Abandoned by the Orioles two years earlier, Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium enjoyed the start of a one-year reprieve from baseball obscurity on April 16, 1993, with the minor-league Bowie Baysox opening their inaugural season on 33rd Street.
“Welcome Back Old Friend,” read a hand-lettered sign held aloft by Paul M. Thompson of Parkville, who, on a chilly October afternoon two years earlier, had attended the last Orioles game at Memorial Stadium holding a sign that read, “Goodbye Old Friend.”
“I thought I’d never see baseball back in here, me and a whole lot of other people,” the 26-year-old said.
Thompson was one of 7,210 fans who attended that Baysox home opener, and his thoughts were surely flashing back to that afternoon, 18 months earlier, when the O’s played their last game on this turf. More than 50,000 people packed into Memorial Stadium on Oct. 6, 1991, a sellout crowd. But it was cold and rainy this day, and the threat of getting wet probably kept quite a few fans away.
“I think we could have had another 3,000 in here if the weather had been better,” said Baysox manager Don Buford, lead-off hitter for the great Orioles teams of 1969-1971 and a member of the team’s Hall of Fame.
Fans who stayed away missed a good game. The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Mike Flanagan, who had thrown the final pitch by an Oriole at Memorial Stadium and had retired after the 1992 season following 18 seasons in the big leagues. Jose Mercedes of the Baysox threw the first official pitch against the visiting London Tigers at 7:10 p.m., and Bowie’s T.R. Lewis scored the first run.
The game was close; with both teams getting solo homers in the fourth inning (Bowie’s came from Tim Holland). London went ahead for good with two runs in the sixth, but Bowie almost pulled it out in the ninth. The game ended when Sam Ferretti grounded out with two men on and two out.
The final score was 4-3. (In an example of unfortunate symmetry, the Orioles lost that final game at Memorial Stadium, although by a far-more-lopsided 7-1 score.)
But little of that probably mattered to most of the people in the stands, who were thrilled to be seeing baseball back at Memorial Stadium, where the Orioles had played for 38 seasons. That last game had been heavy on emotion, including a surprise appearance by scores of O’s alumni, who walked onto the field after the game was over. By the time the ceremony was over, 119 current and former Orioles were on the field.
A lot of fans cried that night, and thought they were seeing baseball on 33rd Street for the last time. They were happy to be proved wrong.
“People walked around the [stadium] runways wide-eyed,” Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez wrote, “pondering the field and the blue and green seats as if they were walking through the house where they grew up.”
Said 42-year-old Till Strudwick, who gave up tickets to an O’s game to see the Baysox and walk through the turnstiles at Memorial Stadium for baseball one more time, “This is my home. This is a shrine.”
The Baysox, who had played in Hagerstown the previous year, would finish the 1993 season 72-68, making the Eastern League playoffs but losing in the first round. The team moved into their permanent home in Bowie the following year, after averaging about 1,400 fans per game during their only season in Baltimore.
And Memorial Stadium, while finished with baseball after the Baysox left, wasn’t quite dead yet. The Canadian Football League’s expansion Baltimore Stallions called the stadium home for two seasons, 1994 and 1995, even winning the league championship in its second and final year. And when the NFL’s Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens, they played their first two seasons on 33rd Street, before moving to Ravens Stadium (now M&T Bank Stadium) for the 1998 season.