By Steve Jones, firstname.lastname@example.org
May 31, 2012
For the past five decades, Gordon Huggins has enjoyed one of the best views in the house.
As an usher for the Baltimore Orioles at Memorial Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he has witnessed six World Series,Cal Ripken Jr.'s record-setting 2,131st consecutive game, and many of the best players in the game's history.
Huggins was recently honored by the Orioles for his 50 years of service to the team.
An April 25 on-field ceremony at Oriole Park was attended by his wife of 48 years, Carol (yes, he's been an Orioles usher longer than he's been married) and their sons, Randy and Keith.
Huggins, who has worked in the lower deck behind first base and now behind home plate at Oriole Park, was truly moved by the moment.
He's still laughing about his ceremonial first pitch to Orioles' reserve catcher Ronny Paulino.
"It was kind of otherworldy to me," said Huggins of the ceremony. "I came out of the tunnel where the umpires come out onto the field.
"I went out on the mound and saw my name briefly on the Jumbotron," he said. "I'd actually practiced throwing that first pitch with my sons out on our front lawn, but I bounced it in. Paulino caught it and gave it to me.
"The next day, (Orioles' Director of Baseball Operations) Dan Duquette called me at the house and congratulated me. I thought that was a really nice gesture on his part. I've been treated very well, and it was a really special night."
As an usher, Huggins helps fans find their seats and keeps the peace when the tension of the game spreads into the stands.
"The first couple of innings are busy, because people are still coming in," Huggins said. "But after that, I can watch the rest of the game. If some fans aren't behaving to our standards, we have to ask them to settle down and remind them of the club's policies.
"It's a family atmosphere, so we have to keep our eye on over drinking and the use of profanity. Fortunately, it doesn't happen too often in my section," he said.
A resident of Eldersburg since 1976, Huggins began working for the team in 1962. He held a summer job at the University of Maryland's pathology department in Baltimore, and learned through his supervisor that the Orioles were looking for ushers.
At the time, the Orioles were marking their ninth season in Baltimore and Huggins was a sophomore at the University of Maryland.
"I always liked baseball, and I got the job," said the Catonsville High graduate. "The first couple of years, I worked sporadically because I was away at college."
Two years after ushering his first game, Huggins graduated from Maryland in 1964 and married Carol. He also began a 30-year career with the Howard County school system, as a biology and earth science teacher at Howard High.
The best years of his Oriole career were just beginning. The year 1964 was a turning point for the franchise, which won 97 games and challenged the eventual American League champion Yankees all season. Huggins was excited about the young Orioles and their best player, third baseman Brooks Robinson.
"I remember that 1964 was a pretty exciting season," Huggins said. "Brooks Robinson stands out as my favorite player of all time."
The Orioles' strong finish in 1964 foreshadowed the most successful period in the franchise's history.
In 1966, when Huggins took his permanent position in the upper deck behind home plate, a young pitching staff that featured Dave McNally and Jim Palmer and a newly acquired outfielder named Frank Robinson led the club to its first world championship.
In Game 4, Robinson's series-deciding homer closed out the Orioles' stunning four-game World Series sweep of the vaunted Los Angeles Dodgers.
"The '66 World Series sticks out in my mind, because it was our first," Huggins recalled. "No one expected us to sweep the Dodgers. Frank Robinson certainly changed the attitude of the team. They had more of a winning attitude after he came here."
In 1969, the Orioles won a club record 109 regular-season games but lost the World Series to the upstart New York Mets in a five-game series. One year later, the Orioles won their second World Series with a five-game dissection of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine".
"The New York Series was really disappointing, because we were favored," Huggins said. "But then in '70, we weren't favored and yet we won it, and did it at home."
In 1971, the club lost a memorable seven-game World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Huggins was a part of two more World Series, another seven-game loss to the Pirates in 1979 and a five-game triumph over the Philadelphia Phillies four years later.
That final World Series winner featured three future Hall of Famers — Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.
"In '83, I remember taking a personal day from teaching to go downtown and watch the parade," Huggins said. "There were thousands of people lining the streets, and the World Series trophy was at City Hall. That was a lot of fun."
But even though the franchise has struggled in the years since, Huggins has seen plenty of unforgettable moments. His most special memory was Oct. 6, 1991, when the Orioles and Detroit Tigers played the final game at Memorial Stadium.
"It wasn't the game so much, but the ceremony afterward," said Huggins, still emotional about that day. "Nobody knew what was going to happen. When all the old players came out and took their positions, it was beautiful. The Orioles have always done ceremonies like that extremely well."
In 1994, Huggins retired from teaching at Glenelg High School. But he stayed active with the Orioles, and also became a volunteer at the National Aquarium. It wasn't long before one of those special baseball nights came along again.
On Sept. 6, 1995, at Oriole Park, Cal Ripken Jr. passed Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played. Huggins was there for when the Oriole shortstop broke what was thought to be an unbreakable record.
"We knew that the number (2,131) was going to change on the warehouse, but nobody knew what was going to happen after that," he said. "Then Cal started his run around the warning track. That was a great evening."
Huggins has watched the careers of six Orioles who earned induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame and will be honored with statues this season at Oriole Park. While the exploits of the Robinsons, Palmer, Ripken, Murray and manager Earl Weaver have impressed him, he also admires many of the opposing players who have come through Baltimore.
"George Brett seemed to always come through in the clutch, back when Kansas City had all those good teams," he said. "Derek Jeter always seems to find a way to get a hit against us. Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox second baseman) and Mariano Rivera (Yankees closer) are in the same category as Jeter. And (Rangers outfielder) Josh Hamilton is a really terrific player.
"One of the problems in my section is keeping the aisles clear from people who constantly want to take pictures of Derek. I'm down there probably dozens of times when the Yankees are in town."
While Huggins was honored with an on-field ceremony, his every day work is what gets him noticed and earns him the respect of fellow Oriole employees.
"Gordon comes to work with a great attitude," said Kevin Cummings, now in his third season as the Orioles' director of Ballpark Operations. "He enjoys the interaction with the fans and wants to make sure that they have a good time, win or lose.
"When I came here, I was stunned to find out that anyone had been here for that long," Cummings said. "He's had to stand in 95-degree heat and rain, and we appreciate what he's doing in an unsung role."
Huggins admits that even after 50 years, he still enjoys his job — and loves working at Oriole Park.
"The park has all the modern conveniences, with much more space than at Memorial Stadium," he said. "It's still so much fun for me."