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For legendary Oriole Al Bumbry, memories stay alive at Timonium shop

Towson Times
Ex-Orioles star Al Bumbry owns Timonium memorabilia store with friend

While some dedicated baseball fans consider the festivities surrounding the Baltimore Orioles Opening Day as something close to a civic holiday in Charm City and its environs, the afternoon full of pageantry, a first pitch and a packed house at Oriole Park at Camden Yards is not for everyone.

Take, for instance, Al Bumbry, a member of the team for 13 of his 14 years in the major leagues and not someone who waxes poetic about the annual rite of spring, which this year is April 4 at Camden Yards.

For the Lutherville resident's tastes, there were just too many distractions to completely enjoy Opening Day.

"I couldn't even tell you how many of them I played in," said Bumbry, nicknamed "The Bee," who first joined the Orioles in late 1972 and was the American League Rookie of the Year a year later. "I wasn't really a fan of Opening Day, because there were a lot of pre-game requests [from the media] to deal with. And it was a given that it was going to be cold. There was a lot of waiting around, too, and I was always chomping at the bit to get the season started."

Bumbry is co-owner, with Robin "Robbie" Davis Sr., of Robbie's First Base, a shop that specializes in sports memorabilia, on West Ridgely Road, in Timonium. Bumbry and Davis Sr. have been in business at the site for 26 years.

Just as Bumbry — who played all three outfield positions in 14 seasons in the majors and stole 254 bases while displaying a modest power stroke (54 career home runs) — was versatile on the field, he and Davis provide a variety of services for their customers.

The store offers music, movie and sports memorabilia, including custom framing and display cases for treasured keepsakes. In addition, part of the business features private hitting instruction from Bumbry for youth league players up through college-age athletes.

Robbie's First Base began life as a store offering postal services — services it still provides — though over the years, the shop has moved toward specializing in sports memorabilia.

"We started the business as a postal store," Davis Sr. said. "Now 70 percent of our business is sports related."

Avid memorabilia collector and former Orioles television announcer Ted Patterson uses Robbie's First Base to ship items that need special care. Besides using a company that understands the memorabilia business, Patterson likes the store's atmosphere, he said.

"It's a down-home type of place," Patterson said. "And you can go in there and see a great major leaguer."

The Anneslie resident was, of course, referring to Bumbry.

A different path

Bumbry's unusual path to the major leagues, not arriving until 1972 at age 25, after a full tour of duty in Vietnam as a highly decorated infantry officer, is, in and of itself, a remarkable story.

Bumbry earned the Bronze Star for heroism during the war, was honorably discharged and then quickly began his ascent through the Orioles' minor league system by hitting .336 for Aberdeen of the Northern League.

Before his military service, Bumbry had been taken by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 1968 draft. He hit a woeful .178 in his rookie campaign in the minors, he said.

After the war, though, he was on the fast track to stardom.

"I think it had a lot to do with maturity," Bumbry said. "I was responsible for the lives of 45 men [in Vietnam], and I only lost one. People ask me all the time how I did it, and I say I don't know. It's amazing how fast you grow up after something like that. When I got back, it was just baseball. It took me only a year and a half to reach the majors. The pressure was off, and I was in a hurry because I thought I had fallen off the Orioles' radar. The way I looked at it, there were pitches I could hit. And if you don't miss the ones you can hit, you'll be OK."

Davis Sr. said that he first became acquainted with Bumbry when he hired Bumbry to help him promote two new-car dealerships he formerly owned in Catonsville, All-Star Dodge and All-Star Chevrolet.

He and Bumbry, though, turned their friendship into a business relationship in 1989 — a year in which the Orioles came within two games of winning the American League East Division title just a year after opening the season with 21 consecutive losses — when they opened the Timonium store.

"Timonium has not changed," Davis Sr. said. "Most of the professional athletes lived in the Towson-Timonium area, and they still do. Cal [Ripken] lives close by, Brooks [Robinson] was out here and Al lives right around the corner."

Despite Bumbry's views, Robbie's son, Robin Davis Jr., said that he will continue a 20-year tradition of attending Opening Day.

Davis Jr. played high school baseball at Glenelg High School, in Howard County, the Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville, and Palm Beach Atlantic University, in Florida, before earning a tryout with the Milwaukee Brewers.

"It's quiet around here around Opening Day because our customers want to be at the game," said Davis Jr., who works full-time at the store. "People wait for Opening Day, and after that is when we start getting busy."

In addition to his duties at the store, Bumbry still makes appearances for the Orioles, signing autographs, helping with youth clinics and participating in a fantasy baseball camp.

Davis Sr. said that his co-owner is perfect for the job.

"He's the kind of guy who will do whatever you ask," he said. "That's what forged our relationship."

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