You can probably thank my dad for the fact that I have been an Orioles fan for as long as I can remember. My dad, I suspect, being a life-long resident of the Baltimore area, has also been an Orioles fan for as long as HE can remember. Geography being what it is, maybe I would have been an O's fan no matter what, but I don't think that it ever would have been quite as strong without always hearing about the great old days from Dad.
I mention all of this because, today being Father's Day, it's an occasion to think about all of the stuff that my dad has given me over the years. The Orioles being who they have been for about half of my lifetime, there were certainly times where Orioles fandom felt more like a curse than a gift passed down from generation to generation.
It was enough to make a guy sympathize with what Tony says in the pilot episode of The Sopranos: "Lately I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over." It's not so bad as all of that any more, thankfully. Also thankfully, getting handed down Orioles fandom from my dad is not something that's likely to land me under a federal indictment.
Dad has an endless ream of stories about the glory days of the franchise, of Earl and Frank and Brooks and Jim Palmer as a pitcher and not just a guy on the TV. I have heard a lot of them, some a number of times. Anybody who was here for more than a couple of years from 1966 on through the 1980s, Dad probably remembers something about them and what they did.
I don't get tired of hearing the stories. I'm sure I never will. I have heard all about the only game where my dad rooted against the Orioles, which was Game 4 of the 1966 World Series. My dad's family had tickets to Game 5. I've heard about my parents' wedding reception, which happened to be in the middle of the ALCS in 1979, and how people kept going out to their cars to hear updates on the game. Scott McGregor pitched a complete game as the O's won the series, it turned out.
I have heard about Jim Palmer's no-hitter, the Doug DeCinces homer that birthed Orioles Magic, the 1982 comeback against the Brewers that fell just short on the last day. I know all about the four 20-game winners, about Mark Belanger and Paul Blair, other less-remembered Gold Glovers like Bobby Grich. There are so many more than I have time to tell you.
Once I was old enough to start going to games, there could be more than just stories. We went to plenty of those too. I don't remember when was the first any more, although I know it was at Memorial Stadium. Sometimes it was just the two of us on a weeknight in the summer, riding the Metro down from Owings Mills. We saw a number of games like that in the early- and mid-1990s, a number of different teams, some of the greatest players of the time coming through Camden Yards.
For some reason, the games I remember the most were when the Seattle Mariners came to town, seeing Ken Griffey, Edgar Martinez, and Randy Johnson, managed by Lou Piniella, who my dad always said was the most Earl-like manager at the time. We got to see some great Orioles too, Cal Ripken before The Streak was a record, Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro the first time around, and of course, Mike Mussina.
Sometimes they were extended family outings with my grandma and grandpa, also Orioles fans. My grandma doesn't go to games without binoculars. My grandpa would always bring headphones so he could listen to the game on the radio while he was watching. We'd do these a few times a year for Sunday afternoon games, and as hard as it is to imagine after some of those Dave Trembley Sunday forfeit lineups, there were several years where they never lost when we were all there on a Sunday.
As the years went on and my sister and I got older, our lives were busier so there weren't as many family outings. Dad had to travel more, my mom became a nurse and started working nights. There's also the fact that for quite a while there, the Orioles kind of stunk, so all of that meant that going to an O's game wasn't an idea that popped up as often as it used to.
One time, ten years ago on Father's Day, in fact, Dad was halfway around the world so on that morning my mom and I decided to go down to the stadium and go to the game so we could tell him about it later. We ended up getting a memorable game, with Lee Mazzilli getting himself ejected arguing that a Chris Gomez foul ball was actually a home run. The Orioles went on to win the game, 4-2. Hayden Penn, the first Oriole younger than me, was the winning pitcher.
After Mazzilli got tossed, he threw the container of bubble gum onto the field, so when Dad called, we got to tell him about seeing that. That story prompted my dad to talk some about how Earl would turn his hat backwards to get closer to the umpire without bumping him. It was an abbreviated version of the story, international calling rates being what they are, but no less enjoyable. There's never a bad time for an Earl story.
Baseball, and the Orioles in particular, have always been there for the two of us. That goes all the way back to the days of Little League, when my dad got pressed into being a coach, a task for which he was about as well equipped as I was to be a Little League player, but he did it because somebody had to do it.
That same mindset had him being a volunteer umpire a couple of years later. He was fair to everyone as best he could be - one time he even called me out on strikes, which, I'll admit, I was mad about for a few days afterwards. You could probably tell since I mentioned it even though that happened over 20 years ago now.
The Orioles won for us earlier this year when we went to get a BBQ apron. Hopefully they win for us again in a few weeks when the Orioles give away the Hawaiian shirts. Dad bought tickets for that game sight unseen as soon as I mentioned the promotion to him. Along with Orioles fandom I have also inherited from my dad an appreciation for a good Hawaiian shirt. Haters can step off.
A lot of happy memories in my life have involved the Orioles and my dad. Maybe one day we will get to enjoy a World Series championship together. He's seen three. I am still sitting at zero, although I did sneak in without a ticket to Game 2 of the 1983 World Series. I just had something of an obstructed view seat.
Many more happy memories have also involved the Orioles in some way, and I wouldn't have had any of that without my dad. Even if the Orioles were still bad, I'd be glad to be an O's fan. It is a lot more fun now that they're winning again, for sure.
So thanks, Dad, for making me an Orioles fan. And a happy Father's Day to all the dads around Birdland.