Chapter 7: Finally, a 1983 World Series crown for Baltimore

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(Originally published as a prelude to “Free The Birds” walkout in Sept. 2006, this is Part 7 of a 19 Chapter Series on How Baseball and the Orioles berthed WNST.net. Follow @FreeTheBirds12 on Twiter for updated information regarding our April 5th events.)

Life was percolating along very nicely for me at the end of the summer of 1983.

There was that awesome trip to St. Louis, the Orioles were doing extremely well, the Phillies (again, I was an idiot!) were busting up Montreal in the NL East, I had a new girlfriend and my junior year at Dundalk High was coming.

Despite this “long distance” romance I was having with the Phillies, I was still VERY involved in going to Orioles games. I didn’t get to as many as I had before (again, once girls came along, it was all downhill for sports!), but I still did about 20 games on 33rd Street in 1983. And, like 1979, all in Sect. 10 General Admission seats, some with my Pop and some with my pals. All of those nights on those long, gold, aluminum benches, complete with the jar-rattling volume when banged on.

And the Phillies and Orioles, it would later be proved, were on a destiny’s collision course for the World Series in October.

But en route there was the AL Championship Series against the vaunted Chicago White Sox, led by Lamar Hoyt.

My Pop landed some right field seats for Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS at Memorial Stadium and we were all set. Right before the series my Dundalk buddy John Rafalides (at whose wedding I would later be the best man) gave me a buzz and told me his Dad, Pete, had an extra seat in Sect 39, Row 19 right behind home plate upstairs and asked if I wanted it since I was such an Orioles nut.

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So, my Pop actually took my Mom to Game 2 and I went with Mr. Pete Rafalides, who was just a super cool guy. He was a realtor and connected with the Greek community. He loved talking sports with me and would always feed me cool munchies when I came to his home. And I mean he FED me! He always had the coolest snacks — Doritos, Dolly Madison cakes, Tastykakes, those chocolate malt balls, all sorts of great stuff!

I caught on quickly and made sure I got to go there every year for Thanksgiving! And later in life, when John became my roommate, I got the residual effect — the baklava, pastitsio, spanakopita, the grape leaves — from every Greek holiday!

But, for whatever reason, John’s dad liked me and off went we to Game 2 — me, Mr. Pete and two of his work friends. And we hung on every pitch! And Mike Boddicker pitched his ass off, a five-hit shuout over the White Sox, and we had a paaaaaah-tttaaaay in Sect. 39 that night. “Wild” Bill Hagy was going nuts over in Sect. 34. We had binoculars and I could see my folks over in right field having fun, too. That was just one of the greatest nights, even 23 years later.
I remember the smell of the air that night, the lights in the sky, how bright the field looked from up in that perch in Sect. 39. The steepness of the seats, the people crowded into that cozy ballpark and trees lined up in the outfield.

I can’t imagine my life without that night.

It was just a beautiful thing, that night. Life was perfect!

Two afternoons later Tito Landrum hit a 3-run homer off of Britt Burns that sent me and my 64-year old Mom onto Bank Street banging pots and pans with the shot heard ’round the beltway, a blast at Comiskey Park that sent the Orioles back into the World Series for the second time in four years and the sixth time in 17 years. I’ll say that again: the Orioles were in the World Series SIX times between 1966 and 1983 and won HALF of the World Series they were in (and really BONED themselves in two others!).

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It’s now been 23 years since they’ve even sniffed a return visit!

So, to say that this was a “baseball town” and a baseball community with an innate baseball bond would be speaking the biblical truth. Baseball is this tiny sport — with less than 750 players at any given time — but many people in Baltimore could name them all at one point, especially if you were a big baseball fan.

When I was out banging pots and pans in the street that afternoon in 1983 it was impossible to bother the neighbors because they were out there with me.

Across the street, I was banging pots and pans with a guy named Mike Brewer, who was about three years younger than me and I was a week shy of my 15th birthday. We called him Flea in the neighborhood, but he’s now Curt Schilling’s brother in law.

I can’t believe it took me this long to mention the first girl I ever knew. Curt Schilling’s wife of 15 years — the former Shonda Brewer, Flea’s sister — was one of my best friends growing up in Colgate. She lived across the street, was an outstanding baseball player on our church lot (she was the one girl you kinda drafted ahead of a bunch of the lame boys) and was always one of the neighborhood’s prettiest girls.

But make no mistake about it: she was a super jock and she DID NOT throw like a girl!

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She met Curt Schilling when he was an Oriole in the late 1980’s and she was working as Tom Davis’ on-field producer for those old dugout shots on Home Team Sports. I always bumped into her at Capitals’ games in Largo, and she also did Wizards’ games.

She married Curt in November 1992 (I was the music DJ for the reception at Martin’s North Point Gardens), right around the time he was about to catch fire as a key starter who’d lead MY Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series in 1993. Shonda absolutely HATED (and I mean HATED) that Richie Ashburn Phils’ lid I used to sport around during junior high school. She definitely threw itand kicked it a few times over the years. And, now, lo and behold, her husband was the STAR of the Phillies.

As I told her at the time, “You didn’t just marry a baseball player, you married a PHILLIE!”

We’re still friends to this day (we speak every few months) and our paths have crossed so many times — at All Star Games, World Series, in Philadelphia, Arizona, Boston — I couldn’t mention them all. When the Schillings lived in Pennsylvania during his Phils’ years, their annual Christmas party was a can’t miss in December and my son, Barry, thought it was the greatest thing, running amok in Schilling’s house and checking out all of his baseball memorabilia (and NO ONE has a bigger collection than Curt, who is a true baseball historian!)

But strange, that 23 years ago, I banged pots and pan on Bank Street with a guy who’s brother-in-law would go on to win two World Series himself, and one of them was for my future’s wife’s favorite team in Boston, where they thought they’ve NEVER win a title.

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It IS a small world after all, no?

(Yeah, I wore a pink tuxedo to our Dundalk High Junior Prom in 1984.)

If you weren’t banging pots and pans after Tito Landrum’s home run to take the Orioles to the World Series on Oct. 8, 1983, you were probably headed to Friendship Airport (how in the world did someone EVER rename Friendship Airport…could your airport POSSIBLY have a better name?) to drink in the enthusiasm.

We piled in Mike Daugherty’s little beater car and headed down, but it was futile. There were so many people waiting for that charter back from Chicago that the road was a total snarl. But we STILL had fun and we were going to the World Series.

The 1983 postseason and World Series was a gem all the way around. There is no better month in the memory reserve of my life than October 1983.

My two favorite teams playing the World Series!

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I couldn’t figure out whether it was a blessing or a curse?

I actually wore BOTH colors to all four games of the Series I attended. One night I’d wear a Phillies shirt and an Oriole hat. The next I’d switch. It really didn’t matter to me who won, though now I’m clearly glad Rick Dempsey stepped up as the MVP and hero.
It sure made my Pop happy as hell that night in the Veterans Stadium parking lot when the Orioles won the World Series and I wasn’t feeling too, too bad for Mike Schmidt or Steve Carlton. I figured, hey, they’d won in 1980. Let’s go home and have that parade that we didn’t get to finish from 1979. But to be honest, that 1979 team will always mean more to me. I guess that’s the difference between being 10 and being 14.

But my Pop rolled out the carpet for the Phillies-Orioles’ World Series.

I had just gotten a new camera, a Pentax 150 that I had bought from the nice lady at the J.C. Penney at Eastpoint Mall. And I was taking it with me to Game 1.

My Pop actually bought extra tickets for the Memorial Stadium games in the hope of finding a Philadelphia fan who had done the same thing. We put an ad in The News American and we found our match. We met a guy out on Ellerslie Avenue in left field under a tree and swapped our pairs for Games 6 and 7 in exchange for four sweet seats for Game 4.

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The next day, my Pop read in the paper that Veterans Stadium still had tickets left for the other games. He made my stepbrother drive him up to the stadium that morning and when I got home from school, we had a stack of roof tickets in the 700-level, rightfield nose bleeder seats for Game 5 — right to the right of the giant Liberty Bell light in centerfield.

That Game 1 night was just awesome. Memorial Stadium was at her finest that night for me. I had my camera and I took what seemed like a zillion pictures from the Phillies on-deck camera well (like I said I was more interested in them than the Orioles at that point — they were “exotic” and played in the more “honorable” and “mature” National League).

The Orioles lost Game 1 in that John Denny-Scott McGregor pitching duel, 2-1. Joe Morgan and Garry Maddux hit bombs that sealed the Phils’ win. Even though I sat during the entire pre-game introductions near the Phillies’ dugout and camera well snapping a zillion pictures, we actually sat in left field for that game.

The Birds rallied in Game 2, with a 4-1 win behind Mike Boddicker’s three-hit effort (man was he a stud in the 1983 or what?). We sat in right field for that one.

The next game of the World Series brought on a tough decision — but a choice between two GOOD things.

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It was my birthday, Friday, Oct. 14, and the first high school dance of the year was that night, and well, I was turning 15. It was so huge, even John Denver was on the dugout singing “Thank God I’m a Country Boy!”

And for the first time in my life, I actually moved baseball to the backseat. No one was winning the World title on this particular Friday — it was only Game 3 — so I made a nice compromise. Go to the dance, celebrate the birthday but get near a TV at the dance. The game was on over near the steps and we got to have a little “social” dance time without much of a problem and Benny Ayala and Jim Palmer took care of business and the Birds were up 2-1. I got home in time to see the lastthree innings.

And, on Saturday morning, we had an early wakeup call because we were GOING to Game 4 at Veterans Stadium in the mid afternoon.

I had four tickets and my Pop really only wanted to make the trip once — he wanted me to go with my friends instead. He only wanted to go if they could clinch.

So, along with my friend Kenny Andrews and my best pal Kevin Eck, we needed a responsible adult to take us to the game, to act as the chauffeur.

So, who did I ask?

I asked our Dundalk High, 10th-grade English teacher, Susan Monday. So, the next day, we piled into Miss Monday’s car and off we went to Game 4 with a woman who was from Cherry Hill, N.J. — and a diehard Phillies fan. And again, to show you the tentacles of baseball, she is now doing morning drive AM news radio in Philadelphia and has been for several years. She was also my Tuesday intern in 1993 and 1994 and a lady who answered my phones, when she was trying to get into the radio business. She and Bob Haynie alternated shifts. Sue is also the one who told me to go to Amicci’s and get a radio sponsorship in 1995. I not only got a phenomenal sponsor and the best Italian food on this planet (still to this day, my wife and I are in Amicci’s twice a week…it’s the best restaurant on EARTH!), I also inherited another one of my best friends in the world, Scott Panian, who helps run the joint. We’ve traveled the world together…from Super Bowls in San Diego and Miami and World Series’ in San Diego and New York and concerts in Chicago and Philadelphia, and Springsteen shows in Madrid and Paris and Ryan Adams concerts in Amsterdam and Stockholm.

Even Cuba…

Yeah, baseball’s been good to me.

If there’s no baseball, there’s no Scotty P. or Amicci’s for me…DAMN!

That’s really kinda frightening to NOT have had Amicci’s in my life, right?

But the Orioles did the deed in Game 4 (we had phabulous seats in the 500 level for that one above the scoreboard) and I was headed BACK to Philadelphia the next day for a potential Baltimore World Championship, the first of my lifetime in town. The Colts won Super Bowl IV, in 1971, but I have no memory of it.

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We piled six people into my brother’s car and off we went to Philly for the clinch. It was me, my girlfriend, my stepbrother, my Mom, my Pop and his baseball neighborhood buddy, Mr. Ray Yannuzzi.

He was another great old guy. Always had Italian food in the house. He loved talking baseball with my Pop, who had Mr. Ray help him with a few of those Colgate-Eastpoint Pirate championship teams as a coach.

We watched from the rooftop seats, but made our way down into the 500 level right above the first base dugout at the end of the game. When Scott McGregor delivered the pitch and Cal Ripken, Jr. caught that soft liner, it set off a firestorm in our household.

My Pop jumped for joy and smiled from ear to ear all the way down the ramps of Veterans Stadium.

We honked our horns coming out of the Spectrum parking lot and all the way down Broad Street to the I-95 entrance. I still think about that night and the air and the smell and sounds of our Baltimore fans celebrating in the parking lot 90 miles from home: a sports World Championship, what a cool feeling?

And I was there, in the heart of it, two days after my 15th birthday.

That’s really what’s it all about.

Really, my whole family was there.

We weren’t the kind of family that had warm, fuzzy moments, except at funerals. But if there were ever a postcard made that would show my family at its best — at its brightest moment — it would have been that night in the parking lot waiting to escape Philadelphia.

It was me and my girlfriend (who would become the mother of my son, so in a way he was kinda there too), my Mom and my Pop and his best baseball pal (and that’s something I really never thought about, that he TOO had HIS best baseball pal there to share in that magic moment).

I don’t know that anyone in the car had much in common or much to say or could converse at great detail about much in a big world — but we ALL had the Orioles, and we were all glad that they won and we knew the city would be a thrilling place to be for the next few days.

That 90-minute ride home down I-95 was incredible and very memorable.

I go to Philadelphia a lot — and have since that first trip with my biological Dad in 1981. I bet I’ve driven that road 200 times over the past 20 years. I can’t begin to tell you how many times that I have been at that toll plaza in Delaware where I fondly remember the signs from that night in 1983 when the toll takers put up giant signs congratulating the Orioles. And I can still see the overpasses that were covered in make-shift banners made out of bed sheets saying things like: BALTIMORE ORIOLES, WORLD CHAMPS!”

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We knew that when we got home late on that Sunday night that the party was just beginning: the TV news shows, the parade, the confetti and we would get to skip school for a day to do the celebration.

That’s the kinda thing that only a World Championship can bring about — a parade of that magnitude. And again we’re talking EVERYONE — black and white, young and old, rich and poor! The ENTIRE COMMUNITY!

This city needs to have that energy again, that positive feeling.

There once was a time when EVERY year meant a chance to win a championship, or at least a chance to dream a little and have some fun. The games meant something and the passion and fun lasted at least for MOST of the summer, even when the O’s didn’t win.
There once was a time when HOPE sprang eternal on the first Monday of April every year.

All I want is that back, along with that feeling of community and significance that a winning baseball team brings a close-knit town like Baltimore.

And, that’s really what the “Free The Birds” rally and the afternoon of Sept. 21 are all about.

We want a chance to have a chance again to celebrate nights like that one.

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It’s been 23 years since that night at Veterans Stadium at the corner of Broad and Pattison in south Philly.

I can still smell the air from that magical night as I walked down the ramps of The Vet and saw my Pop smiling from ear to ear — it was the only championship night we’d ever celebrate together.

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