Chapter 9: My life on Calvert Street at The Baltimore Sun and hitting the road

Nasty and Ken Rosenthal in Seattle July 2001
Nasty and Ken Rosenthal in Seattle July 2001
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(Originally published as a prelude to the “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. Please save evening of April 5th for civic action if you’re fed up with state of Baltimore baseball. Also, follow @FreeTheBirds12 for more info.)

When I wasn’t at Merriweather Post Pavilion chasing INXS or Howard Jones or Duran Duran, I was perched high above home plate and ducking past the low ceilings of that tiny little cubicle on 33rd Street.

My boss Jack Gibbons, who I really owe a debt of gratitude to for being the first guy to really stick his neck out for me by hiring me as a 17-year old (and I STILL don’t know how in the world he ever convinced his bosses to hire me!), made another bold move later that year, hiring a hotshot young sportswriter from New York who had been working in Philadelphia with an Ivy league education.

Ken Rosenthal took over the Orioles beat from long-time curmudgeon Jim Henneman, and things changed quickly around our desk in the evenings.

Keep in mind — the Blast were stumbling a bit, the Colts were gone and Baltimore was a one-bird town. The Orioles were EVERYTHING to the sports section and the newspaper.

And Rosenthal couldn’t have been 25 at the time. He worked harder than anybody I’d ever seen and was an inspiration to me, being so young and on the move to all of these exotic locales I’ve never been. Sexy places like Cleveland and Milwaukee and Detroit (hey, I would’ve picked Cleveland over Jamaica at the time because they had a stadium and played baseball in Cleveland!)

And the coolest part of the whole deal for him?

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Rosenthal got a press pass to the World Series, the playoffs and the All-Star Game every year, with flight, hotel and room service included.

AND THEY PAID HIM FOR THIS??? WOW!!!

I’d take dictation from him at 3 in the morning when his crappy Radio Shack TRS-80 computer wasn’t working to send his stories. He went to war with Eddie Murray. He questioned Edward Bennett Williams at every turn. He pissed off the Orioles “establishment” almost every day.

And, even though I haven’t always agreed with him or seen eye to eye with his views, he was beyond super cool to me when I was 19 years old and I was his “assistant” at The Evening Sun.

Rosenthal always remembered to thank me for my extra efforts by grabbing me a program or a cool souvenir on the road. Even though I loved when he got me World Series programs or “officially” licensed shirts or hats, my favorite Rosenthal roadie gift came straight from the street and from his heart to mine.

Kenny was covering the 1988 NLCS in Los Angeles where the Dodgers were playing the Mets in a classic seven-game series and he came back from the parking lot of Chavez Ravine with a “F— NEW YORK” shirt and a program and the usual sportswriter swag. I was grateful. Still am!

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I treasured that thing and wore it every time the Orioles played the Yankees for a decade. I had it on UNDER my shirt in 1996 when the Orioles played the Yankees in the ALCS (which wouldn’t have EVER been possible in my childhood, by the way, without wild card matchups!)

The memories of that romantic baseball trip to St. Louis and Kansas City in 1983 coupled with Rosenthal’s road stories and watching it all on TV each night from these exotic ballparks whet my appetite for more memories, more baseball and, ultimately, more fun. I did the California trip with my family in 1985 — we hit two ballparks, San Diego and Los Angeles.

In 1988, I did ANOTHER West Coast trip with my two pals, Mark Miller and John Rafalides, and we hit San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco on that trip (froze our ASSES off in August at Candlestick Park for a Phillies game).

But it was 1990 when I went plum crazy and decided to see as many parks as I could.

From 1986 to 1992 I co-held season tickets for the Philadelphia Eagles with a friend of friend from Dundalk named Russ Letra, who still sits in the row in front of me in Sect. 513 at Ravens’ games — we see each other at every game!

We both loved football, each had no team we could actually see every week (despite never missing an Oilers game for me) and going to games was the most fun in the world for both of us.

He signed up for the tickets, I agreed to go to every game that didn’t conflict with the game time of an Oilers game (I usually missed two or three a year) and bought a green jacket and proclaimed himself an Eagles fan.

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It was a short ride on Sunday mornings, really, less than 90 minutes and the crowds were enthusiastic and the best teams in the world came to town. I saw Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms and all of the other stars who took over the NFL after 1983 when the Colts left town.

It was a no-brainer, really, to go to the games, but I never really became an Eagles fan. I probably liked them more than any of the other NFC East teams — I absolutely HATED the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and even the Cardinals, after Bill Bidwill snubbed Baltimore — but there was a hollow feeling after the Colts left and I really kinda already had the Oilers.

But, at some point over coffee and pancakes at the Penrose Diner off Broad Street one of those NFL Sunday mornings, we agreed to dream little and make the most of what we still loved the most — baseball!

“We should go on a baseball trip next summer,” Russ said. “Go to some ballparks, see some games, see Comiskey Park before it’s torn down.”

In the spring of 1990, we laid out the eventual game plan.

We would drive in my 1984 Toyota Cressida across the middle of the country and see six baseball stadiums, five baseball games, one NFL preseason game and, not insignificantly, visit the hallowed halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

We went from Baltimore to Chicago on the first overnight (and even changed a flat tire 20 miles west of Pittsburgh right on the I-70). We saw White Sox play the Rangers at the old Comiskey, saw Nolan Ryanpitch and drank more Old Style than we care to admit during an all-day rain delay.

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We ate steak and drank beer in the parking lot of Soldier Field before the Dolphins-Bears yawner.

We saw a night game at Wrigley Field between the Cubs and Astros.

We drove in the middle of the night to Milwaukee to see County Stadium and actually urinated on the wall while discussed the final weekend of 1982, Laverne and Shirley and Happy Day, all while we listened to the Bodeans, who were Milwaukee’s finest rock and roll export. We were at Cleveland Stadium for a Brewers-Tribe game and were out on the exterior ramps trying to get WCAU out of Philadelphia because Terry Mulholland was throwing a no-hitter that night against the Giants, who had just dealt him to the Phils two months earlier. We wanted to vomit when we saw that the Hall of Fame had NO Baltimore Colts section, only and Indianapolis Colts area.

We saw a young David Justice win a game for the Braves at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh one steamy afternoon.

We stayed at cheap hotels (mostly Super 8), talked a lot of baseball and listened to a lot of music.

It was a damned-near perfect week for sports, dining, travel and sightseeing.
Baseball trips and planning them became my ultimate hobby and, to this day, there’s never a trip I take without first checking out who’s in town, who’s playing and what games and/or concerts I can catch.

My time at The Evening Sun ended after almost 1100 bylines in sports and features in Jan. 1992. I came into work one night after the Thanksgiving weekend two months earlier and saw a “buy out” sheet on the wall of the sports department.

I had interviewed in a dozen places for sports writing jobs and I felt very trapped at the newspaper. I had held the same “editorial assistant” title for six years. The Evening Sun was about to merge with The Sun, and it just felt like it was time to either get promoted or leave.

They didn’t promote me — and had actually passed me over several times for someone more educated, someone who was a minority or someone who knew someone. It was a pathetic place to work in that way. It was much more about “political correctness” than it was about hiring and promoting the best people. They offered me a year of pay plus my vacation time to leave.

Looking back on it, they did me a GIGANTIC favor by not promoting me back in 1991!

On Jan. 15, 1992, I packed up my yellow ragtop Jeep Wrangler, stopped at The Sun for the final time, picked up a check for $28,000, took it to the bank and drove straight to Minneapolis from Calvert Street for a week of Super Bowl fun.

John Steadman got me two tickets on the 50-yard line and I had the disgusting experience of watching the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills to win the NFL world title.

Well, we didn’t drive STRAIGHT to Minnesota. We stopped off the first night to see Michael Jordan and the world champion Chicago Bulls take on the Phoenix Suns at the old Madhouse on Madison.

I even met Warren Moon in at a Timberwolves game in Minneapolis. Wearing the zubaz Buffalo Bills hat of Ricig, no less!

When I got home to Kane Street and Eastern Avenue, where I lived at the time, my situation was this: the Redskins were World Champs, I was unemployed, rich (I had the most money I’d ever seen in my life in the bank at one time) and ready to take on the world at 23.

And Camden Yards was set to open in less than eight weeks.

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