And, on Saturday morning, we had an early wakeup call because we were GOING to Game 4 at Veterans Stadium in the mid afternoon.
I had four tickets and my Pop really only wanted to make the trip once — he wanted me to go with my friends instead. He only wanted to go if they could clinch.
So, along with my friend Kenny Andrews and my best pal Kevin Eck, we needed a responsible adult to take us to the game, to act as the chauffeur.
So, who did I ask?
I asked our Dundalk High, 10th-grade English teacher, Susan Monday. So, the next day, we piled into Miss Monday’s car and off we went to Game 4 with a woman who was from Cherry Hill, N.J. — and a diehard Phillies fan. And again, to show you the tentacles of baseball, she is now doing morning drive AM news radio in Philadelphia and has been for several years. She was also my Tuesday intern in 1993 and 1994 and a lady who answered my phones, when she was trying to get into the radio business. She and Bob Haynie alternated shifts. Sue is also the one who told me to go to Amicci’s and get a radio sponsorship in 1995. I not only got a phenomenal sponsor and the best Italian food on this planet (still to this day, my wife and I are in Amicci’s twice a week…it’s the best restaurant on EARTH!), I also inherited another one of my best friends in the world, Scott Panian, who helps run the joint. We’ve traveled the world together…from Super Bowls in San Diego and Miami and World Series’ in San Diego and New York and concerts in Chicago and Philadelphia, and Springsteen shows in Madrid and Paris and Ryan Adams concerts in Amsterdam and Stockholm.
Yeah, baseball’s been good to me.
If there’s no baseball, there’s no Scotty P. or Amicci’s for me…DAMN!
That’s really kinda frightening to NOT have had Amicci’s in my life, right?
But the Orioles did the deed in Game 4 (we had phabulous seats in the 500 level for that one above the scoreboard) and I was headed BACK to Philadelphia the next day for a potential Baltimore World Championship, the first of my lifetime in town. The Colts won Super Bowl IV, in 1971, but I have no memory of it.
We piled six people into my brother’s car and off we went to Philly for the clinch. It was me, my girlfriend, my stepbrother, my Mom, my Pop and his baseball neighborhood buddy, Mr. Ray Yannuzzi.
He was another great old guy. Always had Italian food in the house. He loved talking baseball with my Pop, who had Mr. Ray help him with a few of those Colgate-Eastpoint Pirate championship teams as a coach.
We watched from the rooftop seats, but made our way down into the 500 level right above the first base dugout at the end of the game. When Scott McGregor delivered the pitch and Cal Ripken, Jr. caught that soft liner, it set off a firestorm in our household.
My Pop jumped for joy and smiled from ear to ear all the way down the ramps of Veterans Stadium.
We honked our horns coming out of the Spectrum parking lot and all the way down Broad Street to the I-95 entrance. I still think about that night and the air and the smell and sounds of our Baltimore fans celebrating in the parking lot 90 miles from home: a sports World Championship, what a cool feeling?
And I was there, in the heart of it, two days after my 15th birthday.
That’s really what’s it all about.
Really, my whole family was there.
We weren’t the kind of family that had warm, fuzzy moments, except at funerals. But if there were ever a postcard made that would show my family at its best — at its brightest moment — it would have been that night in the parking lot waiting to escape Philadelphia.
It was me and my girlfriend (who would become the mother of my son, so in a way he was kinda there too), my Mom and my Pop and his best baseball pal (and that’s something I really never thought about, that he TOO had HIS best baseball pal there to share in that magic moment).
I don’t know that anyone in the car had much in common or much to say or could converse at great detail about much in a big world — but we ALL had the Orioles, and we were all glad that they won and we knew the city would be a thrilling place to be for the next few days.
That 90-minute ride home down I-95 was incredible and very memorable.
I go to Philadelphia a lot — and have since that first trip with my biological Dad in 1981. I bet I’ve driven that road 200 times over the past 20 years. I can’t begin to tell you how many times that I have been at that toll plaza in Delaware where I fondly remember the signs from that night in 1983 when the toll takers put up giant signs congratulating the Orioles. And I can still see the overpasses that were covered in make-shift banners made out of bed sheets saying things like: BALTIMORE ORIOLES, WORLD CHAMPS!”
We knew that when we got home late on that Sunday night that the party was just beginning: the TV news shows, the parade, the confetti and we would get to skip school for a day to do the celebration.
That’s the kinda thing that only a World Championship can bring about — a parade of that magnitude. And again we’re talking EVERYONE — black and white, young and old, rich and poor! The ENTIRE COMMUNITY!
This city needs to have that energy again, that positive feeling.
There once was a time when EVERY year meant a chance to win a championship, or at least a chance to dream a little and have some fun. The games meant something and the passion and fun lasted at least for MOST of the summer, even when the O’s didn’t win.
There once was a time when HOPE sprang eternal on the first Monday of April every year.
All I want is that back, along with that feeling of community and significance that a winning baseball team brings a close-knit town like Baltimore.
And, that’s really what the “Free The Birds” rally and the afternoon of Sept. 21 are all about.
We want a chance to have a chance again to celebrate nights like that one.
It’s been 23 years since that night at Veterans Stadium at the corner of Broad and Pattison in south Philly.
I can still smell the air from that magical night as I walked down the ramps of The Vet and saw my Pop smiling from ear to ear — it was the only championship night we’d ever celebrate together.