Marking time and life's milestones with the Orioles

One of the things I like about baseball — and there are a lot of things to like, especially when the Orioles reach the American League Championship Series — is the way it marks time. You don't have to be a stats freak to remember the milestones. When your team is alive in October, the year of that happy development registers forever.

In the Barry Levinson-directed film adaptation of Bernard Malamud's "The Natural," the fictional slugger Roy Hobbs shatters the glass clock in center field with a line-drive home run. That is to say: Baseball will never be ruled by time.

It has no clock.

But it is useful as one.

Marking time by baseball certainly beats doing so by wars, assassinations and plagues.

You ask Baltimoreans who've been around a while, they'll tell you: 1966, 1970, 1983 — years the Orioles won a World Series. Then there's 1969, the year they lost to the Mets. (OMG, the Mets!) And 1971, the year they lost to the Pirates. Ditto 1979.

I'll throw in 1989, the Why Not? season. There's 1991 and the last pitch at Memorial Stadium, and 1995, the year Cal became the Iron Man. There were playoffs in '96 and '97, the last time the Orioles went to the ALCS.

Baseball provides a baseline for memory.

Remember the home team's big years and you remember where you were in life — whether you were a kid or a parent, dating or married, employed or going to school. You remember faces and voices. You remember who sat next to you.

All the losing that followed the Orioles' last ALCS — 14 consecutive seasons in the wilderness — now seems condensed into a gray block of time, marked on this end by three seasons of sun.

Let me introduce Margaret Thompson Geeson, 86 years old, and an Orioles fan from way back.

A soda fountain manager for the old Read's drugstore chain, she attended games of the old International League Orioles, who played in old Oriole Park, which burned down in 1944.

When the St. Louis Browns moved here to become the Baltimore Orioles of the American League in 1954, Margaret became instantly devoted. All of her life passages seem to have some connection to the Orioles.

She took the guy who became her husband on dates to Memorial Stadium. She introduced her daughters to baseball and taught them how to keep score during games. One of them, Barb, pleased her mother by asking to attend an Orioles game instead of having a party with cake at home for her first communion.

Margaret was there when the Orioles took the '66 World Series in four games straight from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Her sister Ann danced atop a dugout and tooted a bugle.

I got all this from Margaret's daughter, Linda Yurche, who became an equally devoted Orioles fan, part of the Wild Bill Hagy rowdies of Section 34.

She and her mother went to Cooperstown for Brooks Robinson's induction into the Hall of Fame in 1983.

They were in Memorial Stadium for the final games there, in October 1991.

"So much of our lives, and especially of my mom's life, had been spent cheering the O's in that ballpark," Yurche says. "She was there the day it opened, she was there the day it closed."

Margaret was in Camden Yards for Oriole Park's first Opening Day. She was there when Cal Ripken Jr. set the consecutive-game record. She went back to Cooperstown for Eddie Murray's induction.

"Through all the good years and especially all the terrible ones, Mom's love for the Orioles has never wavered, not for one minute," Yurche says. "We still try to take her to an occasional game, but at 86, she relies heavily on a cane to get around and is content just watching from home. She never misses a game on the radio or TV. I call her every morning, and our No. 1 topic of conversation is the O's. She is a huge fan of Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis and all the surprise heroes the O's seem to find to keep winning."

Two years ago, when the Orioles made the playoffs for the first time in the 21st century, Margaret smiled for days. "I never thought I'd live to see my Orioles have a winning team again," she said.

And here we are, back in the ALCS, 2014.

Yurche wrote Orioles manager Buck Showalter a letter.

"Thanks," it said, "for helping a shy 86-year-old forget, at least for a bit, the aches and pains of age and how much she misses my dad and the 10 of her 11 siblings who have already left us. Imagine what a World Series would mean to my mom, our family and the thousands of others like us who have been there all along and kept the faith, sharing good times and bad ones. We'll all be cheering for you all the way — win or lose."

And marking another good year on the journey.

drodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays. Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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