In the beginning, Baltimore's Memorial Stadium looked anything but major league. It was one deck of concrete with wooden benches and two of its light poles stuck in foul territory, shining dimly on the triple-A International League Orioles. No one could have imagined six World Series being played there.
The spare horseshoe was finished in 1950. But shortly the place was dressed in more modern clothes. A second deck was added, some green paint was applied, chair-back seats put in. But with endless ramps to the second deck and huge pillars that held it up and obstructed views, it still reminded of H.L. Mencken's entreaty to wink at a homely girl.
Something changed impressions of Memorial Stadium. Fenway and Wrigley would remain the property of poets, and Yankee Stadium was and is a triple-deck wonder. But like a home, Memorial Stadium became lived in, familiar and comfortable. Decorations included a flag that visitors puzzled over because it said simply "Here." The place had a backyard tomato patch. Neat white stucco and stone houses lined the next block.
If it's been a workingman's house, virtuosos played in its parlor. Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson were more like boys next door before and even after the championship seasons they helped produce for the Colts and the Orioles. But the Colts are long gone, and Sunday the Orioles played their last game there before moving to more luxurious quarters in a new park downtown.
Robinson and Unitas threw out the last balls. Fittingly, Unitas' was a football.
Like pictures in a scrapbook, images will remain: Frank Robinson swinging from the heels, Jim Palmer elegantly winding up, Lenny Moore breaking away, Gino Marchetti storming a quarterback, Raymond Berry faking one way and going another to get open and catch a Unitas pass. Baltimore's boys of summer and autumn.
F. Robby hit the home run into the parking lot, which explains the "Here" flag where the ball flew past.
Then there's Junior, now grown up to be bigger than his dad and, more, baseball's iron man. Cal Ripken has played every Orioles game since 1982. The only way to get him off the field is to shut it down.
Like guys from the old neighborhood, the Colts and the Orioles have had their nicknames: Big Daddy and Bubba, Boog and The Blade, The Horse, The Hawk, The Stork, The Earl of Baltimore, The King of Swing, Scrap Iron and Diamond Jim.
Certain opponents earned respect. Paul Hornung ran for five touchdowns there in his last great game. Jim Brown scored five on a day when Johnny U. passed for only four. The place was packed then.
But by the late '70s, the Orioles were becoming the main attraction as Colts' owner Bob Irsay antagonized a city.
At least Artie's still around. But even Art Donovan can't make a joke out of the demise of his team.
Crazy place, Memorial Stadium. It's where John Lowenstein rose up from the stretcher on which he was being carried off to lead cheers. Where Jimmy Orr returned from Union Memorial Hospital just in time to catch a winning touchdown. Where, while Brooks Robinson was making the '70 Series his own, a little plane flew over with the streamer "Viva La Brooksie." Good thing the Colts game was over and the place was cleared out when that other small plane crashed into the second deck.