As kids, my brother and I spent hours on the bottom bunk of his bed, trading autographed Orioles headshots. The collection we had amassed (Eddie Murray, Rick Dempsey, Scotty McGregor, Ken Singleton) fanned out across his red bedspread, a tribute to our hometown heroes. Our love of the Birds was fueled by our dad who not only helped add to our collection but took us to countless games at Memorial Stadium, just blocks from our house. Even though we complained about the walk to the stadium, the excitement of chasing the Oriole Bird and scanning the field for our favorite players soon dispelled our grumblings.
Thanks to hours logged watching the Royals, my dad’s Roland Park Little League team, I learned to keep the scorebook. Soon, I became a student at the Orioles games, tracking at-bats and stats on the blank pages of his score book. Before the All-Star break, I scoured the ground around our upper deck seats for the punch out All-Star ballots, popping holes next to my favorite players.
I was nine when the Orioles took the World Series from their I-95 rivals in Philadelphia. Like so many of my peers, this was a monumental moment in both my childhood and the history of my hometown. My own excitement was fueled by the love of the game instilled in me by my dad. As a parent now, I recognize that same urge to perpetuate the same joys of my childhood into my own children. Trips to Camden Yards are highlighted by Oriole Bird sightings, renditions of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” and, of course, loud cheers for our beloved players.
These memories are irreplaceable, despite distance or even the threat of a better baseball team. Just ask Alex Slagel and Rob Schapiro, both lifelong O’s fans who have retained a steadfast loyalty to the O’s despite years of living in other baseball towns.
Slagle’s early memories of the O’s are similarly defined by trips to Memorial Stadium where his family had season tickets close to the home team dugout. He notes, “The season tickets made the O’s very important in my world. I likely would not have been excited by baseball and the O’s without the frequency and up-close enjoyment of the games.” In fact, Slagle remembers being handed slightly cracked bats across the dugout from both Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray.
As a ten year resident of San Francisco, Slagle acknowledges the lure of Giants baseball, particularly after their 2010 and 2012 World Series championships. With two young daughters, the Giants are somewhat unavoidable for a baseball fan. Nonetheless, he admits, “I am 100% an O’s fan. It’s very hard to change loyalty after all these years.”
For Schapiro, an eleven year resident of Houston, it was never a question. Orioles magic dazzled Schapiro early and never fizzled. “I will always be an Orioles fan…It’s because I grew up playing baseball, loving baseball, and the Orioles were my team.”
As the father of two young boys and the husband of a Houston native, Schapiro has succumbed to partial season tickets to the Astros. However, he reasons that the Astros’ move to the American League allows his family to don their Orioles orange (not Astros orange) and give support to the visiting team. He watched the Orioles beat the Rangers in the Wild Card game last season and likened the Orioles support in the stands to “a family reunion- except you don’t actually know the people.” The sea of orange within enemy territory created an instant bond among O’s fans and an unbeatable camaraderie. Even Schapiro’s wife and children have accepted that in their house, the Orioles are “pretty much like an organized religion.”
Schapiro draws from his own experiences of watching the Orioles with his dad. His most poignant memory was seeing rookie Cal Ripken win the homerun derby with 12 homeruns at the 1991 All Star Game in Toronto. Schapiro and his dad made a poster for the game the next day urging Cal to “Hit Number 13 Here,” where they sat in the left field second deck. If ever there was proof of Orioles Magic, this is it: Cal hit deep in the game and won the MVP.
Greg Bader, now Vice President of Communications and Marketing for the Orioles, also credits his dad for his nearly lifelong love of the Orioles. His dad, a huge fan, took then-twelve year-old Bader to Tag Day at Memorial Stadium to help him select their seats for the 1987 season, reasoning this might be the carrot that lured Greg to a similar devotion to the O’s. The strategy worked ,and Bader “was absolutely hooked,” adding, “some of my greatest memories took place our first season as plan holders.”
Bader is a believer in taking kids to games, regardless of their interest. While it may look different from our generation’s beloved Memorial Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards offers a family-friendly environment to entice kids’ enjoyment of and engagement in the game.
Today, kids benefit from the resurgence of Orioles baseball, watching Chris Davis slam his 31st homerun during the Orioles’ recent hometown sweep of the Yankees. For their parents, the moment recalled the Orioles record holders of their youth: Cal Ripken, Brady Anderson, Eddie Murray. Any victory over the Yankees indirectly redeems the 1996 Jeffrey Maier debacle — the 11 year old boy, an unwitting accomplice in shattering the Orioles American League Championship dreams. We can all remember on what television we watched Cal Ripken surpass Lou Gehrig’s 56 year record for consecutive games played. As a freshman in college, I chose the number 8 for my varsity jersey — an homage to my hometown and my hometown’s hero.
However, Bader is quick to remind that Orioles Magic reigns during the good seasons and the bad. He recalls, “When I became a fan, the team lost 90+ games in the first season and the second year we started with 21 straight losses on our way to a franchise record of 107 losses. Neither of that mattered to me as a 12-13 year old growing up in Baltimore. They were my team and my sense of excitement about going to games was never diminished.”
During a slump several seasons ago, my brother and fellow headshot collector visited from his new hometown of Chicago with a gift for my son — a Chicago Cubs cap. I tolerated its perpetual wearing because, at 3, my son was convinced the “C” stood for Charlie. When I questioned my brother’s current allegiance, he confessed he is “sort of” a Cubs fan, reasoning that their National League standing doesn’t threaten his Orioles loyalty.
Nonetheless, Baltimore’s baseball spirit seems hard to deny. Thanks to new hometown heroes like J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado, Baltimore is awash in an orange glow of Orioles Magic. I recently found my own son sound asleep, buried under a heap of blankets that muffled the sounds of Orioles baseball on his clock radio. I have no doubt that were I to unearth the well-traded and much disputed over autographed Eddie Murray headshot, my brother would no doubt remember the Orioles magic we, too, share.
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