If there's any joy in Baltimore this week, it comes from baseball and the Orioles. With this frustrating city having slipped into another cycle of summer shootings — one of them ending the life of a 3-year-old girl — I guess we turn to baseball for communal relief from all that's awful, all that makes us angry and weary.
Having the Orioles in first place helps.
And, further, it helps to hear a pleasant fellow named Mike Cataneo tell why his father bought four season tickets to Orioles games 60 years ago, for the team's inaugural season here. It wasn't only because he wanted to schmooze with his customers. There was more to it.
The elder Cataneo, known as "Big Mike," certainly was a baseball fan. Three years before Baltimore joined Major League Baseball, he had taken his son to Yankee Stadium to see the great DiMaggio in his final season. And, of course, Big Mike was excited that a group of businessmen had managed to move the hapless Browns from St. Louis to Baltimore in 1954.
But he also saw money spent on the Orioles as a civic investment.
"I always tell people that my father had a sixth-grade education, but he had a Ph.D. in common sense," says Mike Cataneo, who is 75 and still a season-ticket holder. "And he had a sense of responsibility to his city. He cared very much about Baltimore, and he thought buying the season tickets to the Orioles would be a good thing for the city."
The Cataneos had a family business, Cataneo Line Services, in Baltimore's busy port, and Big Mike certainly scored points with shipping agents and other customers by sharing his tickets to box seats near the Orioles dugout at Memorial Stadium.
But he was a local businessman, rooted in the waterfront, and Big Mike believed baseball would be good for the regional economy and lift the community's spirits in spring and summer, if not always in fall.
Who can say he was wrong to think that?
His son is one of a rare bunch — holders of season tickets every year since 1954.
"There are 29 accounts that have been with us for all 60 seasons," reports Jeff Lantz, the Orioles' manager of media relations. And all but three will be represented Friday night when the team salutes its longtime customers during a pregame ceremony at Camden Yards. It's part of the Orioles' 60th anniversary commemorations.
Mike Cataneo ran the family business, later renamed Cataneo Inc., until 1993. But he's kept Big Mike's season tickets all these years, including the last 22 in Camden Yards.
His favorite moments: 1958, when the All-Star Game came to Memorial Stadium and he got to see Willie Mays, among others; and 1966, when the Orioles, led by Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson, won the World Series, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games.
"The biggest disappointment was 1969, when the Orioles lost the Series to the New York Mets," he says. "But I was there for just about all the big events — Brooks' last game, when Cal [Ripken] broke Lou Gehrig's [consecutive games] record. All the World Series games ... "
Of course, the Orioles have not been to the World Series since 1983. Cataneo says he never thought about letting the season tickets go even when the team suffered through 14 losing seasons. "That never occurred to me," he says.
Nathan Goldberg held on through the good and bad, too. At 95, he's among the oldest members of the 60-year club.
His father, Harry A. Goldberg, was an electrical contractor who, starting in 1916 — and just four years after his graduation from Polytechnic Institute — built a business that helped Baltimoreans convert from gas light to electricity.
He purchased six season tickets in 1954. "Third and fourth rows behind the visitors' dugout," says Nathan Goldberg, noting that, after some negotiations with the Orioles in 1992, his family's seats in Oriole Park ended up being comparable to those in Memorial Stadium in every way but in price. "I think my father only paid about $600 for a season ticket back then."
Something comparable nowadays costs more than $4,000.
Nathan Goldberg and his brother, Paul, ran the family business for five decades after World War II. Their father, Harry, died five days short of his 99th birthday in the 1980s. The family business closed in 1996. Paul Goldberg died eight years ago. But Nathan Goldberg kept the Orioles tickets in the family.
His most memorable moment: same as Cataneo's — the '66 world championship.
The change that most annoys him: fans who chronically arrive two or three innings late for games.
Nathan Goldberg doesn't get to as many games as he used to, but don't worry, he'll be on time Friday night with his wife of 73 years, Lucille. They'll both attend the ceremony, then watch the Orioles-Cardinals game from the same box seats they've had all these years. Says he: "It's been a pretty good ride."
Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.