Date: September 29, 2013
Teams: Boston Red Sox vs. Baltimore Orioles
Location: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD
Seats: Section 58, Row 11, Seats 1 and 2
Result: Baltimore 7-Boston 6
It’s a bit difficult to convey what it was like this morning, getting ready for today’s game. On the one hand, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation – today was #50, our last game of the season. We’ve reached our goal, which seemed so far off just a few weeks ago, and with that came a feeling of accomplishment. On the other, though, this was it – all of the hours spent preparing and planning, all of the miles traveled, and all of the great times we’ve had this summer – today was the end of the line. It was a bittersweet feeling, I’d have to say. But that told me we did something right this summer.
We really didn’t know what to expect from today’s game. It was a beautiful day for a game and I (speaking for myself) was happy to be winding things up by seeing my Birds one more time. But we were a bit concerned that today might be something of a letdown after such a phenomenal day yesterday. We spent over 2 hours on the field, talked to a major league coach, and rubbed shoulders with a Hall of Famer and a couple of All Stars. And we saw the O’s win a really exciting game – on a punchout, no less. There wasn’t much we were going to be able to do to top that. Today’s game appeared destined to be anticlimactic and that just didn’t seem right.
We decided to get to the stadium early – in part because it was a nice day and we didn’t have anything else to do but also because today was Chris Davis bobblehead day. I don’t collect bobbleheads and I wasn’t going to be devastated if they ran out, but we both thought it would be a nice memento from the last of our 50 games – after all, Davis had an incredible year and was going to win the American League home run title. We had to get tickets first, though, so we looked for a guy Greg had seen yesterday selling tickets near one of the gates. He was standing near the Brooks Robinson statue today and we scored a couple of nice box seats near 3rd base. Here’s a shot of the statue and our “ticket procurement agent”:
We waited in line for 20 minutes or so, chatting with a couple standing in front of us who come to about a dozen games a year. The gates opened, we managed to get our bobbleheads, and we headed out toward Eutaw Street to go to the Orioles team store.
Since it was a Sunday day game, and the last game of the season, there was no BP today. Eutaw Street was packed; it was a great pre-game atmosphere with wall-to-wall people – most wearing orange and black – waiting in line at Boog’s Barbeque and the other food stands. We waited a few minutes to get into the team store, where I got two Orioles hats (the home version for Alex and the road version for me) and Greg got himself a black O’s jersey – not the best choice on a hot, sunny day but he did manage to fit right in.
Our inclination was to just head over to our seats and relax before gametime. It had been a long weekend, after long weekends for the past month, and we’d have a 6-hour drive home after the game. But as we talked about it, we realized that one of the best things about “50 at 50” has been meeting so many friendly, interesting people around the country. Since we were in Baltimore, Greg suggested trying to meet a long-time O’s fan – maybe a season ticket holder. And the best way to find that sort of person was to talk to an usher.
We approached an usher near the Orioles dugout and explained what we were looking to do. Betsy has worked for the Orioles for 14 seasons and immediately told us she knew 2 fans who would be perfect for us to meet. Ed and Mary are married and have seats in the section where Betsy works. Ed is quite the character, as Betsy told us, and was wearing his signature “crab hat” today. Since they weren’t at their seats at the moment, Betsy pointed to Harry, an older man working as an usher a few sections away, and told us that Harry had been around a long time and would likely have some interesting stories for us. That he did – although at first we weren’t sure he would have much to say to us.
Harry was chatting with a young couple when we approached him and tried to start a conversation. It took a little while, but once we told him what we were up to he really opened up and we had a great time with him. Harry has been an usher for 32 years but has been around baseball all his life. His father and uncle played semi-pro baseball in Baltimore County – his father was a pitcher and his uncle a catcher. Harry was a firefighter for 25 years and had 3 daughters; one shared his love for baseball and ended up getting a job working for the Orioles. While she worked for the team she befriended one of my all-time favorite Orioles, Eddie Murray, and Harry had come to know him pretty well. He mentioned that Eddie was quiet but that he liked him and even had him over to his house a few times.
I told Harry that we were from Rochester and had seen Eddie come up with the Red Wings before making it to Baltimore. He then introduced us to the woman he had been talking to when we walked up – his daughter, Janet. She had heard me talking about Eddie and pulled out her phone to show me a picture of her with him. In fact, she had just taken Harry out to the West Coast to go to some ballgames for his birthday. After they went to a Giants game in San Francisco, they went to dinner and Harry said he looked up from his menu and there was Eddie standing next to their table – Janet had arranged the surprise for him.
Harry was kind enough to pose for picture with us (and Janet was kind enough to take it) before we headed back to see if we could find Ed and Mary. They were standing near Betsy, in the walkway behind their seats, and we immediately saw what Betsy had told us about – Ed’s hat was adorned with crab shells that had been painted black with the Orioles logo on them. We had a very nice conversation with them, along with their friend Joyce who was celebrating a birthday today. Ed and Mary have been season-ticket holders for 4 years, with seats in the section right behind the O’s dugout. Ed sometimes comes to games in costumes or with “unique” clothing such as his crab hat and is well-known by other fans in the area. Mary also mentioned that they are big Baltimore Ravens fans and would have been in Buffalo today watching the Bills-Ravens if the Orioles weren’t playing at home.
It was getting close to game time so we got a picture with Ed, Mary, and Joyce and another with Betsy before heading to our seats. These were great “interviews” today and I’d have to say that taking the time to find some people to talk to before the game was one of the best decisions we’ve made all summer. It’s been so interesting to see how people react when we tell them about “50 at 50” and how the story seems to resonate with many of them. I think that one of the things I’ll remember most about our travels over the past few months is just how friendly and generous with their time people have been – and how a little effort on our part to strike up conversations about baseball has made this such a unique and enjoyable experience.
Of course, it didn’t hurt today that we were wearing Orioles hats and jerseys; Harry may not have been so accommodating if we were decked out in Red Sox gear…
On to the game. Chris Tillman (below top) was starting for the O’s – the 3rd time we’ve seen him pitch in the past month – and immediately ran into trouble when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a homer to right-center Below middle). After David Ortiz singled, Mike Napoli doubled (below bottom) and Mike Carp brought Ortiz home with a run-scoring grounder to put the Sox up 2-0.
Boston starter Allen Webster (below top) walked 3 batters in the bottom of the 1st but managed to escape the jam with no runs and Boston jumped ahead 4-0 in the top of the 2nd on a 2-run HR by Quintin Berry. In their half of the 4th the Sox added another run on singles by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and John McDonald (who was now 2-2 in his Red Sox career – below bottom) and an error by C Steve Clevenger, whose throw to 1st on a squibber by Ellsbury hit the runner, allowing a run to score. Worse yet, Orioles 1B Chris Davis was injured on the play – on his bobblehead day, no less. When weak-hitting Ryan Flaherty came off the bench to replace Davis there was an audible groan in the crowd and it appeared that Baltimore, down now 5-0, was going to end its season on a sour note.
The Orioles makeshift lineup (Adam Jones and Matt Wieters didn’t start today and now Davis was out) came alive in the bottom of the 5th. Sox reliever Felix Doubront (below top left) loaded the bases with 1 out on singles by Clevenger and rookie Jonathan Schoop and a walk to Nick Markakis. A ground-rule double by JJ Hardy (below top right) scored 2 runs and a Flaherty single (below bottom left) plated Markakis to make it 5-3. After a walk to Steve Pearce, Nate McLouth doubled (below bottom right) to drive in Hardy and Flaherty and tie the game at 5. The crowd went wild.
Boston threatened in the top of the 6th, loading the bases against reliever TJ McFarland (below top), but David Ortiz grounded out to end the inning. In the bottom of the inning Schoop singled (below bottom left) to LF and moved to 3rd on a Brian Roberts double. A wild pitch allowed Schoop to score and, with 2 outs, Flaherty doubled (below bottom right) to deep right to score Roberts and put the O’s up 7-5.
It stayed that way into the 9th when O’s closer Jim Johnson (below top) came in. Although he led the league in saves this season, he was far from dominant – he blew a lot of saves and O’s fans held their breath every time he came in. Today was no exception. Ortiz got on with a single (below middle) and advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch, bringing up Mike Napoli (and his beard) with a chance to tie the game. Napoli singled up the middle (below bottom) to score Ortiz, making it 7-6. Jackie Bradley came in to pinch run for Napoli and took 3rd on a single by Carp.
For O’s fans, this was an all-too-familiar scene this season; I’d lost count of the number of late-inning leads they had blown and it looked like the stage was set for another with runners on 1st and 3rd with only 1 out. Johnson tried to keep Bradley close at 1st (below left). Sox 3B Will Middlebrooks (below right) was up with a chance to tie the game (or take the lead) and Johnson delivered the pitch…a sharp grounder to Danny Valencia at 3rd, a clean pick and throw to 2B Jonathan Schoop and on to Ryan Flaherty at 1st. A double-play to end the game and give the O’s a hard-fought win in their last game of the season.
It may have been a meaningless game in terms of the standings, but you wouldn’t know that from the crowd’s reaction – beating the Red Sox any time is a good thing. Boston would be moving on to the playoffs, of course, while the O’s would be packing up their lockers and going home – but I was happy to have seen 2 great games and 2 Baltimore wins for games #49 and 50. It would make the drive home a lot more enjoyable.
To help pass the time on the drive, Greg and I went back and thought about all of the places we visited, people we met, and fun things we did since game#1 back in April. We decided we’d come up with some lists of our favorites and we’ll post some of those soon. We’ll also each do a separate post with our own individual thoughts and reflections on the experience. And what an experience it was.
So, about the title of this post. I’ve been trying to think of an appropriate one for this last game and none of the ideas I’ve had seemed to work. The phrase “the end of the line” kept coming to me and it grew on me. And then I remembered one of our drives this summer, listening to “The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1”. If you aren’t familiar with the Wilburys, well, you should be.
As the story goes, George Harrison (from The Beatles) had just released his “Cloud Nine” solo album and was asked by his studio for a song to serve as the B-side for a single they were putting out. Harrison happened to be with some of his friends – Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne (from ELO), Roy Orbison, and Bob Dylan – in Dylan’s studio and they worked on a song called “Handle With Care” that everyone recognized was a lot more than a B-side single. That led them to collaborate on an album under the name “The Traveling Wilburys”. The last song on that album is called “End of the Line” – and, while the lyrics don’t necessarily have anything to do with what we’ve been up to, the title obviously does. It’s such a great song and I particularly like the video, which is linked below. If you watch closely you’ll notice that when Roy Orbison’s chorus comes up they just show a chair with a guitar on it and a picture – Orbison died just before they did the video and this was their tribute to him.
I got a number of good pictures at this game; here are a few more: