A time lapse look at Oriole Park on Opening Day 2016. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)
My friend Ted and I met as graduate students at Johns Hopkins, auditorium back-row sitters who came early to class to get prized seats out of the professor’s range of view. While staring forward as long statistical equations slowly filled the big chalkboard on the front stage, Ted and I sparred about sports.
He was from Pittsburgh, and I am a native Baltimorean, so we had a lot to talk trash about. The Pittsburgh Steelers, with future hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris in their line-up, beat the Baltimore Colts that school year, in December of 1978. The Baltimore Colts were 5 -11 that season and the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl. I feigned interest in probability theory while Ted prattled on about his teams. As the weather got warmer and the days longer, he moved on to baseball talk, and since his Pirates were in the National League, it was a less rancorous topic.
When home Opening Day rolled around in the spring of 1979, one of our professors gave us tickets, and Ted graciously adopted the Orioles as his American League team. Lucky us, we had an ironclad excuse to skip class. That April morning, we slipped out of school, parked my old white Mustang by the Charles Village rowhouse I lived in, and joined the orange-clad throngs walking down 33rd Street to Memorial Stadium in the chilly, but sunny, 48-degree weather.
Peanuts in hand, beer man at the ready, we reveled in our good fortune to have field box seats as we watched the Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox 5-3, with the Orioles dream team on the field. We had the thrill of seeing Orioles greats like Al Bumbry, Mark Belanger, Eddie Murray, Ken Singleton and Rick Dempsey play, and Jim Palmer pitch. The next year, the free tickets came our way again, and again we headed out to the home opener against the Kansas City Royals. We won 12-2, with Jim Palmer again pitching and more iconic Orioles on the field.
With this two-game opener streak underway, the next year we decided we had to go to the game, and then we went the next year and the year after that. After that, the streak took on a life of its own. It was an annual reunion, a chance to get caught up on family news and gossip, and we even watch the game. Over the cheering stadium crowds you might now hear the strains of Sunrise Sunset as we wax rhapsodic about our 40 years of opening days together, but we didn’t really keep track of it, and we didn’t want to jinx it either. We just enjoy the moment. We don’t have a scrapbook, blog or Instagram account chronicling our 40 year friendship or the team’s ups and downs. We do love to brag that we that we were at Cal’s first opening day his rookie year, 1982, when he hit a home run in his first at bat, and that we outlasted Cal Ripken’s streak.
Our game routine has endured. We wait and hope for a free ticket offer, and, if we get desperate, we look for someone more desperate to get rid of their seats at a price we can afford. We block out our schedules so there are no work or family conflicts. The impending birth of my second child in 1992 gave us a scare, as his due date was dangerously close to opening day, the inaugural Camden Yards game. Fortunately, he waited until a couple of days later.
For many years it was just the two of us; we occasionally allowed some of his four kids and my two to join us. We say we are training them to bring us when we can no longer make it on our own — not for another 25 to 30 years, I hope. As the Iron Man and Woman of Opening Day, we are hoping to throw out the first pitch when we hit 50 years and take a victory lap around the stadium.
Then we’ll come back for 51, and hope some good seats come our way.