Flippin’ the Birds – first visit to Camden Yards!

Those who have spent any time with our family are well aware of our serial love of baseball, with exception of our daughter the hockey nut (for another blog post). Yes, we’ll watch games every night if we have to, and believe me, we have to.  Even while watching other network shows, there’s a constant flipping back to the game when at  commercials to check the score (my apologies to my clients in the advertising business).

It’s an obsession, and we’re prepared to live with it. Interventions haven’t worked; neither have the ADHD actions of one chocolate lab vying for attention over Jeter or Cano.

Yes, you guessed it – we’re Yankee fans!

Before some of you readers sneer the typical “of course you are, the Yankees always win”, just know that I became a Yankee fan starting in 1967 (my first game) when the Yankees finished 9th place in the American League.  Mantle, Gibbs, Pepitone, Stottlemyre…great players, one lousy year!

We’ve only been to a handful of fields outside of Yankee Stadium before, and its fun to attend other parks during a regular season game to soak up both stadium feng shui and fan insanity.  Just recently I was able to re-live the excitement of my first game while attending the opening game of the AL Division Series in Baltimore at Camden Yards on October 7th.

Kicking off the excitement was my oldest son “falling into” the tickets via one of his business connections late on Friday. We reshuffled the schedule a bit, quickly rented a hotel room in Baltimore for Sunday night, apologized to my wife for deserting her (she gets it), and off we went. A few key elements which made this a real adventure; a several hour drive for all of us on Sunday; a light, but steady rain in Baltimore starting at 5pm before the 6pm game extending the start time a couple of hours; and it was the first time we’d been to a playoff game rooting for the Yankees in a visiting ballpark.  In hindsight, a flack jacket might have made sense!

Departing the hotel, we chatted excitedly walking in the rain several blocks, until we saw Camden Yards and then went silent. All lit up, even in the rain, it was majestic.  Great history, player names, it was neat to see it live.  As die-hard fans, the four of us of course were all clad in some sort of Yankee get-up, with me the most dressed in my Jeter pinstripe jersey. This was anything but camouflage gear.

Typically a regular season Oriole/Yankee game is about 60/40 O’s fans to Yankee fans.  Not the case that night – probably 95/5.  While in the ticket line, I was reminded of the movie Elephant Man as the Baltimore crowd glared at us with deathly stares.  My guess is that if we uttered a version of that famous line “I am not a Birds fan! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I … am … a … Yankee fan!” it still wouldn’t   do much to endear us to this crowd.

Once inside the gate we continued to marvel at how great even a wet Camden Yards can be. If this wasn’t a Yankee game I could actually see rooting for the Orioles, especially against the Red Sox. It’s a great open stadium, and nice layout with the backdrop of the brick-building in right field. It’s the B&O Warehouse, which has been hit on the fly only once, by Ken Griffey, Jr. during the Home Run Derby of the 1993 MLB All-Star Game, and has bars and restaurants and a plaza where fans can congregate to enjoy a beer and argue stats.

We grabbed some beers ($10 for a 24-ouncer is a steal to this NY’er) and stood in the plaza to enjoy the view. As we slowly got drenched internally and externally, we enjoyed the stares, sneers and playful jibes of Oriole fans. Once the rain got too heavy, we ventured under the stadium into a sea of orange humanity.  Picture the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage where the medical team is shrunken down and injected into the blood stream of a dying diplomat. There’s a scene in that movie where anti-bodies surround one of the miniature scientists and kill him as he was a foreign substance to the body.  You get my drift, similarly, we were surrounded by orange anti-bodies, and I can tell you none of them looked like Raquel Welch.

Welcoming calls during our trip through the orange crowd included a few “Yankees suck”, “Jeter, you suck” and an elbow nudge here & there. Once finding a small area to stand, we passed the time with the occasional high-five to complete strangers in Yankee garb and an entertaining chat with an older couple regaling the time they wore Baltimore Ravens garb to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh– not a fun time.  We get it, we’re Steelers fans too!

Hallelujah! The tarp finally came off after 2 ½ hours (yes, we ate something) and we headed to our seats.  It was pretty chilly considering we were already soaked. The four of us split up – two seats were in prime territory behind home plate and the other two were in the third row from the top where we could almost touch the Goodyear Blimp.  To be fair though, the view from the high seats was pretty great as well.

My youngest son and I went up to the high seats first; a veritable hornet’s nest of Oriole fans – who really do hate the Yankees by the way, each and every one! The name calling – A-Roid, Jeter sucks, Martin’s a thug, and some stuff about Teixiera I shouldn’t print (he’s a Maryland boy the O’s wanted to sign in 2009, and he bailed to the Yanks).  They calmed a bit when the Yanks scored in the top of the first; but were re-energized when the Birds went ahead 2-1 in the 3rd. The Yanks tied the game in the top of the 4th, and so it remained 2-2 for the next several innings where both teams threatened to score, but didn’t.

After the 5thinning, we switched up the seats with my oldest and his buddy, and literally life changed as we knew it. Right behind home plate, best seats ever as they say, of course still surrounded by O’s fans.  If you watched the game, you know it remained tied until the top of the 9th when the O’s brought in their star closer – Jim Johnson.  He promptly gave up a home run to Russell Martin and the Yanks got the lead. Instantly, a good flock of Birds fans flew the coop. The Yanks continued to score and it looked liked the swallows of Capistrano checking out-of-town as they are known to do in late October. We of course stayed until the last pitch operating under the family rule “never leave the stadium until the game is over.”

Yanks win 7-2. Great game – if you were a Yankee fan!

Here are a few highlights from the evening which completed the Camden Yards adventure:

  • At the gate we were handed orange Oriole towels (despite our garb) designed to be waved by fans during the game to rally the team. We loved them for cleaning the seats.
  • Upper level seats – as the crowd booed Jeter stepping into the batters box for his second at-bat – an Oriole fan leaned over to me to say – “Derek Jeter is the greatest shortstop ever in the game.” I offered that booing him is like booing Cal Ripken, he agreed, but said Jeter was a better hitter and in his mind, the best player at the position. Agreed.
  • Lower level seats – my oldest son’s friend stood up in the first inning when the Yankees scored first, arms out yelling – “Welcome to the Playoffs!” Not very well received by his neighbors…thank goodness he’s 6’3”.
  • Lower level seats – after some close “strike” calls against an Oriole player, a fan proceeded to scream at the umpire calling him every name for “fat” in the book, probably not remembering that the umps wear pads under their coats. Ironically, the fan was clutching a handful of chicken fingers while screaming – a heimlich just waiting to happen.
  • In the bathroom line an inebriated Oriole fan asked me how I was going to feel driving home that night because – I was going to “drive home a loser.” I countered that the Yankees knew how to win in a visiting ballpark, and besides we’re walking home. Wish I had run into him later in the game!
  • Post game, we went to a bar with a couple of other Yankee fans for a celebratory beer. One of the fans said he “was so impressed with us as die-hard fans,” he lifted his shirt to show us his back tattoo across his shoulders with the Yankee Stadium frame design – noting that it wasn’t finished as he was going to add a field in his lower back…ah, yeah.  Last call for him!
  • At the same bar, a random Oriole fan stood near us, but over to the side alone and began ranting about the Yankees, motioning us to step outside, we told him to go ahead and step outside, enjoy the evening and off he went.

The next day we went home happy that the Yankees had “flipped the Birds,” but as I write this, it appears the Birds got their revenge in Game 2 the following evening.  Looks like we got a series!

Hoping to go back again to Camden sometime, maybe for a non-Yankee game where we can blend anonymously into the fabric of the Oriole fans…Camden Yards – great place to watch a game, bond with your crazy children, and a is a must visit for any die-hard baseball fan – or it just may turn you into one!

About Wally

Wally Greene is both an eternal optimist and cynic, a waffling right-winger, a somewhat decent husband and father of three, budding masters swimmer, delusional comedy writer, chocolate lab lover, martini drinker and executive recruiter...not necessarily in that order.

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