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Sports Memories: My First Visit to Camden Yards

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Sports Memories: My First Visit to Camden Yards

You will notice from the “On This Date” section of Baltimore Sports Then and Now that 17 years ago today, Aug. 5, 1992, Mike Mussina tossed a five-hit shutout as the Orioles defeated Detroit 4-0. I especially know it to be true because I was there making my first trip to the new Camden Yards.

For more than a decade I was lucky enough to make the trek from where I grew up in Southern Virginia to Baltimore at least once just about every year to see a game at old Memorial Stadium.

It was there that I watched my first major league game on July 4, 1980, and then the next day watched Jim Palmer suffer one of his famous 1-0 defeats (this one to the Red Sox). Over the years I got to see Eddie and Cal along with some great rivals including Don Mattingly and the Yankees, Wade Boggs and the Red Sox and the A’s with Canseco and McGwire.

But the Orioles said goodbye to Memorial Stadium in 1991, and in 1992 I was excited to see the new stadium.

My first visit to Camden Yards was particularly special because I got to go with my uncle, Don Nelson, my Aunt Lois, her Dad (everybody called him Pop) and my cousins Sarah, Amy and Jenell.  

Aug. 5 is Jenell’s birthday, a fact she would never let me forget growing up, as she always liked reminding me that she was my older cousin (by four days).

So, for her birthday, Jenell wanted the family to go to Baltimore for the Orioles game and I was lucky enough to get to tag along for the day. I believe there were some other friends who went as well, but after 17 years there are only so many things I can remember.

Whether it was going to Memorial Stadium (where my Mom and I once got lost and rode around lost for nearly an hour on the back streets of Baltimore) or Camden Yards, getting to Orioles games always seemed to be an adventure.

The cool thing about going to the new park was that the train took you right into the stadium. We drove from their home in Spring Grove, Pa., to a stop outside Baltimore and then took the train to within a couple blocks of the stadium.

Having only seen Camden Yards through pictures, I was blown away when I actually got to see it for myself. It was even more beautiful than I had imagined with a perfectly manicured field, the perfect backdrop of the warehouse and lots of action on the street in front of the stadium.

Because he had been my favorite player growing up, my first visit was to Boog’s Barbecue. It was awesome. I remember just walking around the entire stadium with my head looking up and out to see all the new things.

Now, by this point in my life I had been to nearly a dozen major league baseball stadiums and seen many great football stadiums while interning with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1989, but nothing topped Camden Yards. It brought together the old and the new like no other stadium.

We had great seats in the lower deck of leftfield and could see perfectly as the young Baltimore pitcher kept mowing down the Tigers.

In 1992, Mike Mussina was a young hurler just two years removed from pitching college baseball at Stanford. He entered that game with a 10-4 record and would go on to finish 18-5 with a 2.54 ERA in his first major league season.

While watching him masterfully frustrate a lineup that included Lou Whitaker, Travis Fryman, Cecil Fielder and Mickey Tettelton, there was little doubt that he was going to be a star.

It was a neat time to be an Orioles fan as the team was really playing well and were in the playoff hunt. Mike Deveraux had three hits and the brother tandem of Cal and Billy Ripken were still playing together in the middle of the Baltimore infield.

The victory lifted the Orioles to 62-46 and they were just two games behind Toronto in the division standings. Unfortunately, the Orioles played even .500 baseball for the rest of the season and finished in third place in the division at 89-73.

I was fortunate to see Mussina pitch in person several more times during his tenure with the Orioles, including a three-hitter against Cleveland in 1995. I also had the chance to see several other games at Camden Yards over the next few years with friends and family.

When my then fiancé (now wife), Suzy, and I went to Camden Yards for the final game of the 1995 season little did I know it would be my last trip to the stadium for quite some time.

As fate would have it, Mussina was back on the mound for the Orioles and this time was even better than when I had seen him pitch the first time or even earlier that season. In the final game as a manager for Sparky Anderson and the final game of his career for Alan Trammell, Mussina allowed only two hits (one to Trammell) in another 4-0 victory over the Tigers.

The following summer Suzy and I were married and I soon accepted a new job in Florida. I have seen the Orioles play since in Tampa, but have not been able to make it back to Baltimore.

Much else has changed since the first time I saw Camden Yards.

My Uncle Don passed away following a decade long battle with cancer less than a year after our fun August evening. Pop has also since passed away. My three cousins, Amy, Sarah and Jenell are now all married and have kids of their own. Because of the distance between Florida and Pennsylvania we don’t get to see each other often, but it is fun to trade pictures each year to see how the families are growing. Today I am thinking of them and wishing Jenell a Happy Birthday.

A lot is also different for the Orioles. There was a sense of hope and expectation in 1992 as the Orioles were building a young team that would eventually make back-to-back appearances in the American League Championship Game.

In 1992 and for the next several years, tickets to games at Camden Yards were the hottest things going. Every game, no matter the night of the week, was a sellout or close to it.

As I watch the Orioles play on a regular basis now (MLB Extra Innings is a wonderful invention), it breaks my heart when I see all the empty seats down the baselines in the lower deck. It saddens me to know that glorious Camden Yards is home to a team with a decade-long losing streak.

However, as I watch the young position players and pitchers making their debuts at Camden Yards this season I can’t help but feel a sense of hope that maybe there will be another Mussina and another run at greatness at the best park in baseball.

 

Read more from Dean Hybl at Baltimore Sports Then and Now. If you have a sports memory to share, send it to Dean at dean@sportsthenandnow.com.

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