six. I was honestly the only kid in the league who wasn’t afraid of the ball at that point because my Pop threw to me in the backyard and alley every day from the time I could stand up.
By the time I was 8 it was time to move up to Eastwood and the big time.
Eastwood’s league games were played at the Joseph Lee Fields behind Patterson High School and Our Lady of Fatima, where my birth parents were married, where I attended eight years of CCD and did the whole traditional communion, confirmation Catholic thing. We went to church every single Sunday from birth until I was old enough to make my own decisions with my Sunday mornings.
Don’t laugh: but I was even an alter boy for six glorious years! (“I’m sorry, Father Baumgartner, I have no idea what happened to the missing church wine.” I’m telling ya, I’m heading straight to hell for that one alone!)
At Our Lady of Fatima, we had a night called Sports Night. Every year an Oriole would come to the event and eat rubber chicken…or worse…the roast beast! Actually, I thought it was the most exotic meal ever because my family NEVER, EVER ate at restaurants.
Not even the White Coffee Pot or Denny’s. Never!
I didn’t eat at a real restaurant until about 1981 when Harborplace opened and my maternal mother would take me there for dinner when she was sober to show me about the finer things in the world.
She didn’t like baseball and she listened to country music, so we honestly didn’t have a lot to talk about during my childhood.
So, Sports Night and the roast beast dinner was like a Ruth’s Chris function in my neighborhood. We had to wear a suit jacket on a Tuesday night, I was 9 years old and real NFL players, Oriole players, sportswriters and horse racing jockeys (Danny Wright came every year) came to hang out and sign autographs and do the community goodwill thing.
It was, in no small way, the biggest night of the year for my family!
Cal Ripken Sr. was a regular, smoking cigarettes all night when it was still OK to do that sorta thing publicly. And everyone drank draft beer from clear pitchers in plastic cups, including the head table. All of that celebrity, right there, in the basement of Our Lady of Fatima.
One year I met Nestor Chylak, the umpire, there. He was from the Pennsylvania area near Scranton where my Pop was from. They actually knew some of the same people, and my Pop ADORED Nestor Chylak. He signed an autograph for me on a slip of paper and told me I was the first American “Nestor” he’d ever met. I still have that autograph!
I still have the pictures. One year Kenny Cooper came to Fatima when the Blast were getting started and it was cool to see him become a star in town. But it’s even cooler now that I can call him this afternoon and run some silly business ideas by him.
And you know what one of the really cool things I’ve ever done in radio is?
I actually WAS a “sports radio celebrity” sitting at the head table of that banquet in the late 1990′s, when I was invited by Ben Neil, who always rounded up the “celebrity” troops. Of course, Elrod Hendricks was the Oriole who represented the club that night!
Do you have ANY idea how proud my Pop would be if he knew I was a “celebrity” at the Sports Night Dinner at Our Lady of Fatima?
Along with hosting the Dundalk Heritage Fair parade back in 2001, nothing has made me more feel more pride!
But again, Fatima was really the home of baseball for me: the Joseph Lee Fields and the Eastwood Little League in the parking lot between there and Patterson High School.
It was on the hill on Field No. 1 when I learned Elvis died on Aug. 16, 1977. (Elvis dying was a BIG, BIG deal when you were from Dundalk. At least five of the Moms in my neighborhood claimed to have met Elvis, and one time we even saw a commode at the Eastern Center flea market/bingo emporium on Eastern Avenue at Eastpoint that said Elvis had sat upon it. They wanted $25 for the seat, which was truly a King’s ransom at that time).
It was also at the Joseph Lee Fields where I first saw Tim Norris pitch. Once my Dad saw him pitch once, we became like groupies. We went to every game he pitched up on the pony league fields near the hospital, and then lo and behold, he was drafted by the BALTIMORE Orioles, and on the same day as Cal Ripken Jr. was. Obviously — and I’ve met Tim a few times over the years and he was always kind — I kinda wish I had grown up in Aberdeen in some ways!
But Eastwood was no joke!
Eastwood’s Little League was so legit that real Orioles players came and spoke at the awards banquet. I still have my picture of Doug DeCinces in his brown leather bomber at the Steelworkers Hall