As a native Baltimorean, I certainly have countless baseball memories of Memorial Stadium and, to a lesser extent, Camden Yards. But my love for the game, especially as I grew older and had more freedom to travel, led me on some classic baseball road trips.
It was July 5, 1991, a Friday night in humid, steamy Baltimore. Two of my closest friends, Mac and HB (they’re brothers), met me at the Swallow at the Hollow in Govans for some beers and food while we watched the Birds play at Yankee Stadium on TV. As the evening wore on, and the beers flowed, I pulled out the sports section from that day’s paper and started perusing stats, standings, etc. Then I noticed the next day’s pitching matchup for Orioles-Yankees, set for 1:30 p.m. first pitch. Ben McDonald would be starting for the Birds! "Do you guys have any plans for the weekend?", I asked the boys. "No". "What do you say about going to New York to watch Big Ben pitch?" "When?" "Tomorrow". "Let’s go!", they said in unison. So we closed our tab, went home and grabbed a change of clothes, and headed for Philadelphia to spend the night at our buddy Duck’s apartment. He was in medical school at the time, and we called him before leaving Baltimore to notify him that we’d be there by midnight and then head for New York in the morning.
Saturday morning, we ate some breakfast and headed for the Jersey Turnpike. I was driving my rather beat up Mitsubishi Tredia (Jah Tred, we called it), and my passengers ordered me to stop at the first liquor store in Jersey so we could stock the coolers. Never one to question authority, I promptly followed their orders. As we headed north towards the Big Apple, Mac, Duck and HB did a fine job of putting a serious dent in our beer supply. While listening to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (on cassette, of course), we crossed the George Washington Bridge, turned south on the Admiral Deegan, and soon found ourselves tailgating in the parking lot of Yankee Stadium. I have to admit, as much as I detest the Yankees, it was really cool to find myself sitting there and taking in the whole NYC scene. Especially with my Orioles gear on.
So we bought our tickets for the right field upper deck, along the foul line just past first base. As we went through the turnstiles, we were each handed a pair of sunglasses with that ugly NY logo right in the middle of the eyepiece. "An excellent projectile for later", I thought to myself. And these weren’t very cool looking shades, either. They were your basic mid-70′s aviator style, with huge lenses, and when I looked around at all the fans wearing them, it appeared to me that we were surrounded by thousands of state troopers masquerading as Yankees fans. God, were they ugly! I couldn’t wait to destroy mine!
The Orioles got off to a great start that afternoon. McDonald pitched effectively early, and somewhere around the 2nd or 3rd inning, Sam Horn blasted a homer to right center that looked like it would hit the Bronx Courthouse as it rose majestically. 6 to 0, Birds! At this point, we were feeling awfully righteous, and we certainly let the Yankee fans know we were there! The usual responses, which I cannot write in this family blog, came back at us. If you’ve ever been to New York, you can guess which word was used in our direction as an adjective, adverb, noun and verb. There were lots of people directing us to do horrible, anatomically impossible things to ourselves. And my response to them all was "Scoreboard!" Things were looking good.
And then, suddenly, not so good. Big Ben got rocked, chased by a Kevin Maas homer, as I recall. Kevin Hickey made his final appearance in an O’s uniform that day, and it was memorable. I don’t even know if he got a batter out, but I do know he gave up 2 three-run homers, the last a blast from Matt Nokes that so disturbed Mac that he flung his Yankees sunglasses waaaay over the railing and into the lower seating section. Right about then, we were not so politely escorted out of Yankee Stadium by three of the NYPD’s finest. As we descended the stairs in the upper deck, we were serenaded with lots of uncomplimentary goodbyes from all those hairy, goat loving fans. And I gave them all a two-fingered salute as I disappeared into the ramp.
Outside the Stadium, we proceeded with our tailgating, and were soon joined by two Yankee fans who had been sitting in our row at the game. The game was a rout, and these two jokers came out to hang out with us and drink our ice cold beer. I thought they were cool until one of them started wrestling with Duck, who was a rather imposing man in those days. Well, the wrestling got a little heated, and Duck was never one to back down, so before an all-out melee ensued, I forced the Duck, plus Mac and HB, back into Jah Tred. The traffic on the GW Bridge was at an absolute standstill, so we just continued up the Hudson all the way to the Tappan Zee bridge. After crossing, we settled in for a not so quiet dinner at a family restaurant in a little town called Nyack. Nice place, I think. At least we weren’t escorted out of that place.
It was back to Philly later that night for some games of pool and darts, recounting our favorite moments of the day while trying to calculate the distance on Mac’s "Sunglasses Toss". Ah, baseball. It really was fun here for a long time, and we really did care enough to make those kinds of trips "back in the day".
As for my pair of sunglasses? I crushed them with my bare hands.