(Warning: this has less to do with Spark than my own mental state. Disclaimers aside, here goes... )
Rather than wallow in sorrow over Debbie Downer occurrences (the looming end of summer and the passing of Neil Armstrong, who was a childhood hero of mine to be certain), I’m accentuating the positive. That is the Sparky way, is it not?
I grew up an ardent, avid, passionate (some would say obsessed) baseball fan. The 60s and 70s were good times to be a baseball fan in the Baltimore area – that was the Golden Age of the Orioles to be certain. Broadly we took winning for granted; losing was uncommon and inexplicable.
Whether we finished with a World Championship or not, we just knew we possessed the best team in all of baseball. Statistics – “w’s” and “l’s” proved it, generally over the period 1960-85. By the time I hit adulthood, I had amassed quite a large collection of World Series tickets from games I actually attended and seats in which I actually sat. Of course, I took it all for granted.
Many of these experiences and recollections were the basis of a lifetime of positive memories associated with baseball and my Dad. He gave me my own radio for my own room for my birthday in perhaps 1965, at the age of four. We would listen to spring training games from Florida. By the time the season started, I knew all of the names of all of the players on the Orioles, and many of the opposing stars on other teams.
Though I attended the winning game of the ’66 Series, being five years old my recollection (other than of the clown giving away balloons shaped as animals and of the cardboard, popcorn-filled megaphone) are fuzzy at best. I do remember the billboard that one could see from the Jones Falls Expressway headed into the City later that week: “Would You Believe Four Straight!” We had swept the Koufax and Drysdale Dodgers in four!
The real dawn of my baseball fandom was at the end of the following season. Injuries and cockiness had doomed our championship defense but the American League pennant race (one league, no divisions) was one for the ages. Dad would make breakfast in our house on Sunday mornings, and on that last Sunday of September, French toast (swimming in real maple syrup – ugh!) was on the menu. Dad sliced my piece into quarters. He named each of them “Boston”, “Minnesota” , “Detroit” and “Chicago.”
By sliding those quarters around through their ocean of syrup, he proceeded to patiently illustrate the two-way and three-way ties and tie-breaker playoffs that still were possible going into that last day of the regular season. I was hooked! (on the syrup too – as all of you know…). I woke up the next day and asked Dad what had happened (one of the west-coast double-headers had concluded after my bedtime). He said “A man called Yaz…”. Baseball fans, you know that Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox went 7 for 8 in their double-header and propelled Boston to their “Impossible Dream” World Series…
About 16 years later, Dad was ill (he had both a stroke and a heart attack in 1980) and the Orioles were headed for the postseason. I had not gotten playoff or World Series tickets in Baltimore, as my name was not drawn out of a hat (which is how they allocated tickets, then). I also was not living in Baltimore, as I was attending graduate school at the time in Newark, Delaware, which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Both the Orioles and the Phillies were in their league’s respective playoffs, but Newark is much more Phillies territory than O’s territory.
I had traveled home on Saturday to watch Game 4 of the ALCS with Dad, and together we saw Tito Landrum hit a dramatic pinch-hit home run late in the game to beat the White Sox and propel us to yet another World Series.
That evening, as I was driving up the Kennedy Highway back to Newark, I was listing to the NLCS game on the car radio. The Phillies announcer said “This again is a reminder that World Series tickets to games 3, 4 and 5 will go on sale at the Veterans Stadium box office immediately following the conclusion of tonight’s game, should the Phillies hold on and win. A plan formed…
I stopped at Wilmington Trust, withdrew all the money I had to my name ($100) from the (brand new at that time) ATM machine and proceeded to drive to Philly. I reasoned that if I could find the Goodyear Blimp I could find the stadium, which worked. I got in the longest line in the universe, bought four tickets at 4:30AM (two for game four and two for game five- nosebleed seats at $25 each – face value in 1983) and called Dad to let him know that this time I was taking HIM to the World Series.
A week later we both were in attendance to see the magic in person, once again. I wore my black-and-orange “Tonight Let it Be Lowenstein” sweatshirt. It was surreal and a wonderful memory I will always have.
Dad’s been gone for 20 years and the Orioles have been terrible for the last 15 years. My kids cannot recall anything else. This year, however, is shaping up to be potentially different in a most positive way. We’ve been to a bunch of games (doing the Sparky thing each time – thank you Subway! – Eat Fresh…) We have season tickets (a partial plan) and this now has qualified us to buy post-season tickets ahead of the public at large. The pennant race that is shaping up is nothing short of thrilling, and my two kids may well have the chance to see Camden Yards really rock come October.
T-shirts and whatnot now say “The Hunt for Orange October!” Not getting ahead of ourselves, as my Dad would have done (but I will not), we’ve got this crazy wild card competition… I can picture him now, designating even more pieces of French toast: “Orioles”, “Rays”, “Tigers”, “A’s” and “Angels.” Maybe we’ll illustrate the wild-card race and tiebreakers with broccoli florets, baby carrots or something else Sparky…
Oh, this is why my background here always has been orange!