Todd Bolton guessed Friday afternoon that he’s been to about 35 games at Camden Yards since the place swung open its black gates 20 years ago. That’s still 45 or so short of his total trips to Memorial Stadium, the 58-year-old said. It’s also enough to appreciate what he calls Baltimore’s “fabulous cathedral” of baseball.
The ambiance of springtime, the inundation of orange and black, the vibrancy of the streets swelling with fans – looking around Friday, it was like a time portal to his first visit on Opening Day 1992.
“It’s kind of that child-like feeling you get on Opening Day,” said Bolton, who lives in Smithsburg.
His introduction to that new era of Orioles baseball was special, Bolton said. It was special because a place he thought couldn’t measure up to Memorial Stadium did. It was special because of how “absolutely gorgeous” the standard-setting ballpark looked.
It was also special because he was healthy. That Opening Day game, a 2-0 Orioles win over the Cleveland Indians, was his last before he learned he had cancer. He didn’t then know that anything was wrong with him. For those few hours in Orioles Park, nothing in life seemed off. Then the diagnosis came, and the chemotherapy after that, and the recovery after that.
There was no sign of that discarded past yesterday. A full gray beard covered his jaw line, belying any taxing treatment Bolton underwent almost two decades ago, and a satisfied grin cut through it as he spoke adoringly of one of baseball’s glimmering jewels.
“It’s now become a model for stadiums,” Bolton said. “This is what it should be. Still 20 years later, it still holds that reputation as being a model ballpark. I think there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Or for living to see it 34 more times after the first one.
Three generations of the Haas family – grandfather John, father Matt and sons Jonah and Sam – descended on Camden Yards on Friday, taking in the sights of what has become a rite of spring as they scarfed down on their ballpark fare of choice.
Sam – at 11 years old, the youngest of the four – was expectedly breathless as he broke down his highlight reel of trips to his hometown’s baseball epicenter. It didn’t take longer than a few seconds and a mouthful of words for the party’s youngest member to stake perhaps the Haas family’s biggest claim to Orioles fame.
It was Opening Day 2011. The O’s were tied, 1-1, with Detroit in the fifth inning. Rick Porcello was on the mound, and Brian Roberts had stepped to the plate. Sam was sitting nine row backs from the Orioles dugout that afternoon, close enough to see a 1-2 ball explode off his favorite player’s bat and into right-center field. As it cleared the fences, Sam went wild. He also caught the attention of The Oriole Bird.
Naturally, “the Oriole took me to dance with him on the dugout in the middle of the seventh inning,” Sam said. “It was really fun.”
With Roberts sidelined with a concussion to start this season, Sam knew before Friday’s game that he’d have to wait at least another year for a shot at seeing his playing idol take the field on Opening Day. That doesn’t mean the kid who’s not yet old enough to see a PG-13 movie isn’t as concerned for Robert’s well-being as Buck Showalter.
“I’m a big fan of Brian Roberts and I’m hoping he’s coming back this summer,” Sam said, “and I just love him.”
How far is far enough to separate an Orioles fan from a lifetime of memories?
For Morgan Kershner, it’s at least 400 miles, at least nearly eight hours driving.
The 35-year-old Columbia native is still a season-ticket holder. He just lives in Charlotte, N.C., these days. Three weekends a year is all he can afford to spend making pilgrimages to Camden Yards. Opening Day, at least this season, qualifies as worthwhile.
Time has blurred the line, in some areas, between reality and memory. As he reminisced about Opening Day 1992, Kershner “vividly” remembered Brady Anderson grounding out to second base four times. As it turns out, it was only twice. (Anderson, to Kershner’s credit, never did reach base that day.)
But the other recollections are crystal clear. So were the reasons for meeting up with father Bob, a Kent Island resident, and bringing along son Grayson, 3, to his first Opening Day.
“I was little, so I remember the cans of soda that said ‘Camden Yards’ on it. I remember Rick Sutcliffe throwing that first pitch,” Kershner said. “I remember Kenny Lofton being the fastest person I’d ever seen. And I remember sitting there in Eutaw Street as a little kid, just looking up, saying, ‘That was just the coolest thing that I had ever seen in my life.’”
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