By Paul M. Banks
Whoever believes America is truly a classless society has never bought tickets to a baseball game. The press box and suites are located next to each other for literal and metaphorical reasons. The best views of the game are on the stadiumâ€™s middle level, so itâ€™s also where the people deemed â€œmost importantâ€ reside. Also, most journalists are born with upper middle/lower upper class backgrounds and usually spend their adult lives within that tier. Press row isnâ€™t inside the sky suites, but right next door. Knowing these truths to be self-evident, I felt pretty good when I saw the Orioles take on the Boston Red Sox in a section right next to the Governor of Maryland privateâ€™s box.
A bad day at the ballpark truly beats a good day anywhere else. Given that Oriole Park at Camden Yards is my favorite park that Iâ€™ve visited. (Iâ€™m currently halfway through all major league franchises.) It is safe to say that a bad day at Camden Yards beats a good day at any other ballpark. Only in person can one understand why this was â€œthe standardâ€ when it opened in 1992. Itâ€™s the first modernized retro park; an architectural revolution of charm in â€œCharm city,â€ a new beginning of baseball building after the horrific era of banal, cookie-cutter, overly symmetrical eyesore stadium dominance. The competing Washington Nationals have major attendance issues, despite having a great new ballpark. One internet author described Oriole Park at Camden Yards being a â€œtranscendent experience.â€Â This is one of my favorites, but I think Henry David Thoreau would agree that calling it â€œtranscendentâ€ is a bit muchâ€¦
Birds on â€œThe Wireâ€
Across the way from Baltimoreâ€™s Oriole Park is the home of the Baltimore Ravensâ€“a stadium that hasnâ€™t been around very long, but has changed its name about as many times as Nick Saban changed jobs this decade. Youâ€™ll notice I didnâ€™t refer to it by its current nameâ€¦because I figure that by the time I post this, the naming rights to â€œRavens Stadiumâ€ will probably have changed again. The football venue recently hosted a pep rally and watch party for Olympian Michael Phelps. Heâ€™s one of B moreâ€™s very own.
The outfield concourse is Eutaw Street: an actual street not just a concourse or an alley. Just another example of what makes this park so alluring and compelling. The area surrounding the park is comprised of narrow cobblestone streets. Its close proximity to the bay and Colonial era nuance makes it a neighborhood where this old city shines its very brightest. The park embraces these concepts, eventually manifesting itself as a structure with unique features and subtle quirkiness, but also the sheer size and excessive amenities of the major leagues. At the Club Level lounge, I started writing some notes about my experience on my notepad. This caught the attention of a group of women at another table and they approached me. They asked me if I was a journalist, and I had a good conversation with them, noting how back home, the HBO series â€œThe Wireâ€ is the only thing people know about Baltimore.Â Â Â
Charm City Survey
Here are the quotes they wrote in my notebook. Because all these women are anonymous, it might explain the candid nature. This experience was a good time for me to invoke the advice of Chicagoan Kanye West in a song off his latest album, â€œDonâ€™t go through too much bullshit just to mess with these drunk and hot girls.â€ They started talking about the Red Sox and asked me why I was wearing a White Sox jersey to the game; my response, â€œListen, I keep my Sox clean and pure, thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re white.â€
Her response â€œDo you bleach themâ€¦how can I dirty them up sometime?â€
Taking us to the rest of the â€œCharm Cityâ€ quotations
-â€œThe Oâ€™s have the best asses.â€
-â€œWhen it comes down to â€œthe wire,â€ the Orioles always come through.
(Hhmmm, what about this last decade with no winning seasons and playoff appearances? Again, their place in the AL East is â€œway down in the hole!â€)
-â€œThe Baltimore fans were in the muthafuckin hizzouse.â€
(I know what youâ€™re thinking; yes the girl who wrote this was white!)
-â€œDamn itâ€™s a ball to be back at the ballpark.â€
Later I saw two hotties, one wearing a Nick Markakis jersey shirt, the other wearing Kevin Youkilis. Despite the rival teams, they were reppinâ€™ the AL East coast Greek-American connection. When I heard Markakisâ€™s walk-up music was Shania Twainâ€™s â€œAny man of mine,â€ I laughed out lout at how pansy and fruity that sounded. I truly hope his teammates haze his him harshly for his horribly unbelievable song choice. I was surrounded by people wearing â€œPedroia the Destroya,â€ tees in my all Boston section. This is just like my family trip to Disney World. There I took in the Orlando Magic versus the Boston Celtics, and once again found myself surrounded by unruly Boston sports fans who got drunk, started fights and got arrested. Although Iâ€™m not into any of those three activities, I still felt quite at home.
The Oriole Way
The slogan â€œThe Oriole Wayâ€ is kind of a joke now while the team is finishing its 11th straight losing season as Peter Angelos (widely regarded to be one of the worst owners in all of sports)Â continues to run this franchise into the ground. However, the team did have some glory days. From 1966 to 1983, the Orioles won three World Series (1966, 1970, and 1983), six American League pennants (1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979, 1983), and five of the first six American League Eastern Division titles. They played baseball the Oriole Way, an organizational ethic best described by longtime farm hand and coach Cal Ripken, Sr.’s phrase “perfect practice makes perfect!” The Oriole Way was a belief that hard work, professionalism, and a strong understanding of fundamentals were the keys to success at the major league level. It was based on the belief that if every coach, at every level, taught the game the same way, the organization could produce “replacement parts” that could be substituted seamlessly into the big league club with little or no adjustment. This is why the Orioles became the envy of the league and winningest team during this period. This philosophy sounds a lot like what the White Sox sell to the public while marketing the team (Ozzie Ball seems to produce mostly solo and two-run homers instead) and what the Minnesota Twins actually put into practice.
During their peak period, three different Orioles were named Most Valuable Player (Frank Robinson in 1966; Boog Powell in 1970; and Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1983). The pitching staff was phenomenal, with four pitchers winning six Cy Young Awards (Mike Cuellar in 1969; Jim Palmer in 1973, 1975, and 1976; Mike Flanagan in 1979; and Steve Stone in 1980). In 1971, the team’s four starting pitchers, McNally, Cuellar, Palmer, and Pat Dobson, all won 20 games, a feat that has not been replicated since. In that year, the Birds went on to post a 101-61 record for their third straight AL East title.Also during this stretch three players were named rookies of the year (Al Bumbry-1973, Eddie Murray-1977, Cal Ripken Jr.-1982).
The Earl of the 3-run Homer
When you enter the Bacardi O lounge (perfect marketing tie-in) you see a portrait of Earl Weaver, the fiery manager whoâ€™s inspired a whole new breed of hot-headed hard line baseball leaders. Both of the Chicago skippers Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen embody this. During this rise to prominence, Weaver Ball came into vogue. It was defined by the Oriole trifecta of “Pitching, Defense, and the Three-Run Home Run.”
Next to Earl Weaver is where you can get THE BEST BALLPARK FOOD ON THE PLANET! Specifically, Boog Powellâ€™s BBQ. I avoid red meat and pork pretty much all the time, but the smoked BBQ turkey here was off the charts.Â Same with the crab cake sandwich and the crab and brie bisque. These meals were so good that I think any woman who could prepare these meals for me all the time should instantly be my wife. If she can do that, all other points are moot.Â If she could make crab stick sushi, that would be nice too. Wash all this fantastic food down with a Clipper City or Backfin Brewery micro brew. The tap has the Maryland state flag on it, one of the most recognizable state flags out there partially thanks to the Terrapins basketball jerseys. And I love it because it looks like the emblem of an old Spanish monarchy and dynasty.
Baltimore: the East Coast St. Louis.
B More isnâ€™t what it used to be. In the 1890s it was 6th largest city in the U.S. and was called the â€œgateway to the south,â€ for some odd reason. (I guess if you consider Virginia the South, the nickname works.) However, only West Baltimore (where â€œThe Wireâ€ is set), North Baltimore and South Baltimore are bad neighborhoods. The downtown and Harbor front are beautiful. It is to D.C. what Oakland is to San Francisco or what St. Louis is to the rest of the Midwest. Funny how this franchise resided in both places. When you visit Baltimoreâ€™s and Washington D.C.â€™s main rail depots, you can see the vast difference instantaneously.Â
I am very jealous of the Eastern Seaboard for having ultra-fast bullet trains that the rest of the country lacks. We badly need to invest in high speed rail (and better public transportation within our cities) to catch up with the rest of the world. Taking this initiative would do wonders to solve three of our biggest health problems (the national obesity epidemicâ€¦getting out and walking helps!, the addictive dependence on foreign oilâ€¦because its not usually good foreign policy to base your energy needs on people who want to KILL you, and global climate changeâ€¦because reversing the course of C02 emissions would do wonders in stopping all the new viruses and diseases popping up as the globe warms. Of course, this probably wonâ€™t happen anytime soon, (even though it makes a world of sense) because our Federal government is still owned by the petroleum industry; and the car companies truly did a bang-up up dismantling public train and bus systems in the 1950s. Still, if the Acela Express can run between D.C. and Baltimore, then we can have it everywhere else too.
On my way out of Baltimoreâ€™s Penn Station, I thought about one of Chris Rockâ€™s best jokes ever. He brings up the foreign policy disaster that is the Iraq war and says, â€œThey said they were such a huge threat. If they were such a huge threat how come they took over the country in two weeks? You couldnâ€™t take over Cabrini Green in two weeks!â€ I saw him tell the same joke in Detroit, switching the punch-line to â€œYou couldnâ€™t take over 8 Mile in two weeks.â€ I saw his HBO special in D.C. and it was not a street, not a neighborhood, but a whole city this time: â€œYou couldnâ€™t take over Baltimore in two weeks.”