aneurysm took that away from us. Or, at least I thought.
Which is why I knew it was fate that gave me that layover in Baltimore. I knew what I had to do.
On a mission from Ruth
As soon as I landed, I called an Uber and headed over to the stadium. There was to be no game to watch for this baseball mission. The team was still in Sarasota preparing for the upcoming season so the stadium was empty. I went in to the gift shop. I bought a t-shirt for myself and a hat for my kid, Cannon. In an appropriate twist of fate, Cannon’s little league team which I am the head coach for is called the Orioles so we would have some blessed uniforms for the upcoming season. I chatted with the nice lady at the counter and told her I was from Florida, even managing to convince her to let me go out the other side of the store onto the stadium concourse to take some pictures.
I didn’t tell her about my ulterior motive
Hanging a hard right past Boog’s Barbecue in centerfield, I headed toward Legends Park just past the left field fence. Bronze statues from franchise greats, like Cal and Brooks and Frank and Jim, are all immortalized there. Surrounding the statues were freshly planted trees. I passed a mobile beer cart on the concourse. Discreetly, I reached into the cooler, which was no longer cool, and pulled out a lukewarm Tropicannon IPA that had probably been there since September. I smiled at the irony.
Most of my dad’s ashes were turned into an artificial reef and placed on the bottom of Gulf of Mexico just off the coast of Sarasota. We saved a little bit of those remains for moments just like this. I sat next to a tree with the most perfect view. When you looked past the Cal Ripken Statue, there was direct sight line through shortstop and into the batter’s box. Cracking open the beer, I poked my finger into the soil at the base of the tree.
Making sure my pops would always have the best view possible from the cheap seats, I poured the little vial of ashes into the hole.
I don’t know how long I sat there just looking out over the field. I didn’t even notice the security guard walking up to tell me I couldn’t be there. My eyes were red and I was holding a stolen beer. He probably thought I was a crackhead. It was Baltimore after all.
“I just wanted to see the field and take some pictures,” I told him.
He just smiled politely and said, “You’re good, bro.”
I smiled back and said, “I am now.”
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