Last weekend I had the good fortune of continuing a tradition of making a yearly visit to a Major League Baseball park, accompanied by my best guys.
Typically, it was my wife who helped start these annual journeys when my older son Daniel was eight, sending the two of us from Little Rock (where we lived at the time) to Atlanta (where he would eventually move as an adult) to see the Braves play — two parks ago, at Fulton County Stadium. He had become a Braves fan, watching them on the old Turner Broadcast Network.
He declared then that he would like to visit every MLB park. Today, some 25 years later, he has three left to go. I have six. We generally go together, but there have been a couple of times when he’s been in an area (San Francisco and Miami) and has had the opportunity to go to a game or two, which has put him ahead of me.
My younger son David, who eventually started joining us, has eight parks remaining. Rounding out the group now is my son-in-law Ben, who has some catching up to do, but is gaining traction.
He and David were able to do just that during last weekend’s trip to Baltimore, where we attended games on Saturday and Sunday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Daniel and I had visited this one in 2004, the year he graduated from high school. For various reasons we needed something quick and easy this year, and Baltimore fit the bill. The two of us decided we could do a repeat.
These jaunts are usually for a weekend, unless we are able to make it coincide with the July 4th holiday as we did a few years ago, when we made it to three different parks in three days.
But this year it was one park and one town. Ben drove up from Huntsville Friday afternoon, and he and I took a direct flight from here that night, arriving in Baltimore around 11 p.m. David, who now lives in Birmingham, flew from there and arrived about an hour after us. Daniel took an early Saturday morning flight from Atlanta and was with us by 9 a.m.
These are now typical guys’ trips, with a minimum of conversation about where to eat and what to do. Nobody is coddled. We usually get an Airbnb, where everyone has a bed, and although the accommodations are always more than adequate, females in our family might or might not find them acceptable. This year’s place was a townhouse within walking distance of downtown Baltimore where the ballpark is located, so it was perfect.
Located in the heart of downtown Baltimore in the Camden Yards Sport Complex, Oriole Park was completed in 1992. It was the beginning of a trend toward “retro ballparks” that would be constructed over the next 20 years or so — venues with modern amenities, but harkening back to the old jewel box parks with green seats and ample use of brick and stone.
Typical of these types of parks, there is a big open concourse beyond the outfield where various concessions are located, against a backdrop of a several-story red brick building. Just outside the gates are small bars and restaurants where fans can hang out before and after the game.
All of this allows for a true game day experience, not unlike tailgating in football. While the game is the centerpiece, there is much more going on.
I leave it to the younger guys to determine our non-game activities, and they never disappoint. Although we did not take the self-guided tour of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, we walked by Saturday morning before strolling around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor just a few blocks from Camden Yards.
David came up with an outstanding lunch spot before Saturday’s game, just a short Uber ride away — a narrow two-story building on a corner with a hole-in-the-wall dive-bar vibe, packed with locals and visitors lucky enough to find it.
The menu was full of local seafood favorites. We chose an assortment of shell fish served on a huge platter, and crab that was dumped directly on the brown-paper covered table. It was scarfed down in short order and thoroughly enjoyed.
As luck would have it, a craft brewery was only a couple of blocks away which provided a good place to hang before heading back to the game area for the 4:05 p.m. first pitch.
The Orioles, this year’s worst team in baseball, partly redeemed themselves while we were in town. They routed the Cleveland Indians 13-0, the identical outcome of the game just the night before.
A highlight of this game was the fan giveaway — a replica Orioles jersey with sleeves reminiscent of the Maryland state flag. Not a bad free souvenir.
Although I manage to keep up with the three youngsters pretty well, I pooped out not long after the game, missing a late-night pizza order with them, but they were gracious about it. (One of the perks of being the old guy on the trip is not just getting my own bed, but my own bedroom).
The Sunday afternoon game was earlier, 1:05 p.m., and the guys found a nearby food hall where we feasted on more local seafood, including the delectable crab cakes Maryland is known for, prior to the game.
Sunday’s game was less of a hit-fest, with the Orioles falling to the Indians 2-0.
Soon after that we parted ways, and another one was in the books.
There was some discussion about next year’s trip, which is being contemplated as a western journey in which we knock off the home fields for the L.A. Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks, which would leave Daniel with only Seattle remaining. We’ll see if we can pull that off.
For now, we will savor the memories of Baltimore and another great weekend of baseball and fun, an annual trip that always leaves me feeling blessed way beyond what I deserve.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].