Jon Meoli and Eduardo Encina talk about the best and worst case scenarios surrounding the future of Manny Machado and the Orioles. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)
The impetus for this letter is a phone conversation with my son a few days ago. “You should know that the Orioles are shopping Manny Machado,” he said. My response: “No I didn’t, but I assumed they would.” Is that what we’ve become, another mill for the haves of baseball? We were once so proud of our farm system and “the Oriole Way,” so proud of our won/loss record, so proud to have the Orioles in our community. We all knew when Dick Hall became a certified public accountant and when Tom Shopay had put in enough time to participate in the retirement system. No, the system wasn’t perfect, but when is it enough or even too much? Will anyone ever say again, no, I have enough, I want to stay in this community? But why? It seems that, in this past year, every time someone wants to dig up an example of how awful it all is, they talk about Baltimore.
So this is, finally, my love letter to my Orioles and to my dad. I grew up loving baseball and, needless to say, the O’s. I was just so very lucky. I grew up watching Brooks and Boog and Frank, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer and too many others to mention. Sorry guys! My first hero was Jim Gentile. I was 5 years old. Chuck Thompson put me to sleep every summer night. Dad ushered for the O’s for years even though we lived some 30 miles from the stadium. My seat in Memorial Stadium, when I could go, was partially obstructed (remember those cement pillars?) in Section 5 right behind third base. I didn’t care. I simply loved being there. I scored my first World Series in 1966 at the age of 10, so yes, I am approaching senior citizen status. Probably the highlight of those years for me were the World Series that Dad ushered in the Presidents’ Box. I don’t think any actual presidents showed up (who cares?), but Joe DiMaggio did. Wow! There was the night we won on Andy Etchebarren’s extra inning home run. Dad called me as soon as he could after the game. He said, “I could hear you yelling all the way down here!” And, night after night, my dad would throw a ball with me. For my 19th birthday, I got a new ball glove. And oh, the newspaper clippings I still have!
Eventually, I went away to school, married and moved away. My Dad is gone, too. But still I love baseball. I take up some space in upstate New York but will never call myself a New Yorker. I just couldn’t. As my children grew and started being involved in sports, I told them that although I loved them dearly there was one thing they could never do while living in the same home with me and that was to become a Yankees fan, and I am pleased to say they have honored my wish. My sons root for the O’s. I hear all the complaints about baseball and the proposed remedies: the game is too slow — we need to speed it up; the game is boring — we need more home runs and fewer pitchers’ duels; children are into other sports like soccer. The truth is, the game is slow. It’s all about knowing your opponent, his weaknesses and strengths, and planning ahead of every pitch. The learning process takes time and a willingness to study the game. And what about the connections between player and town that can only happen with time? That is a slow process as well. But if it is never allowed to happen, players will never care where they play, it’s just a paycheck, and fans will never care who plays, it’s all about winning. We are not people, players and fans, involved in each other’s lives.
Why baseball? Who knows? It’s only a game, right? I have no idea why it evokes such passion in those of us who love the game especially when we all know there are so many things of greater importance going on. But thanks, Orioles, for being such a big part of my life, for giving me so much joy. I will never, ever go through a summer without listening for the crack of bat on ball and seeing it fly over the fence, even if it’s only on the radio.