Oriole Park at Camden Yards
When we arrived, our row was empty and so was the one behind it. It seemed unusual, to have so many vacant seats clustered together in an otherwise busy ballpark, but we shrugged and went on our quest.
I don’t know why we found our seats first, a funny ritual that I always partake in, just in case the seats have been rearranged or unclearly marked. I’ve been confounded by the aisles at Wrigley Field, I’m willing to slip ushers a few dollars when they wipe off the seat, especially when it is covered in pollen from the trees that are growing out of the concrete jungle in left field.
The concourse was lively; someone spilled Natty Boh on my new shoes, but I didn’t care because sometimes carbonated beverages on fresh leather is just one of the hazards of attending a baseball game. I tried to keep pace, but my heels were aching from wearing heels the night before and I was more than a little distracted by the wafting whiffs of O’s Pretzels and Bacon on a Stick as we entered the Eutaw Street Promenade.
I’m not one to amble in a crowd; years of city walking has sharpened my bob and weave skills through the masses, but at Oriole Park, I don’t care if dozens run into me, or worse, curse at me, I want to see the baseball placards in the concrete and on the warehouse building that mark long-distance momentous occasions. Learning the history of Luke Scott and David Oritz going yard take precedent over predictable gaits. And if you hopscotch the markers just right, dodging the toddlers, the other amblers, and the douchebag drunks that are rolling in from Pickles Pub, you land at the base of Boog’s and the Hall of Fame plaques. Mike Bordick is out of place and he hopes no one notices.
Thirty deep times two, and smack in the middle on slight chair with an umbrella like a lifeguard stand boasts, there he sits.
“Do you think the younger kids think he’s just some barbeque guy instead of a baseball player?”
“Aren’t you one of those kids yourself?”
He was gracious with photos; years of practice not just from his days on the field, but also from years of sitting in front of the smoked meat tent. He looked happier than you might imagine, perhaps just happy to be part of the organization on a day when the sun was shining and the team was winning. He didn’t look as big or as goofy as I expected; we had matching boat shoes.
“Are you going to take your picture with him?”
I have a fear of cameras, especially when there’s a crowd on the opposite side of the lens capturing their own mental photo of the desperation of a nobody clutching a somebody. A one-sided memory, as he would never see a copy, sounded like an experience I could do without. Still, he caught me looking at him. I fiddled with the strings on my sweatshirt, as I’ve done since I was old enough to try and distract myself in anxious moments.
He smiled at me, and I frowned at him. He posed for a picture and looked back and I flashed him the fakest smile I could muster. He signed an autograph, and looked my way again. I nodded. We were finally in sync. If I had the opportunity again, I’d ask him why he half-assed the barbeque experience by serving it with Heinz Barbecue Sauce instead of something homemade. Probably involves lawyers, and even still, I’m not sure that’s an acceptable answer.
The section is still barren, and it’s safe to put my feet on the railing, unless someone 6’7” or up walks by. If they do, they’ll get a Sperry shoestring to the cornea. We don’t talk, because we don’t have to. It’s just the sound of crunching Old Bay chips and slurping of East Coast Old Style from Oriole-striped cans, and we like it that way.
A reminder that sometimes the purists get mad if you call it Camden Yards. The ballpark itself is Oriole Park; the Oriole is singular. The complex in which the park resides is Camden Yards; the Yards is plural. On a formal basis, it’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards. You can call it Oriole Park, or say you’re at Camden Yards. But never say “Camden Yards is a beautiful baseball stadium.”
Carl Crawford takes a lot of walks, and that’s unusual for him. His fear of leading off was never real, and the more he sets the table, the credence it lends to that being true. No matter how much the analysts and Buck Showalter want Jake Arrieta to figure it all out, sometimes the only thing that seems fact is that the mental strains of the game can sometimes outweigh actual ability. As a pitcher with command issues, do the yips seem enviable?
There are three men behind us, all together, but none of them fit. The First is in his 30s, wearing a wedding ring and dressed impeccably, despite his trailer park accent. The Middle is ailing; he has a cane and keeps mentioning his knee and his hip. He’s not old, just aged by the sun and cigarettes. The End is in his 40s and works with computers and doesn’t appear again. The middle might be the uncle of the two small boys who clearly aren’t brothers, sitting with them.
Kids in the ballpark are a mixed bag. Some are precocious, others are oblivious. I like the ones that ask less than obvious questions like, “how many miles did the Dodgers travel.” The two behind us were being educated by the First, who keeps shouting “STRIKE HIM OUT” regardless of the count. The smaller kid has the voice that every parent dreads… nails down the chalkboard and the clanging of frying pans hybrid. He doesn’t say much, but he squeaks and sqwanks, emitting high-pitched noises with as much blatant disregard as a four-year-old can muster. I already didn’t like this kid; I liked him less after he kicked me in the head.
In the silence between their cheers for J.J. Hardy, we tried to have conversation. I spoke quietly about my desires to watch baseball in a bubble, one that the hyper hyena behind me couldn’t penetrate. The middle kept asking to no one in particular who the NL MVP was last year. I told him Posey, but he didn’t believe me. He’s limping through the streets of Baltimore proud of Yadier Molina.
A season ticket holder paces the concourse on a quest for foul balls. Every game, every at bat, he readies his fistful of leather for a rocketing nine inch circumference. When there’s a lefty, he’s on my left. When there’s a righty, he’s to my right. The First can’t believe security allows him to troll for balls, but they are accomplices in his quest.
The First doesn’t even finish his sentence before the troll catches a foul ball. The First thinks it is destiny, that his observance of behaviors caused the baseball gods to bestow a gift upon the seeker. The First morphs into Bob Woodward, and in his redneck twang he shouts, “HEY MISTER. HOW MANY BALLS DO YOU HAVE?”
It was the First at his funniest, even accidentally. The ball troll says he caught over 60 balls in three seasons, all in cases at his home. He puts the ticket and at-bat in there for prosperity. I’d like to pretend I didn’t judge his hobby, but I did.
The kids are too young for candy, so the first gives them fireballs. He challenges them to keep it in their mouth for as long as possible and calls them pussies when they whine that they are too spicy. The littlest one throws it away and the first scolds him for being weak. I’m just glad he didn’t choke; I don’t know CPR.
Why do the Orioles sing about being Country Boys? It’s disorienting in an urban setting. Guys like Wallace don’t last long in the country. The First is playing air guitar with the Middle’s cane and I’m wishing for my baseball bubble or something stronger than 4.28 % abv.
When the fans chant “Let’s Go O’s” to my ears, it sounds like “Let’s Go Home.” And that’s what they did, after losing 4-7.