[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from John Kimmerlein, who has some stories that aren’t exactly uni-related but are still in keeping with the spirit of Uni Watch, as I think you’ll agree. Enjoy. — PL]
By John Kimmerlein (with photo at right and linked photo below by Jerry Reuss)
I recently signed up for a Uni Watch membership. Because I was a kid in Baltimore back in the glory days of the franchise, I was going to ask for a Orioles name/number style for the back of the card. But then I thought of something a bit different that tied more directly to growing up in the neighborhood around Memorial Stadium: the funky font used on the front of the stadium. In explaining my special request to Paul, I related some of my experiences in and around the stadium that, quite frankly, I’d always taken for granted. He liked my stories enough that he’s asked me to incorporate them into this guest-written entry for the site, which I’m happy to provide.
I basically grew up in Memorial Stadium. We lived just a block away, and it kind of dominated the neighborhood, in a good way. We bought our Christmas trees from a tree lot under one of the light towers, learned to skate in a rink set up every winter outside the third base/left field side of the stadium, and the huge parking lots were where we watched the 4th of July fireworks, flew our kites, and watched the Baltimore police practice high-speed maneuvers. We heard the roar of the crowd from our front yard.
We saw more than our share of baseball games and a few soccer games there. As “Junior Orioles,” we saw a bunch of games a year. We also watched many games when our grandmom would walk some of us up the street to the stadium during a game — the ushers would always let in a white-haired older lady and a couple of kids after about the fifth inning. I still remember the thrill of coming out of the shady tunnels into the bright stadium and seeing the jewel-like field.
But my most unique memories of the ballpark have nothing to do with Orioles games. Because of where our school was located, my older brother and I had to cross the parking lot and go right in front of the stadium every day as we went to and from school, so the ballpark was a big playground for us. We frequently played in the stadium on our way home from school. Not in the parking lot, mind you — in the stadium. It seems there was always a gate open for one reason or another, and no one noticed a couple of little kids going in, so we’d explore the ramps, concourses, seats, press boxes, owner’s box, birthday box, etc. We went just about everywhere except the field and dugouts, which we held as sacred. Actually, we did go onto the field once, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
So what did we do in the stadium? Nothing too exciting by today’s standards. We walked (or ran) through every possible section and concourse, looked around at our neighborhood from the very top row, checked out the old, wooden box-like structures way at the top of the stands, tried our hand at play-by-play from the press box, ran flat-footed down the ramps to hear the echoes — kid stuff, basically. The craziest thing I remember us doing was dropping a foil ball from the highest point of the stadium just to watch it fall. We never thought of taking anything, or leaving our mark in any way. It was our clubhouse, and the Orioles’ stadium — why would we mess it up?
I don’t remember once getting chased out of there, or even a “Hey you kids” being yelled at us. My older brother and a neighborhood friend were in the stadium one day after school while a photographer was taking posed pictures of the Orioles, so they walked down and watched from the seats right next to the dugout. When the photographer was done taking pictures, he invited them to sit in the dugout and showed them her camera and the different filters she was using. My brother must have been in first or second grade at the time.
Frequently the gate we came in would be closed and locked when we were done, but we always had a way out through a ramp that was in one of the sections behind home plate. This ramp ended at a door in a hallway near the front offices, and we would blast out that door, past the offices and right out the front doors, running as fast as we could go. (Almost 20 years later I went to the stadium with my father to see a game with a good friend of his who’d been in the Orioles’ front office for decades. At one point he was describing to us how to get between the offices and our seats and I realized that I knew exactly where he was talking about — it was our old escape route!)
I played in the stadium on the way home from school from first grade through third grade (we moved away after that). Not every day, but a lot. I’m pretty sure our folks didn’t know. My youngest son is in third grade now, and I can’t imagine him running around an empty stadium on the way home from school.
Our one time on the field was very memorable. We were flying a kite in the parking lot, the string broke, and the kite fluttered into the stadium from the outfield side. We wanted our kite back, so we kept chasing it and went into the stadium at the grounds crew storage area near the left field corner. This was a cool cave-like place under the stands where they kept big piles of dirt and sand, equipment, and where the ambulance parked during games. There was a big gate onto the field itself from there.
The field gate was open so we trucked right onto the field–and into an Orioles practice. There were players all over, and one of them out in right-center was holding our kite, looking somewhat incredulous. We just kept going, ran clear across the outfield and got it from him. I honestly don’t know who it was. One of my brothers and I think it was Paul Blair, but another swears it was Frank Robinson. But we all got the general vibe that the players thought that it was a total hoot that a kite landed on the field and that three little kids came hauling onto the field to get it. We were certainly in awe, and pretty much just said thanks and got back off the field the way we came.
Only recently, as I have told these stories to my sons and to other friends, have I realized just how extraordinary these stadium jaunts were. Since then I’ve seen games in many major and minor league parks. I’ve been to Camden Yards a number of times, and I see a handful of games at Safeco Field every year. These and other stadiums may be at least as good as Memorial Stadium ever was in terms of watching a ballgame. But for me, Memorial Stadium will always be the first image that comes to mind when I think of a ballpark. Not just because of the games I saw there, but because it was our own huge clubhouse, which we happened to share with the Orioles.
Awesome stuff, John. And I’m happy to report that we were able to accommodate his membership card request. Scott really outdid himself on that one, no?
And hey, speaking of Scott: As many of you know, he recently moved from Brooklyn to Seattle, where his music act, RebelMart, will be soon be making its Pac-10 debut. For all you Seattle-area readers, the date is July 1st, 9pm, at the Skylark Café. You know what to do.
Imperfection: Regarding last night’s unfortunate events in Detroit (which I was watching as they unfolded), a few thoughts:
• Say this much for Jim Joyce: He faced the music, and then some.
• Everyone’s been making Don Denkinger comparisons. But here’s the thing: It’s now been 25 years since Denkinger’s blown call. If MLB umps have one truly epic gaffe per 25 years — or, to put that in perspective, four per century — that doesn’t strike me as such a bad track record. It’s just part of the game’s human element, same as Fred Merkle and Mickey Owen.
• One thing that really struck me is that if you follow baseball reasonably closely, you’re already familiar with Jim Joyce’s name, and with almost all the umpires’ names. Similarly, NHL fans tend to know the names of the refs and linesmen. (I don’t watch enough NBA games to know if the fans are familiar with their officials — are they?) But in the NFL — the league with so many missed calls that they have a mechanism to reverse them — all the officials except the referees are largely anonymous. Can even the most passionate NFL fan name a single side judge, back judge, head linesman, or umpire? They blow calls all the time, yet they’re utter ciphers. Why is that? Is it simply because there are fewer football games, or is it because of the way the networks barely mention the NFL officiating crews while it’s routine for the TV crews to say who’s working the game in the other sports?
None of that exhonerates Jim Joyce, of course. I just think it’s interesting how baseball umps are essentially public figures, while NFL officials enjoy the cloak of namelessness.
Giveaway Reminder: I’m currently raffling off three PC-to-TV converters. For details, look here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: “Louis Vuitton has finally unveiled the box for carrying the FIFA World Cup trophy,” reports Jeremy Brahm. “Hopefully Naomi Campbell won’t throw it at the photographers.” … Also from Jeremy: Municipal office workers in Higashi-Osaka are being encouraged to wear rugby shirts to work, apparently in an effort to be one of the host cities for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: At least some umpires are wearing a “JK” memorial patch, apparently for former ump John Kibler. … New plaid alternate jersey for Nice in the French Ligue 1 (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm). … New uniforms for the New Zealand Maori rugby team. “The uniform is called Te Ao Hōu (pronounced ‘tea ow hoe-ew’) and commemorates 100 years of Maori rugby,” writes Hadyn Green. “The design is based on a wharenui (literally ‘big house,’ but meaning a meeting house or gathering place). The figure on the front is Tanerōre, the god of haka (the traditional Maori war dance performed before each game).” … What’s even better than this gorgeous shot of Eddie Cicotte and Pants Rowland from Game Three of the 1917 World Series? This colorized version that Phil whipped up.