At 6:00 p.m. today, WBAL announced that the Orioles are coming back to the AM radio station. To those of you who are true Baltimore natives and are old enough to remember the play-by-play calls by Chuck Thompson and Bill O’Donnell, you know why this is such a big deal. The O’s and WBAL are tradition, they are history, they are back together where they belong.
The memories run deep for me. I can still smell the pungent odor of tung oil on my fingers as I worked it into the palm of my new baseball mitt, softening it up for the game Dad would be taking me to see that night. We would park behind his firehouse along Greenmount and walk on over to Memorial Stadium. Dad always got seats along the third base line where we had a legitimate chance of catching foul balls. Those trips to the ballpark were never as frequent as I would have liked, but they were just enough to put me in those seats when I would listen to the games at home.
We had one radio in the house, a small bookshelf stereo system in our dining room. This is where I would do my homework, every night, beginning at 7:30 p.m., listening to Chuck and Bill bring the magic alive for me. I’d often have my mitt next to me, imagining that I was Scotty McGregor on the mound, a fellow lefty, winding up and striking out the final batter in the top of the ninth for the shutout.
Even the West-Coast trips were something special. Once in bed, I would tuck the small transistor radio under the sheets and listen to the games through a cream-colored earbud as I struggled to stay awake. I knew that it was safe to finally drift off to sleep when I would hear Chuck Thompson exclaim, “Ain’t the beer cold!” When I was younger, I had wondered if it was Brooks, or Frank, or maybe Boog who had won the game. Later in my teens, they would be replaced by Eddie, Cal, or Rick Dempsey. It didn’t really matter. They were all O’s, and they personified Orioles Magic; they played baseball The Orioles Way.
So here we are now, with Buck running the show, with the major overhaul that the O’s have gone through in the off-season, and even with the return of Natty Boh on tap at our corner Baltimore bars, there are many of us old Oriole die-hard fans who see something (dare I say the M word?) magical happening here in 2011.
Not that I’m saying anybody should clear their October calendars or get sized for their World Series rings. (Not yet, at least.) But I can’t remember a preseason since 1997 where there’s been so much excitement about our beloved Baltimore O’s.
So here’s my message to all of the players who will be fighting for spots on this year’s team (and for those who have locks in the lineup already): This town has fallen in love with you all over again. They are ready to embrace you, to back you, to cheer for you. We will even bring back the “O!” to the National Anthem when sung well beyond the bleachers at Camden Yards. All we ask is that you understand that. All we ask is that you get it that this is something huge for us: Buck, you, ‘BAL, Natty Boh….
It all adds up to one thing, an echo coming loud and clear from Section 34: O-R-I-O-L-E-S!!!