The most spirited baseball played in Baltimore this season took place yesterday.
It had nothing to do with the Orioles. This was high school ball: Calvert Hall vs. McDonogh for the championship of the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference. If you were there, you can testify to the excitement it generated.
The game was played at a neutral site, Gilman School, on a perfect afternoon for a ballgame. A crowd of about 1,000 -- or 45,000 less than attend Orioles home games -- was treated to a game of schoolboy sports as they should be.
An hour before game time, the scouts started to arrive, led by Herb Gately, an Orioles bird dog.
"You got two great, young pitchers in this game," Gately said. "You got Brian Matz for Calvert Hall, and Kenny Cloude for McDonogh."
"Which one is the better prospect?" Gately was asked.
"Matz is a left-hander," Gately said. "Depends on which you like. Take your pick."
As it turned out, Matz pitched for Calvert Hall, though Cloude did not take the mound for McDonogh. Matz went the whole seven innings and gave up only two hits in a 3-2 win over defending champ McDonogh. Amazingly, he did it with only two days' rest after going seven innings and beating McDonogh, 3-1, last Friday at Memorial Stadium.
"I feel tired," Matz said after the game, "but my arm's not sore. I told Coach [Joe] Binder today that I'd be able to pitch."
"Brian is a gutty competitor," said Binder, who has been coaching the Cardinals for 14 years. "I take my hat off to McDonogh. They have a good club and they did a great job to come this far.
"But I think the headline should say, 'Matz leads Calvert Hall to championship.' "
Matz, who will attend Clemson in the fall on a full baseball scholarship, is one of those not-so-rare high school ballplayers who is his team's best pitcher and hitter. He had one hit yesterday and batted .393 for the season.
Matz's father, Gary Matz, was an outstanding football and baseball player at Loyola High who went on to play football at Boston College. The youngster's grandfather, Joe Wyatt, was a star at Calvert Hall in the late '30s.
One of the intriguing things about high school sports is the continuity, the threads that run from one generation to another, the families that attend the same school decade after decade.
"Brian Matz," said Chuck Burke, a spectator who is one of the most notable threads on the scholastic scene, "is the best-looking hitter I've seen around here since Joe Mellendick."
Mellendick graduated from Loyola High in 1936. He went on to play at Georgetown and with the International League Orioles.
Matz was the individual hero, all right. But a hero in defeat for McDonogh was sophomore Mike Ginsberg, who stepped up and pitched when Cloude, who threw 120 pitches last Friday, was deemed not rested enough. Ginsberg held the Hall to five hits.
You have to admire both Calvert Hall, which finished with a record of 21-4, and McDonogh, which is 19-4 and tomorrow goes into the Maryland Private and Parochial high school tournament.
Unless you've followed high baseball closely, it may come as a surprise to learn that McDonogh is now a power. This has become especially true in the six years Al Poklemba has coached the team.
"There's a lot of Sheriff Fowble in my style," Poklemba says. (Fowble, who died in 1991, was a local coach and scout for nearly a half-century; Poklemba played for him with Gordon's Stores.)
"I'm loud like Sheriff," Poklemba says. "He used to tell me, 'I'm not hollering at you. I'm hollering for you.' That's what I tell our players."
Poklemba, who played baseball at Kenwood High and Frostburg State, will have another good team next year, although Cloude will be pitching at the University of Richmond. Of McDonogh's 19 players, only four are seniors.
I was struck by the spirit of both players and spectators. At one point Bill Spencer, who once coached ex-Oriole Dave Johnson in amateur ball, turned to me and said, "This crowd is getting me pumped and I'm not even involved in the game."
"Calvert Hall has more life than the Orioles," I said to a Calvert Hall dad.
"A funeral home has more life than the Orioles," he said.
When Calvert Hall third baseman Larry Marino caught Ginsberg's line drive for the final out of the game, the winners piled on Matz at the mound.
For the first time this season, I was reminded of what Bill Veeck always said about baseball: "It's supposed to be fun."