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The Knothole Gang stopped hooking in


ORIOLE Park at Camden Yards has been praised nationally for combining state-of-the-art conveniences with an old-time look. It has its high-tech features, yes, but it's painted ballpark green, the seats are close to the field and you get a splendid view of the Baltimore skyline in the bargain.

But one thing is missing.

The Knothole Gang.

In the 1930 season, admission to the old Oriole Park was 25 cents -- unacceptable in Depression days. And the high prices did keep the kids out of the park -- for a while. Then about midseason, the management noticed a strange phenomenon: There were more kids in the stands than had come through the turnstiles.

Everyone knew what was going on. Kids had been sneaking into baseball games since the beginning of kids. We used to call it "hooking in." After Oriole Park burned down, the art was further perfected at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street.

And try as management would, it couldn't stop the hooking in. No sooner would it plug one leak than the kids would find another way.

So the Orioles made a wise decision. If we can't lick 'em, they decided, let's join 'em. They said in effect, "Look, if you guys stop this hooking-in stuff, we'll let you into certain games free. You can walk in the park like law-abiding young ladies and gentlemen."

Thus was born the Knothole Gang -- named for the (mythical?) hole in the fence through which kids used to watch games. Kids from 10 to 15 years old all over Baltimore got membership cards, and the first game for the Knotholers was July 30, 1930.

More than 1,000 of us showed up that day for the game between the Orioles and the Newark Bears. And there was plenty to cheer about. The Orioles' mighty Joe Hauser, who was to hit 63 homers that year (an International League record that still stands), went 1 for 4 -- a two-bagger. The O's won, 13-6.

There were another 10 or so Knothole games that season, and the gang lasted into the mid-1940s.

Maybe kids today don't need a Knothole Gang. The ones we see at Camden Yards appear well-heeled, and they eat enough overpriced stadium food to satisfy the Sixth Army. Good thing, too. Kids may be ingenious at hooking in, but this old Knothole Gang member has checked out the new Oriole Park. Take it from me: You can't hook into this joint with a can opener.

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