Sitting in the press booth at Ripken Stadium on Wednesday night following Aberdeen's 4-2 loss to Connecticut, I was approached by the IronBirds' radio man and public relations chief, Towney Godfrey, who, according to post-game ritual, asked me which team members I'd like to interview.
Still a bit fried from a chaotic week at the Ripken
Towney said, "I'm glad you don't want to talk with Leo," to which I replied, "yeah, he's probably pretty steamed about this game." Towney then informed me it wasn't the game that had him upset, but rather that Gomez's former Oriole teammate,
After conducting my interviews, I went back to the booth to finish the game story, then hung around to watch MASN's post-game coverage with a few IronBirds' employees. Still a bit in shock, it was watching
Flanagan, a member of the
After wrapping up his playing career, during which he won 141 games as an Oriole, he served two stints as the Orioles pitching coach, was Baltimore's general manager (or whatever messy, lumbering title the Orioles' front office likes to use), and was a member of the team's television broadcast team on three different occasions. To tie all that together on a personal level, Flanagan arguably gave more of his time than any other person trying to make my favorite sports franchise better.
Though I was aware of the Orioles from as early as I can remember, let's say three years old, it was not until 1986, when I was a six-year-old first grader, that I began to become a serious fan of Baltimore baseball. That year, I attended my first game at
At that time, like most six-year-olds who are lucky enough to grow up with a father present, my real-life hero was my dad (my fictional hero was Han Solo, and my semi-fictional hero was Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka). To me, he seemed the smartest, strongest, funniest guy in the universe, and I idolized him. As he and I bonded over baseball, it became clear to me that my hero was in awe of the baseball players, especially those who were part of what turned out to be the end of the Orioles' dynasty years. He spoke reverently of Scotty McGregor,
In 1992, the first year the Orioles played at
Around the fourth inning, Flanagan began warming up, prompting Trey and I to navigate over to some empty seats directly along the bullpen fence. With our noses poking through the fence, we watched the 40-year-old hurler firing fastballs that seemed to defy the laws of physics as we knew them, suddenly dropping down and toward the left-hand batter's box just as they reached the plate.
To that point in my life, I had seen a few curveballs, a couple of which made me dive out of the batter's box before they broke back down for strikes, but nothing of the world-class variety. As we watched, Flanagan made a small back and forth signal with his glove to warn the catcher that a breaking ball was coming, and he then snapped off a pitch that made the hair on the back of my arms stand up. It was one of those things that you aren't prepared to see, that is so alien to your sensibilities that it takes you a few moments to register what you just witnessed.