whether we were watching or playing. She’d say: “You guys going to the game tonight? GO AND HAVE FUN!!!” When she went with us to a baseball game it was a “special” event. Like once or twice a year, when she felt like it, she’d just announce to us but very nonchalantly, “I’m going to the game with you guys tonight.” And that would be it. No asking, no indecision.
And there she was on the bus next to us an hour later!
She LOVED doing the “prep work” for Colts games on Sunday mornings and she always made me a thermos of hot chocolate for the No. 22 bus — we always purchased the “Super Sunday” bus ticket for $2 — and made sure I had warm gloves.
She didn’t go to the games much but she did see Walter Payton play in that September 1983 game at Memorial Stadium when Mike Ditka kicked in the wall. Last minute field goal by Raul Allegre: the Colts win. I have the program she bought that day. I didn’t go and I never saw “Sweetness” play in person, I think, because I had discovered girls and girls were a much sexier proposition at the time than going to see the slapdick Colts of 1983. I did make the Denver, Pittsburgh and Houston games that final season, but I still kick myself over the Payton thing!
Sports was the guiding light of our household every single night of our lives.
And the one thing we ALWAYS did as a family was attend the WWWF matches at the Arena. Beginning in 1977, right before Bruno Sammartino lost the title to Superstar Billy Graham (we were there, Sect. 15, lower concourse — we didn’t sit in the cheap seats for ‘rasslin!), we were faithful supporters of Vince McMahon’s empire. And that continued until I did discover girls. And even then, sometimes you’d discover a girl who liked the wrestling matches too! But such was the fantastic reality that my childhood in Dundalk was! You could have your girl and your Bob Backlund too!
But baseball was always priority No. 1 in our house. If the game was on TV, it was on in our living room.
Look, my mother is 87 years and God bless her, if you went over to her house tonight, I guarantee you she’s sitting with a beer (probably Busch Light) and watching the game. And my Dad’s been dead for 15 years now! But she’s been doing that every night of her summer life since 1954 when the team came to Baltimore from St. Louis. She doesn’t see so well these days, but she sees well enough to tell me who won the game every single day.
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few weeks.
If my Pop had lived long enough to get to this point — the all-time low for attendance and interest in Orioles baseball, nine straight losing seasons, management that is the laughingstock of the entire industry if not sports in North America as a whole — what would he say to me? Especially considering my place in the media and having a radio station that could opt to do one of two things:
1. Sit still. Whine. Do nothing. Boycott in silence.
2. Act! Be bold! Be brave! Speak up! Take a stand!
I would tell you that action has been the story of my life — in baseball and in every facet of my world — and I think my Pop would disown me given the circumstances and what we could accomplish as a community with a little moxie and resolve and unity.
At some point during this whole cathartic process of writing all of this drivel and thinking about this rally, his spirit has spoken to me every day.
What would he have thought in 1982, if I owned an all-sports radio station and didn’t step up to try to save the Colts? I remember those tears in his eyes that morning when the Mayflower vans pulled outta Owings Mills in the snow.
My Pop would have, in true Dundalk style, beaten my ass! And then lectured me for being a coward, but he probably would’ve busted out the “P” word, to be honest!
So, I guess I’ve started this firestorm out of respect for my father and the tools he gave me, many that were taught on a baseball diamond.
So, this rally is for my father (and maybe yours too!). Or maybe it’s for your children. Or maybe you just want to be selfish and you want those summer nights back for yourself. You want to bring back that old “Oriole Magic.”
I’m doing this for the right reasons and with the best of intentions. That’s good enough for me and I know it would be good enough for him.
My Pop is gone — just like “the Oriole Way” — and has been since 1992, but his spirit will be at the Inner Harbor on Sept. 21 whether any of you show up or not!