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The Hunt for Orange October

Sunday, August 26, 2012

(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!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Your writing reminds me of a book i read this summer "The Adventures of the thunderbolt Kid" by bill Bryce-about a kid growing up in the 50's-similiar to how you describe your memories-not sure if you are a reader but its a quick read even if you just read a couple chappters you don;t have to read them in order to undertand the book -it's pretty funny
    i wish you continue health and blessings on your caravan journey-looks like this has been a great 8 months for you so far!
    2999 days ago
    I'm a Tigers fan, 9 years old when we won the World Series, got back from India for Game 2 of that series, fought off ridiculous jet lag to try to watch the game, only to pass out after seeing Kurt Bevacqua hit a bomb to give the Padres the lead in the 5th. Happily, the rest of the series went far better.

    The Tigers wouldn't make it back to the Series until 2006, taking the ALCS on a walk off blast from Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco skipping his way around the bases. The pitchers threw that one away (4 fielding errors in key spots! arrrgh), and I was 400 miles away when my brother and some of our friends made it to the only game the Tigers won in the series.

    Last year, Detroit finally won the division title, for the first time since 1987, and this year, we're once again in contention. It's been a fun ride for most of these past 6 years, a far cry from the 13 straight losing seasons preceding that, so I know what you might be feeling, or what your kids might be experiencing for the first time.
    3011 days ago
    Go Orioles! Win one for the Boss's dad! More especially, win one for the Boss's kids so they can have that same great feeling the Boss and his dad shared as Oriole fans of a winning team.
    3011 days ago
  • NWFL59
    Thanks for the interesting blog. Hope your team achieves all.
    3013 days ago
    I am not a big Base ball fan may be because the Seattle Mainers are not very good this year and are over 400 miles away to attend a game. but glad you and the family enjoy base ball. What a great memory to have with your dad . I agree with you on the loss of Neil Armstrong,
    i remember watching him step on the moon and how exciting it was to watch. thanks for sharing your thought. great blog as always
    3013 days ago
    Here, deep in Fenway Nation, it's ALWAYS baseball season.

    Baseball history combines with family stories. My childhood wouldn't have been the same without a game on the old Zenith.

    Lucky for me it only took a ride on the Red Line followed by a short trip on the Green Line to get to buy a seat in the bleachers for an evening of cheering. I paid attention to the pre-game warming up stretches (because the guys were close enough to watch being in the outfield) and then I would listen to the conversations of the fans sitting on those uncomfortable seats and watch the numbers change on the famous green scoreboard. I remember the smell of Fenway Franks mixed with cigarette smoke (smoking was allowed in those days) the most clearly. And I loved those popcorn-filled paper megaphones (now sold on E-Bay as vintage).

    And full speed ahead to Little League games, late afternoon practices on hot Sunday afternoons, and another generation with a game on the TV ...

    Fast forward. Good bye to this year's pennant race for the Sox (what!!!)! Good bye to Neil Armstrong, may he rest in peace, after bringing hope to the world and a belief that "anything is possible".

    3014 days ago
    Great blog! As a Chicago Cubs fan, I would be thrilled to have some of those kind of memories to share, although I was there during some of the intense years, 1969, 1984.....just love the sport!
    3014 days ago
    emoticon Nicely done!
    3014 days ago
    Great blog. As a "girl" we didn't dive into baseball like the guys in my house but as an adult I learned to love the game. My team (the Yankees) will be playing yours very soon. For the last 35 years I have been a huge fan and can say I saw some incredible game in the 70's. My son now wears the number 44 in little league in honor of Reggie Jackson. It's going to be a great series and if my team doesn't win (I hope they do!) I hope it's yours. BTW, my daughter goes to UDel in Newark. Just brought her there for the last time (she's a senior). UDel is very Yankee/Phillie these days!!!
    3014 days ago
    Thanks for reminding us of better times for the Birds. Chuck Thompson taught me more about baseball that my dad ever did. OH! And Vince Bagli on Channel 11.

    I am still holdin my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop because I am still seeing a team the wins the squeakers and loses the football games (2-1 15-inning WIN, 14 - 7 LOSS) and that just drives me crazy. What happens when the luck runs out? So far it has not. But they have let me down so many times in the past 15 years, I am afraid of having my heart broken again.

    3014 days ago
  • KRYSTL719
    For me, this blog was good because it gave me a piece of history to play in my head, which nobody can ever relive. The world seemed so much simpler back then and full of life to me atlast. I try not to get swept away with new trends and technology, it keeps me far from simple memory-making scenes like this.
    3014 days ago
    emoticon I was also saddened by Armstrong's passing. Glad to read your positive, sparky filled blog in spite of bummer feelings. emoticon

    I am not much of a sports fan, but I am hoping your Orioles advance in post season play. It's been a wonderful Summer, hasn't it?
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    3014 days ago
  • MACMOM57
    Wonderful blog. I love the French toast idea. Went to the game ladt night. Rats on today's being postponed.
    3014 days ago
  • NEWMOM20121
    Thank you for sharing. Another wonderful blog.
    3014 days ago
    What an excellent blog! I felt like I was right there with you! I am ready for the Orange October! and I'm still waiting for the rain to stop for today's game!
    3014 days ago
  • POPSY190
    Don't know the game or the teams (England &NZ) but I love the tone of this memoir. And now I know the story behind the orange background. Great job.
    3015 days ago
    I have some similar memories with my Dad and the Dodgers emoticon
    Our teams could run into each other at the Series!!! Best of luck to us both!!
    3015 days ago
    You have wonderful memories of your Dad. That is so special. By the way, I am a Red Sox fan.
    3015 days ago
    What a wonderful way to always remember your dad - through baseball!
    3015 days ago
    It is wonderful to have such memories of things done with your dad. And now you'll have the opportunity to pass it on to your own kids! That's the best part of being a Dad, I'm sure.

    Thanks for sharing this! And I was shocked to hear of Neil Armstrong's passing. We were on our way home from IL and heard it on the radio. We have lost a treasure.
    3015 days ago
    Wonderful memories.
    3015 days ago
    What great memories! Baseball is pervasive and runs historically in our veins. Why are my nephews Brooklyn Dodgers' fans when they were born over 40 years after the Dodgers moved West? Because of their grandfather and probably his father before him, world without end.

    So maybe you could call a crumb of your virtual French Toast "Brooklyn" and another one "Pittsburgh"--where my grandmother and her mother used to go to Forbes Field on "Ladie's Night" for free! And that's a great thing you did for your father!
    3015 days ago
    Growing up in North Carolina, the team allegiance was influenced by TV. Our local stations delivered the Redskins and the Braves as the "regional" choice. Much easier to build loyalty when you can actually attend the games in person. But a six hour drive (minimum) just to the city made this option not part of my youth.

    I do remember fondly one trip my dad took me to see a pre season football game in Raleigh. I was in junior high. So, I hope your orange is not just Halloween this year.

    P.S. "One small step". That was such an unbelievable moment in history to have been a part of.
    3015 days ago
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