Memorial Stadium Love Affair
David Stinson, a friend, and author of the novel Deadball, recently took me on a trip to Baltimore to visit some interesting and little known baseball sites. We visited the spot where once stood Union Park, home of the National League Champion Orioles. This was the team of John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson whose graves in New Cathedral Cemetery we also visited. The final stop on our tour was a gravesite of another kind; one I had visited before and was not anxious to visit again. Our final stop was the site of old Memorial Stadium.
Back in the spring of 2009, I had ridden down 33rd Street, and seeing those white houses out beyond where center field had been caused a surreal kind of confusion. The houses were there, but where was the stadium? For a dumfounding second, I waited for it to come into focus, but what became clear was the reality of its demise. I felt half sick. I knew that it was gone, but actually seeing it gone was akin to talking about love in the abstract as opposed to actually being in love.
I felt as if I was about to revisit a very painful breakup.
Much to my delight, however, as David and I pulled into the site that now contains town houses and a YMCA, there also came into view a Little League-sized baseball diamond. “Memorial Field at the Y” proclaimed a plaque which had been placed at the base of the screen. Below the name appeared the following:
Memorial Stadium formerly stood on this spot and was named in memory of those who did not return from World War I and II. In November, 2010 it is rededicated to serve youth in Baltimore City. Memorial Stadium opened in 1950 and was demolished in 2001. It served as the home field for both the Orioles (1954-1991) and the Colts (1953-1983) where they featured several championship teams. The Orioles won the World Series in 1966, 1970, and 1983. The Colts won the NFL Championship in 1958 and 1959 and Super Bowl V in 1971. This is the very site where so many Baltimore legends once played and represented our city with pride. In 2010, the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation dedicates this field creating a safe, clean place for kids to play, learn and grow.
The very site . . . I can see those Baltimore legends now, even as I can see the flags fluttering atop Memorial Stadium, just as I can hear and even feel the buzz of the crowd as it makes its way inside . . .
David pointed out to me that when Memorial was razed, the masonry was simply pulverized on the spot, then spread over the area and covered with dirt. After a couple years of rain and wind, chunks of concrete and brick can be found throughout the grassy areas. I picked up a fist-sized piece of concrete and half a brick. Not very rational, perhaps, but reason has little application in affairs of the heart.
I could have stayed and stared at Memorial Field until a disappearing sun made it impossible to see, but it was soon time to head for home. Replacing Memorial Stadium may have felt like a bad break up at the time, but looking back, it was necessary. And now with the passage of time—and the construction of that little ballpark—the universe feels more properly aligned. Yeah, it may not be Brooks and Frank and Johnny U., but somebody is playing baseball and football where Memorial Stadium once stood and that’s as it should be.