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Baseball opening day is a time of renewal and hope. Baltimore could really use that right now.

The stands at Memorial Stadium during Orioles games were once the place Baltimoreans of all races and classes came together. We need that again.
The stands at Memorial Stadium during Orioles games were once the place Baltimoreans of all races and classes came together. We need that again. (McCardell / Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

If a city ever needed to immerse itself in the renewal and possibility that accompanies the springtime arrival of baseball's opening day, it is Baltimore in 2018. There is no denying that we are a community under a cloud, and it is something that is about far more than just changing the narrative. There is a disquieting feeling that we are not safe on our own streets. It is a perception not only driven by the media's continued reporting of the bad, but one that also evidences itself in subtle realities — from an office building adding its own security force to protect its tenants, to finding a favorite eating establishment no longer drawing patrons from the counties, to the once teaming and now empty stretches of the harbor promenade. And it is something that we must confront together or it will continue to diminish us.

There was once a place where this town routinely came together, joined by a shared passion for the Baltimore Orioles and appreciation for the opportunity to witness in person the special skills and graceful athleticism so unique to Major League Baseball. In Memorial Stadium, certain sections were designated as "general admission." There were no seat numbers. You chose your location on a first come, first served basis. In addition to the last sections of the upper deck horseshoe, it included four sections each in the left and right field portions of the lower deck above the high green outfield walls, running from just inside the foul poles and out to the bleachers. Early arrival afforded you an opportunity sit in the first section closest to the infield and immediately adjacent to the last section of lower reserved seats.

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Orioles beat writers Eduardo Encina and Jon Meoli wrap up team moves and progress from 2018 Spring Training in Sarasota, Florida. (Baltimore Sun video)

We would commence our journey to 33rd Street intent on arriving as soon as the gates opened so that we could rush in to claim our place. We had a strong preference for left field, because it allowed us to look down at the back of Brooks Robinson, our hero and miracle worker at third base. His keen positioning, uncanny first move to the ball and magical glove were on full display for a price that would not buy you a bottled water today. It was also a great location to snag batting practice home runs, although you had to stay very alert. I still remember the sound of one line drive rocket as it whizzed past my ear, providence having saved my momentarily inattentive self from serious injury.

Brooks Robinson's expression is matched by his son as they catch at Memorial Stadium before the Orioles contest.
Brooks Robinson's expression is matched by his son as they catch at Memorial Stadium before the Orioles contest. (Paul Hutchins / Baltimore Sun file photo)

We mixed with different people at every game. People from all neighborhoods, and of all ages, religions and backgrounds. In the days when Baltimore had only recently desegregated its schools, white flight was in full bloom, and amusement parks, swimming pools and tennis courts were still not fully integrated, people from all walks of life came together in general admission to share complaints about the umpiring or the quality of that day's hot dog bun. There is, in the pace of baseball, time for reflection and discussion during the games natural pauses. In general admission, those moments were filled by conversation, observation and debate among diverse lives that might otherwise never cross paths. It was the side show to the game on the field, and it played out across boundaries we seem to rarely breach in these current days of polarization and division. And we shared the common bond of being part of a city that had always seemed to feel itself the underdog fighting for respect and recognition in the American League and it the eyes of the nation.

Fifty years ago, we came together there for an opening day against the backdrop of a city that had just exploded in frustration following the assignation of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. We headed to the game past the smoldering rubble of damaged storefronts that had been engulfed in a war zone of riots and fire bombings played out against the imposition of a general curfew. We watched and talked baseball and embraced the Orioles together. Today we are challenged to come together again in the face of a never ending cycle of gun violence; the grip that the drug trade has over whole neighborhoods; astronomical homicide rates that have become routine; the demonstration of corruption among those entrusted to protect us — a contagion of lawlessness that has begun to wear away a most basic freedom. The fundamental freedom to be without fear in one's hometown. That pall has seemingly started to cloud over all of the good that remarkably rose up following the ashes of 1968 — the gleaming harbor developments stretching from Locust Point to Canton; the great educational and medical institutions and museums; the superb hotel and restaurant scene; the good and decent people that have, for generations, made this a special place to live.

Opening day at Memorial Stadium in 1958. Three hits each by Gus Triandos (including a 410-foot home run) and Brooks Robinson carry the Orioles who, for the first time since returning to the American League in 1954, open the season at home.
Opening day at Memorial Stadium in 1958. Three hits each by Gus Triandos (including a 410-foot home run) and Brooks Robinson carry the Orioles who, for the first time since returning to the American League in 1954, open the season at home. (BALTIMORE SUN)

There are no longer general admission sections along the outfield at Orioles games, but there is a general admission opportunity available to the conversations we should be having with each other about what kind of city we want to be. And that dialogue would benefit from tapping into the common bond that once existed among the patrons of general admission, understanding that, like our baseball team, we are an underdog that needs to develop team chemistry and determined leadership in order to challenge the forces that keep us down. As our baseball history has taught us, it is in our genes to be inspired by the desire to overcome our disadvantages and prove the prognosticators wrong. We just need to find a place to come together.

Raymond Daniel Burke, a Baltimore native, is a shareholder in a downtown law firm. His email is rdburke27@gmail.com.

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