Chris Davis was having a horrendous Sunday. He couldn’t remember how to hit and went 0-8 at the plate. In those eight plate appearances he stuck out five times and grounded into a double play. That means he recorded nine outs — that’s three innings worth of outs and he was the designated hitter. Of course, this was all possible because the Orioles and Red Sox played a marathon six hour and seven minute game that totaled 17 innings.
Chris Davis’, first basemen by trade, day could have turned even worse when Buck Showaleter told him to head to the bullpen to warm up. The Orioles were out of pitchers, so were the Red Sox for that matter. Chris Davis came in to pitch the 16th inning. Imagine the head space he was in. He couldn’t do anything with the bat for the last six hours and now he was expected to pitch.
In Davis’ two-innings of work he gave up two hits, one walk and two strikeouts. One of those strikeouts was Adrian Gonzalez, who happens to be one of the best hitters in the league. Not bad stuff for a DH running on fumes. I try to keep my homerism in check but this Baltimore team has been a joy to watch this season. Orioles magic is in the air.
Last year I ran in the Baltimore City Marathon. It was definitely a cool experience but required a ridiculous amount of training. Like most runners in training I scheduled my long runs on the weekends and reserved the shorter runs for midweek. After several weeks of training I developed a few staple run routes that had proven tried and true. The round trip from my front door to Oriole Park at Camden Yards is almost exactly five miles. Adding a loop around M&T Bank Stadium would tack on another mile. These became my most common weekday routes.
All of my training took place during the baseball season. I got in the habit of checking the Oriole’s score before I left the house, running down to the ballpark and rechecking the score when I got around to the back of the stadium. After several nights of this routine I got to know the stadium attendants at one gate in particular. In case you haven’t payed attention to baseball since the mid-nineties, the Orioles have been pretty bad. Their terrible play has led to even more terrible fan attendance. Because of this, the nice people that worked the gates would sometimes let me in if the game was into the later innings. I’m not sure what the statute of limitations is for this sort of thing but I’ll deny everything if Peter Angelos asks.
One night last May, the day before my birthday actually, I went out for a run. The O’s were in town for a series against the A’s so I decided to run South to the stadiums. On the way back from the Raven’s facility I stopped at the gates and caught up with one of the attendants who is especially friendly. A few minutes of small talk and complaining about the Birds and he told me to go ahead on in and catch the end of the game. I walked up Eutaw Street to my favorite spot in the park, the flag court beyond the right field wall. It was crowded at the wall but I’m tall enough that I didn’t have any problems seeing the field over the people in front of me. The Orioles were up 3-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Oakland’s Michael Wuertz had just entered the game to relieve Craig Breslow and up to the plate steps my current favorite Oriole, Nick Markakis.
I’m not sure what it was about this particular moment but when Markakis approached the plate I knew the ball was coming to me. I knew it. I had never caught a major league baseball foul or fair but I just had this feeling. First pitch, Markakis watches a strike. Pitch number two, ball. Pitch three, Nick swings and you hear the crack of the bat. This is it. I was right, the ball is coming straight for me. And I mean straight for me. I start taking a few steps back so it can drop into my hands right front of me. But I’m wrong. It’s not going to make it as far as I thought it would. I’ve misjudged it. The guys in front of me are starting to reach up. I blew it. I’m going to miss my opportunity. And then boom. The guy in front of me can’t handle it and the ball blasts right through his fingers. And who’s behind him to catch the ball? Me. I knew it the whole time. That was my home run ball.
It was so exciting. The park was going crazy for Nick’s home run but it felt like they were cheering for me. I ran back down the gate to tell the attendants what had just happened. My smile must have given it away because they were clapping for me before I could even start to talk. We all had a laugh about it and I left to head back home. I finished out the last three miles of my run with a baseball in my pocket. Uncomfortable, but I couldn’t care less. I didn’t even put my earphones back in. I just ran home in silence and thought about the crazy string of luck I had witnessed. Just running and smiling. Heck, I’m smiling about it now.
When I got home, after calling my dad and my brother, I looked up Markakis’ stats online. This particular home run was Nick’s third homer of the year and the 80th of his career. That week I bought a display case for my new treasure and put it with the rest of my sports memorabilia. Right on top of my bookshelf between my Eddie Murray bobble head and my mini Ed Reed helmet. It sat there for about a week or so and I got to thinking. Having Nick Markakis’ 80th home run ball is cool and all but you know what would be even cooler? If it were signed.
The next time I ran down to the stadium I asked the same attendant how I should go about getting Markakis’ signature. He told me that I could mail it to the Oriole’s offices in the warehouse at Camden Yards. He made it clear that as long I included prepaid shipping to have it sent back then most players would sign memorabilia for fans. There was definitely some risk involved in mailing it away but why not? I’m already playing with house money. I caught a home run ball at a game I didn’t even pay to go and see. I basically ran in the stadium, caught the ball and ran back out. Everything had worked out so far so what’s the harm?
Fast forward to today. It’s over a year later and I never got it back. The empty display case still sits on my shelf teasing me. Haunting me. But there’s no baseball. The bright side — I still have this unforgettable story.
There hasn’t been much baseball to talk about the past few
months years here in Baltimore. Just another lost season. Which actually makes the news of Mike Flanagan’s death that much sadder. He’s a reminder of different era. A time when the Orioles were a proud franchise. An era that I struggle to believe actually existed.
Mike Flanagan was instrumental in the Baltimore Orioles trip to the World Series in 1979 and won a Cy Young award in the process. He was also a member of Baltimore’s World Series championship team in 1983. The last year he pitched for the Orioles was 1987 so I don’t remember watching him play. I’ll remember him as a general manager and, most recently, part of the Orioles’ television broadcast booth.
Last night’s post game show was supposed to be surprisingly upbeat since the Orioles are on a rare two game winning streak. Instead it was a memorial service of sorts. Flanagan was a fan and clubhouse favorite. Jim Palmer broke down at the thought of losing a good friend. However, it’s ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian that has the definitive Mike Flanagan reflection. I wanted to quote nearly the entire article in this post.
Hoops? Flanagan played in his high school alumni game one year, and scored 63 points. He played freshman basketball at UMass with Rick Pitino. Flanagan tried out for the varsity the next year. “I pulled up for a jumper on the break from the top of the key, and Julius Erving blocked it, then swoop-jammed on the other end,” he said. “I knew then it was time to work on my slider.”
I urge you to read the rest of Kurkjian’s piece.
In 1993 Camden Yards was the crown jewel of major league stadiums. It ushered in the retro era of ballparks and still serves as the blueprint for most new MLB stadiums. This brand spanking new ballpark earned Baltimore the ‘93 All-Star Game. Cito Gaston was named the American League manager after his fighting Blue Jays captured the ‘92 Wold Series title. Cito gave an AL roster spot to hometown hero, Mike Mussina. This was only Moose’s third year in the bigs and before the game Cito told his pitchers the veterans would pitch most of the game. He planned on saving the young arms for possible extra innings. Cito knew the young guys would probably have more chances to pitch in similar high profile spots later in their careers and let them know ahead of time.
All night the Baltimore crowd looked forward to the point when their strikingly handsome pitcher would enter the game. They weren’t privy to Cito’s earlier decree and held out hope until the bitter end. Regardless of Cito’s remarks Mussina took it upon himself to stand up and start throwing in the bullpen before the ninth inning started. The crowd thought this meant that he’d be used for the final inning of the game. Well, the crowd was wrong. They went bananas when Cito opted for Toronto’s own Duane Ward instead of Mussina. The crowd booed and chanted — the two most audible verses being “We want Mike” and “Cito sucks”. Boom, the birth of a t-shirt that you will still find in Baltimore today, Cito Sucks.
Mussina played it off by saying he was scheduled to throw that day and just needed to get his work in. Makes sense, right? The ninth inning of the All-Star game seems like a perfect opportunity to throw a side session. Cocky Mike Mussina got the exact reaction he was looking for.
"It was the biggest ovation I ever got for never being in a game. I knew I wasn’t going to get into the game. There was nothing said. They all wanted to see me pitch. They’re die-hard Baltimore fans."
— Mike Mussina
Monday’s Jim Leyland masterpiece reminded me of another animated manager. If you enjoy strong language than you’re going to love this Earl Weaver clip.
It’s really hard to pick a favorite part of this video. It’s either the part where the umpire, Bill Haller, actual says “Ahh boom!” while ejecting The Earl of Baltimore or it’s the exchange about the Hall of Fame. Or maybe it’s the fact that it all happened in the first inning of the game.
Bill Haller just happened to be wearing a microphone for documentary about the life of a MLB umpire. This has to be one the greatest wired moments in all of sports.
Ed Reed, the Baltimore Orioles, and Dickies work shorts — that’s the trifecta. These are a few of my favorite things.
I’ll spare you any jokes about him lateraling the baseball.
President George H.W. Bush throws out the first pitch April 3, 1989, to mark the start of the baseball season at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium before the Orioles faced the Boston Red Sox.
Love the tie. Love the mitt. I wouldn’t expect anything less from the man who taught Queen Elizabeth II what baseball was all about. Throw out the politics and enjoy it for what it is.
A Chitwood & Hobbs Field Report