4. Blair/Nixon: The first game I remember was in the bleachers at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore circa 1970. We lived about a mile from the stadium and you could see the light standards from our front yard. I remember staring at the lights and dreaming of being a ball player. (I remember crying on the front porch as my brother, in full uniform, headed off to the little league opening day parade. I was too young.) Reds fans will recall that the Orioles (obviously my favorite team at the time) were pretty good in the late '60's/early '70's. They lost the '69 series to the Mets, beat the Reds in '70, and lost to the Pirates in '71. (My parents went to a '71 series game but didn't take us kids -- my second worst "my parents won't take me to X game" story -- the first being my Mom not allowing me to go see Larry Bird (his junior year at Indiana State) play Central Michigan even though I had a season ticket and Bird had just been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. My crime: falling behind in 6th grade independent math.)
I don't remember much about that first game, but I do remember that Dave Leonard came in early in relief and completed the game for the win. (I did a quick search on Baseball-Reference.com and found no Dave Leonard, so I obviously have the name wrong, but that's my memory.)
My favorite player at the time (besides Dave Leonard -- who doesn't exist) was Don Buford, a short left fielder who batted lead-off. I saw him a couple seasons ago at the GAP as a bench coach for Frank Robinson's (who, as my Dad explained around that time, was no relation to Brooks Robinson) Washington Nationals. Paul Blair, who later played for the Yankees in their late-'70's series runs, played center, and, of course, Frank was in right. I remember arguing with my Dad about who was more famous, Paul Blair or Richard Nixon. My Dad tried to explain that Nixon could be on the front page of just about any newspaper in the world. I countered with, "yeah, but Blair starts in center for the Orioles."
Brooks played third (no need to remind Reds fans of that), Mark Belanger (all glove - no stick) played short, Davey Johnson (why isn't this guy managing? because he got divorced?) played second, and Big Boog Powell was at first. Elrod Hendricks and Andie Etchebarren split at catcher, and Merv Retmund was the main pinch hitter off the bench. Of course, Jim Palmer lead the rotation with Pat Dobson, Dave McNally, and Mike Quellar. One year, all four of those guys won 20 games.
5. More Orioles: The year Camden Yards opened I called before the season started and got three really good seats between the dugout and home plate on the visitors' side, I think we were row R, for a Saturday afternoon game. Not bad for a new stadium that sold-out the entire season. I no longer lived in Baltimore (Lexington actually) but had to go to a game. I took my brother (a Md. grad student at the time) and my Grandfather, who lived in the D.C. area. It was a real treat to have a job and be able to treat my grandfather to a game after all of the games he took me to as a kid, including a Colts/Raiders overtime playoff game at the aforesaid Memorial Stadium, where The Snake out-dueled Bert Jones -- a game that is often replayed (I think on "the Ocho") as one of the great NFL games of all time. They played the Mariners, so I got to see both hall of fame Jr.'s on the same field.
6. More Orioles (sort of): I was in the right field bleachers of Bush Stadium (1.0?) watching the Cards take batting practice with a couple of friends, one of whom I think was Rod Keillor. Anyway, Andy VanSlyke (for a long time my favorite player) was chatting with Danny Cox, when suddenly he turned around and through a baseball out of the stadium over the right field wall. I imagine it went something like this:
Cox: Andy, do you think you could throw a ball out of the stadium?
VanSlyke: dunno (throws ball out of stadium). Yup.
Years later, I was sitting at BWI waiting for Rachel to fly in. Right across from me at the gate (this was pre-9/11 when you could wait at the gate) was Andy VanSlyke. I wanted to ask him if he remembered throwing the ball out of Bush Stadium. This seemed like the kind of thing that a celebrity wouldn't mind discussing, especially with no one else around, but I chickened out. A couple years ago when I was in line with Marty Brenneman at the cheese and crackers table at the CBA tour of the Reds' hall of fame I thought of that moment with VanSlyke and decided to go for it, asking Marty whether he was looking forward to working with his son Thom in the booth. He said he was.
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