sports memories begin. Because my Pop didn’t drive and because there was no public transportation to Largo, I NEVER, EVER went to the Capital Centre as a small kid. So I never got to see Wes Unseld or Phil Chenier or any of those sweet Bullets teams of the late 1970′s. I only watched on Channel 20, with the rooftop antenna.
The first time I ever sat foot in the Capital Centre was in 1980, and it was for WWWF wrestling. Believe it or not, Hulk Hogan fought Bob Backlund for title that day. Hogan was a heel managed by the great “Classy” Freddie Blassie.
So for me as a kid, all of my Bullets and Capitals memories were from watching on a very grainy Channel 20 (For the record, that nerdy Captain 20 couldn’t wear WBFF’s Cpt. Chesapeake’s jock…I once met “Captain C” at the Lionel’s Kiddie City for an autograph near Eastpoint Mall…he was my main man for a number of years there in the 1970′s).
We also followed the Maryland Terps’ basketball seasons RELIGIOUSLY in my home. We never missed a game from 1973′s disappointment against N.C. State (and I remember the David Thompson busted head game vividly!) right through the Len Bias era. Those teams with Buck Williams and Albert King and Greg Manning were the best! And Terps football was kinda “there,” but they were rarely on TV, so they didn’t win my heart.
And again, my parents NEVER drove. I had no idea where Byrd Stadium even was until I got into my teens. And Cole Field House was a mythical place to me. The first time I ever went to Cole was when I drove my Pop there for a Duke-Maryland game in 1988 (we scored tickets through my connection at The Evening Sun, Molly Dunham.
So you must remember the rule before I was 16: if the bus couldn’t take us there, it didn’t exist.
And other than a trip to Venezuela in 1972, the only place my parents ever went was to South Carolina to see my Mom’s family during the summer. And we took a Greyhound bus through all of those little southern towns just to get there. It took what felt like two days each way!
All of my late 1970′s memories of All Star Games came in Myrtle Beach in my brother’s green Prowler camper watching on a black and white TV set with rabbit ears. I always liked Ken Griffey Sr. (one of my NL favorites before I’d ever even been to an NL game), so when he won the MVP in 1980 at Dodger Stadium, I think my Pop and I celebrated by roasting marshmallows!
But we just didn’t travel at all much past Highlandtown or Essex. We didn’t even DRIVE for God’s sake!
My paternal father went back to Venezuela for good in 1978. But he showed up at my door in Colgate late one night in the summer of 1981. He left the country owing people money and stuff, so it was very unexpected.
He brought a Venezuelan friend who was a baseball scout, a really neat man named Gonzalo Contreras. My best friend at the time was Kevin Eck, who is now a sports editor at The Sun and is a world-renowned professional wrestling expert (yeah, we had that in common, too! It’s a Dundalk thing!). My “real” father who shares my name but very little else, wanted to take us to Philadelphia for a few days of baseball. Gonzalo knew Manny Trillo and Bo Diaz really well, and had tickets and the itinerary lined up.
Funny that I can’t remember three times that I went with my paternal father to Memorial Stadium when he actually lived here, but it was nice that he included baseball on the agenda when he returned.
We took the Amtrak train from Penn Station and we stayed at the Stadium Hilton across the street from Veterans Stadium. Keep in mind that Kevin and I were both “dreamers” as kids. We had seen “Rocky” and Rocky II” so many times we could quote the lines. So, going to Philly was pretty cool for us just because of that.
And then there was the best part: we were at that age — I was 12 and he was 14 at the time — where baseball was absolutely the No. 1 thing in our lives. We played in our respective neighborhoods and lived about three miles apart. He had his league and I had mine. He had his neighborhood guys and I had mine. He had guys in Eastfield he hung out with every day of his life who I never