Psychologists say that our earliest childhood memories usually are lost to the sepia tones of time, or through a process called “childhood amnesia” that relates to the relatively slow development of the part of the human brain that we use for long-term memory.
That said, now age 57, I have long possessed snippets of memories (not reconstructed from stories or photos, but actual memories) from my third year and even one from late in my second year.
In the early 60s, my parents were technological trend-setters (I imagine my sister’s giggles as I type this), but there was a time when our 19-inch black-and-white Philco console TV, complete with round screen and feet, was one of the better sets in the neighborhood. As such, our next door neighbors came over to watch the JFK funeral procession in our living room.
This was an indelible memory for me because the Saturday morning telecast preempted my cartoons, and because I was not allowed to play on the floor in front of the TV. See, as the oldest child at the age of 2 1/2, my universe was my playground, which included the fraying gray carpet in front of the Philco. I was displeased to say the least, and I do remember this.
Many of my early childhood memories were of pieces of vacations, astronaut missions and Orioles baseball. I grew up an ardent, avid, passionate (some would say obsessed) baseball fan. The 60’s and 70’s were good times to be a baseball fan in the Baltimore area – that was the Golden Age of the Orioles to be certain. Broadly we took winning for granted; losing was uncommon and inexplicable.
Whether we finished with a World Championship or not, we just knew we possessed the best team in all of baseball. Statistics – “w’s” and “l’s” proved it, generally over the period 1960-85. By the time I hit adulthood, I had amassed quite a large collection of World Series tickets from games I actually attended and seats in which I actually sat. The Orioles have never lost a World Series game with me in the stands. Of course, I took it all for granted.
Many of these experiences and recollections were the basis of a lifetime of positive memories associated with baseball and my Dad. My parents gave me my own radio for my own room for my birthday in perhaps 1965, at the age of four. We would listen to spring training games from Florida. By the time the season started, I knew the names of all of the players on the 1965 Orioles, and many of the opposing stars on other teams.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, I must have listened to between 120 and 150 games per season on the radio. Chuck and (later) Bill O’Donnell were the background soundtrack of every childhood memory from elementary school onward. In 1966, my Dad took me to the first Orioles game I recall; it also was Game 4 of the World Series.
I was 5 years old, and all I really remember about the experience was the popcorn megaphone. I did understand that it was special, especially when regular people ran onto the field afterward. We were in the lower deck and could have, but Dad’s fatherhood instinct kicked in and he said “Don’t even think about it.”
Though I attended that game, being five years old my recollections are fuzzy at best. The real dawn of my baseball fandom came the following year. Injuries and cockiness had doomed our championship defense but the American League pennant race (one league, no divisions) was one for the ages. Dad would make breakfast in our house on Sunday mornings, and on that last Sunday of September, French toast (swimming in real maple syrup – yum) was on the menu. Dad sliced my piece into quarters. He named each of them “Boston”, “Minnesota” , “Detroit” and “Chicago.”
By sliding those quarters around through their ocean of syrup, he proceeded to patiently illustrate the two-way and three-way ties and tie-breaker playoffs that still were possible going into that last day of the regular season. I was hooked! (on the syrup too).
I woke up the next day and asked Dad what had happened (one of the west-coast double-headers had concluded after my bedtime). He said “A man called Yaz…”. Baseball fans, you know that Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox went 7 for 8 in their double-header and propelled Boston to their “Impossible Dream” World Series…
Dad and I attended World Series games in 1969 (Game 1 vs. the Mets – the only one we won), Game 5 vs. Cincinnati (and another championship winning game and another time that running onto the field was a parental no-no) and two games in 1971 (Games 1 and 6).
I was personally undefeated at World Series games as a fan, but for reasons still inexplicable, in 1979 I judged college more important than the Series, did not drive up from College Park despite having a car, and you all now realize that I am personally to blame for that “We are Family” defeat at the hands of the Pirates.
By the time the 1983 World Series rolled around, Dad was ill (he had both a stroke and a heart attack in 1980) and the Orioles were still great, family health concerns notwithstanding. I had not gotten playoff or World Series tickets in Baltimore, as my name was not drawn out of a hat (which is how the Orioles allocated tickets, then).
I also was not living in Baltimore, as I was attending graduate school at the time in Newark, Delaware, which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Both the Orioles and the Phillies were in their league’s respective playoffs, but Newark is much more Phillies territory than O’s territory.
I had traveled home on an October Saturday to watch Game 4 of the ALCS with Dad, and together we saw Tito Landrum hit a dramatic pinch-hit home run late in the game to beat the White Sox and propel us to yet another World Series.
That evening, as I was driving up I-95 (the Kennedy Highway) back to Newark, I was listing to the NLCS game on the car radio. The Phillies announcer said “This again is a reminder that World Series tickets to games 3, 4 and 5 will go on sale at the Veterans Stadium box office immediately following the conclusion of tonight’s game, should the Phillies hold on and win. A plan formed…
I stopped at Wilmington Trust, withdrew all the money I had to my name ($100) from the (brand new at that time) ATM machine and proceeded to drive to Philly. I reasoned that if I could find the Goodyear Blimp I could find the stadium, which worked. I got in the longest line in the universe, bought four tickets at 4:30AM (two for game four and two for game five- nosebleed seats at $25 each – face value in 1983) and called Dad to let him know that this time I was taking HIM to the World Series.
A week later we both were in attendance to see the magic in person, once again. I wore my black-and-orange “Tonight Let it Be Lowenstein” sweatshirt. It was surreal and a wonderful memory I will always have. I bought season tickets in 1984 and have had them since, vowing never again to be shut out of at-home World Series tickets. I guess that joke remains on me.
Dad’s been gone for more than a quarter century now and a new generation of Orioles fans exist in our house, possessing some of his DNA. For them, the defining moment of their fandom has been and remains “Delmon’s Double.”
Of course, this was when pinch-hitter Delmon Young cleared the basis in a thrilling comeback in Game 2 of the 2014 American League Division Series. I used to plan that one day I would take them to a World Series game at Camden Yards. That seems no time soon, after a near miss in 2014. At least, I hope I’m still around when they take me.