Gus Squires with his "First Orioles Game" button before the first pitch at Camden Yards on Aug. 27, 2023. Photo credit: Sofia Alvarez.
Gus Squires with his "First Orioles Game" button before the first pitch at Camden Yards on Aug. 27, 2023. Photo credit: Sofia Alvarez.

There are sacred initiations over which a Baltimorean – particularly a grandparent – must preside. The Charm City trinity involves teaching a little one how to eat a steamed crab, walking the child to the neighborhood snowball stand on a hot summer night and taking the youngster to their first Orioles game.

Parents often do these things first, particularly in an age when extended families don’t always live in the same city, much less the same neighborhood as was once common throughout Baltimore.

I’m proud to have fulfilled the baseball rite-of-passage last month at Camden Yards with Augustine “Gus” Squires, the almost five-year-old son of my daughter Sofia. At that age, cultivation of team loyalty is crucial, particularly because the boy lives in Brooklyn, New York. You simply cannot take chances.

It was a family outing along the first base side: Gus’s mom (who sold lemonade at the Yard during high school), her mother Deborah (a long ago “Junior Oriole”), myself and my wife, Phoebe Stein, raised in Potomac with nary a childhood memory of Orioles baseball.

The boy was decked out in a kid’s No. 8 Ripken jersey handed down through Phoebe’s family and a denim O’s hat adorned with the smiling cartoon bird. Last year, Gus was wearing the cap while his mother pulled him in a wagon along a Brooklyn sidewalk. A man whizzed by on a bicycle and yelled: “Put a Yankee hat on that kid!”

See what I mean? 

Along with the rest of us – some 30,700 strong – Gus took to shouting “Let’s Go O’s!” and was intent on what was happening on the field, understanding that the players in the bright white uniforms were “the good guys” and the ones in gray were “the other guys.”

[I had told him that the Colorado Rockies were “the bad guys,” but his mom corrected the assertion, telling Gus that the visiting team was not “bad” but merely our opponents. Fair enough, though I would have argued the point had we been playing the obnoxious you-know-whos from the Bronx.]

Gus’s eyes were peeled for the Oriole Bird, which, as a toddler visiting Baltimore, he thought was a duck. Because we were high above the home team dugout, where the mascot tends to perch, we didn’t get a glimpse. And because we lost the Bird didn’t run onto the field waving the victory flag.

William "Uncle Bill" Jones during his Navy service, 1950s. Credit: Jones Family Archives.
William “Uncle Bill” Jones during his Navy service, 1950s. Credit: Jones Family Archives.

It took place 56 seasons after my first game at Memorial Stadium in 1967, the home nine versus Carl Yastrzemski and the Red Sox, that year’s American League champs. By then, my maternal grandfather – William Zamenski Jones of Dillon Street in old Canton, a saloon drinker who believed Ty Cobb a better player than Babe Ruth– was bedridden. But he made my first ballgame happen.

Before getting sick with cancer, “Pop” worked at the National Brewery, walking distance from his front door. The brewery was owned by the same man who owned the Orioles, World War II tank commando C. Jerold Hoffberger [1919-1999].

Pop’s only son was my baseball-loving “Uncle Bill,” a Dundalk mailman who died in 2013. His two youngest daughters – Beth Ann Jones Hall and Ann Marie Jones Wood – always knew when a trip to 33rd street was in the offing.

“When Dad was frying up coddies and crab balls you knew you were going to the game,” said Ann Marie.

Beth Ann grew up listening to games with her father on a small transistor radio with a green leather cover, small perforations over the speaker. They’d listen in the dark on summer nights while her mother – the former Betty Feehley, a Boog Powell fan – cleaned up after dinner. 

“One of Dad’s mailman friends was an usher,” said Beth. “Dad would buy cheap seats and we’d get to go over to the good ones.”

Accompanying me and Uncle Bill to seats in the mezzanine was a brown paper lunch bag of beautifully fried crab balls. Family lore holds that the tickets – about $2 each in ’67 – were somehow secured through the brewery. No one is alive to set the record straight though I do know that Natty Boh was the connection when he took me to the first game of the 1969 World Series against the Mets. Enough said about that. 

My own father was a fishing and crabbing man. His padre, an immigrant from Spain, arrived in Baltimore in the mid-1920s when the International League Orioles were winning consecutive championships under Jack Dunn. Grandpop never took to his adopted country’s national pastime, preferring to hunt for rabbits in the wilds of 1940s Rosedale.

Unlike Camden Yards, there was no playground at Memorial Stadium. The cavernous brick-and-concrete colossus across from old Eastern High School, dedicated to the nation’s war dead and simply known as “the Stadium, ” was recreation enough.

Gus Squires with his "First Orioles Game" button before the first pitch at Camden Yards on Aug. 27, 2023. Photo credit: Sofia Alvarez.
Gus Squires with his “First Orioles Game” button before the first pitch at Camden Yards on Aug. 27, 2023. Photo credit: Sofia Alvarez.

Gus spent a few moments going up-and-down the “birdhouse” slide, reclined in a big orange “egg” and held his mother’s hand up the escalator to $23 seats in Row 15 of Section 318. And there it was: the brilliant green diamond, a panorama remembered long after the score has been forgotten.

Deborah remembered being taken to Sunday afternoon games by her steelworker father Ralph “Rudy” Rudacille back when she said, “It was all about Frank [Robinson] and Brooksie.” 

As it is now about Adley and Gunnar, Cedric and Anthony “Tony Taters” Santander in this current dream of a season. In the late-1960s Orioles glory days, before Deb and her brother Jeff piled into the car, her Italian Catholic mom would extract a promise from Rudy to take the kids to Mass first. This did not always happen. 

For most of the game, Gus ate popcorn out of a black and orange box sporting a generic bird, packaging about as exciting as a rain out. It reminded me of something from the old days – the cardboard megaphone in which popcorn was sold at Memorial Stadium.

At his first game, lifelong Orioles fan Leo Ryan, Jr. (the pride of the Shrine of the Little Flower) innocently asked his father if Frank and Brooks were brothers. For it was the Robinsons – who traded on the sibling farce in a 1980 beer commercial – for whom young Leo cheered.

“The popcorn container tapered from the opening to the bottom. You’d tear away the perforated bottom, insert your salty lips inside the cardboard and yell, “CHAAARRRGGGEEE!”

“If you were careful,” said Ryan, “you might get the oil stained cardboard with the folded handle home to your bedroom. Mom would let it stay a day or two before tossing it in the garbage.”

Ben Schenck's popcorn "megaphone" with an Al Bumbry autograph. Credit: Schenck Family Archives.
Ben Schenck’s popcorn “megaphone” with an Al Bumbry autograph. Credit: Schenck Family Archives.

Annapolis native and Dixieland clarinetist Ben Schenck was luckier than that. The leader of the Panorama Jazz Band in New Orleans not only preserved one of the megaphones but had it signed by Al “the Bee ” Bumbry, a late ’70s-mid-1980s center fielder who wore No. 1 and earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam.

“The main thing I remember about the first time I saw Memorial Stadium – I think it was back in ’74 – was the feeling of space,” said Schenck. “In the city, even Annapolis, you’re hemmed in. But as soon as you stepped out of the concourse and into the stadium – everything opened out – real big, real wide.”

What will Gus remember about his first game? Child psychologists hold that long-term memory begins to develop about the age of three. Might he recall the sliding board? The teeming sea of orange? That he was there with folks who love him best?

It may all blur together and fade against more intimate memories of learning to surf at Rockaway Beach with his father Adam, who regularly takes his son to the shore in Queens immortalized by the Ramones to ride the waves.

And when Gus gets the hang of it – as he surely will – I like to think he’ll be surfing in a baseball cap with a smiling orange bird on the front.

Rafael Alvarez wrote about the final request of Oriole Curt Blefary to have his ashes scattered at Memorial Stadium in the Road Grays baseball journal. He can be reached via

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