They sat through the cold, the gray and the wet, when the metal seats of Memorial Stadium offered no more comfort than slabs of ice. They sweated through the heat of summer, squinting in faint exhaustion as lazy fly balls disappeared into a merciless sun.
But ask them now about their memories, and Memorial Stadium's most faithful fans -- the longtime season-ticket holders -- suddenly recall everything bathed in the golden light of late afternoon.
First they speak fondly of the classic moments everyone seems to remember: The young Brooks Robinson frolicking like a boy chasing butterflies, leaping for joy at the final out of the '66 World Series. Raymond Berry in brilliant Colts blue, stretching his body impossibly, yet still dragging his tiptoes across the end zone corner while clutching a Johnny Unitas pass. A tired, rumpled Earl Weaver, shuffling up from the dugout shadows to doff his cap to the roars of 50,000, and then, yes, crying, on an October day when the Orioles said goodbye to both a pennant and a manager.
But for all their greatness, those moments owe some of their staying power to film and videotape, and will survive long after the stadium beams have been pounded to scrap.
The same cannot be said of the more personal memories that will survive only in the mind's eye. No one, for instance, will ever log an archival reference to describe the strange mixture of smells that, for Richard Clark, still summons up the pleasant afterglow of a Colts Sunday. Nor is there any videotape around that will replay an angry young Yankee named Lou Piniella flipping up his middle finger at a startled Neal Hoffman, who was then in his teens, sitting behind the dugout. And no one but Cheryl Clements is likely to remember the time she looked onto the field and twice "called the shot" for two home runs by non-slugger Rick Dempsey in the same game.
For them and others among the most faithful, the desertion of the stadium means deserting part of their past, and Clements may have summed up the feeling best: "I've been going there for so long that I feel like part of my life will die when the Orioles go to the new stadium."
She should know. Not only has she held tickets for 18 years, but she also lives in a stone home just beyond the center-field parking lot. She and her husband moved there in 1960, partly because they wanted to be close to the stadium.
So, even on nights when they stayed home from the game, the game came to them. There was the other-worldly spillover of luminescence, pooling in the yards and alleys of their neighborhood like a comforting night light. There was the murmur and roar of the crowd, washing over the walls and down Yolando Street so often that she and her husband learned to read its every message.
Hearing some of the louder outbursts, her husband would leap to his feet. "He would jump up and say, 'That's a home run, turn on the radio!' and he was always right."
Her husband died last year, taking some of those memories with him. Their son and daughter, born and raised in the house, have both gotten married and moved away. Now the stadium is closing down.
But many moments remain.
There was Dempsey's game with the two home runs, which she really did predict, even if it happened mostly as an optimistic answer to a skeptical fan sitting nearby. "This man said, 'Oh, what's Dempsey going to do?' His tone suggested that he figured Dempsey would ground out weakly, or worse. "So I said, 'Oh, he's going to hit a home run.' "
Dempsey swung and connected. It was outta there.
The skeptic figured it was a lucky break, then Dempsey came back to the plate. "Well, he might as well hit another one," she said, blithely predicting an event about as likely as the Orioles offering free season tickets.
Dempsey obliged and hit another one.
But even more than those moments she remembers the faces around her at the park, her neighbors in the community of the everyday fan. "There were people who, even if the Orioles weren't playing good, would still be fun to talk to. Not the one-timers, but the people that were there a lot. You get to know certain faces, and you have a rapport. Some of the ushers, too. You get to feel like friends." After a while, she said, going to the stadium became like visiting "a friend's home."
As for the new ballpark, she's all against it, and she's decided not to order season tickets, concluding, "The new place will be strange and cold."
* For Richard Clark, 37, there are also many Orioles memories from the stadium. But his favorite moments are all about the Colts, the team he grew up with.
He was born the same year the stadium opened, and when he was a kid he went to every Colts game from as far back as he can remember. He sat on the home side near the closed end of the stadium, down in the section known as Orrsville, for all the touchdown catches made near there by Jimmy Orr. Through luck and some ticket upgrades, he eventually ended up in the mezzanine, near the 40-yard line.
Back when the NFL had 14 teams, Clark was a kid obsessed with football in general and the Colts in particular.
How obsessed? He collected those goofy bobbing-head dolls, one for each team in the league, and on Mondays he would line them up on a shelf in his bedroom in order of the league standings. The Green Bay Packers doll still has a hole in its head from the time he hurled it across the room after the Packers beat the Colts. In '64, when the Browns shut out the Colts in the championship game, he cried.
Now he's chief executive officer of Marcor Environmental, but he's not too old to remember how strong his emotions ran.
Memorial Stadium? "I remember it as cold, noisy, an absolute madhouse just full of Colts loyalists," he said.
There were the passes by Unitas, the catches by Berry, the gallops by Tom Matte and Lenny Moore. Then there was one of the oddest moments of all, still remembered by many, but remembered in perhaps greater detail by Clark because of a lucky break.
He happened to be looking through binoculars down toward the end zone, and directly in his field of vision came a fan, clambering over the fence and onto the field. The fan moved toward the ball, scooped it up and began to run, though a bit unsteadily. Then along came Colts linebacker Mike Curtis, pursuing the man as if he were a well-padded opponent cruising downfield for the game-winning score.
Curtis caught him, then lowered the boom. Crunch. "He threw a shoulder into the guy," Clark said. "The ball popped loose, and this guy sort of cowered off the field. . . . I saw the whole thing like I had an isolated camera on it."
But one of his most intriguing personal recollections is the post-game smell of the parking lot. It still comes to mind as if it were emanating from the next room; an odd brew of bus exhaust, cigar smoke and stale beer, blended with the clean sharpness of cold afternoon. The smell is a happy one, because those post-game strolls toward home in those days -- before some guy named Irsay owned the team -- almost invariably came after another Colts victory. For at least another week, each of the bobbing-head dolls would be safe from his wrath.
When the Colts left town, Clark joined many football fans in switching his passions to the Orioles. And now he sits in the second row between first base and the outfield wall, often attending games with his 8-year-old son, Ritchie.
As they walk toward the ballpark these days, Clark points high to the stadium's light standards as soon as they first peep into view, and tells his son of the old days. "We'll continue to go to games in the new stadium, of course," he said. "But Memorial Stadium is really where I learned professional sports."
* Neal Hoffman, 48, can say the same thing. He began going to games about the time his dad, Ralph Hoffman, first got season tickets in 1956. Today they sit where they have sat for years, on the first row behind the dugout on the first-base side.
When he was a kid, Neal would get after his dad to take him to the stadium early, in time to watch batting practice and wrangle autographs from the players. Sometimes a player in a good mood might even roll a spare ball to him across the dugout roof.
Today he wonders how his father had the time. "My father practices law, and I've been practicing now for 21 years, and now I know how hard it must have been for him to get away so early."
His father remembers now that, yes, it was hard getting away early, but worth the effort. "You forgot all about your desk piled up with work when you arrived at the ballpark," he said. "And maybe you had a hot dog and a drink. It was a very relaxing atmosphere."
You could also talk to the players if you went early enough, catching them when their guard was down and they weren't locked in the concentration of the game.
But once the game got going, the tension could turn the players nasty. When a fan behind the younger Hoffman hooted something at Yankee Lou Piniella, he remembers that Piniella turned quickly and, thinking that Hoffman had yelled the remark, flipped him an obscene gesture with his middle finger.
Then there was the player with the Minnesota Twins, whose name Hoffman can't quite remember, who in a fit of temper sailed his batting helmet into the stands, striking a pregnant woman.
* For season-ticket holder Steve Attman, now vice president of Acme Paper Co., Memorial Stadium conjures up memories of sitting at his desk at school on the morning of Opening Day, fidgeting and waiting for the intercom call from the principal's office, usually shortly after lunch, that would mean he was going to the game.
He remembers '66, the year of the first World Series victory, when the sound of his record, "Pennant Fever," would play all through the house. "The place is synonymous with a lot of good times," he said of the stadium.
But even with all his fond memories, Attman is not among those who are bitter, or even particularly sad about the move to the new stadium. He looks at the diagrams and models of the new park and likes what he sees. "I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "You've got to keep moving on."
Still, he has found himself doing things this season that he has never done before. He sometimes arrives for night games as early as 5:30 p.m., settling down to watch the casual grace of ballplayers taking batting practice. The stands are so empty and quiet then you can hear some of the chatter around the batting cage. The crack of the bat is louder, sharper, not swallowed by the noise of the crowd.
Why go so early? "I don't know," he said. "Maybe because it's the last year, and I want to soak it all in."
He paused, weighing his feelings on what the big building means to him and to others who grew up coming and going to its games. "It will stay with you forever," he said. "It's part of your youth."