Warehouse Windows

This novel was inspired by years of following baseball as a Mets fan, interning with the Minor League New Jersey Cardinals and the Baltimore Orioles, and culminating with landing a dream job with the New York Mets. These posts are some of those moments and events that inspired me.

Celebrations

When I think of my time with the Orioles and the Mets, it is the celebrations with my coworkers and friends that I remember the most. However, one of the reasons I wanted to work so badly in baseball was because I wanted to be a part of one of those clubhouse champagne celebrations. That didn’t happen, but the celebrations with my coworker friends still stir joy inside of me all these years later.

In 1996, I was alone in the office, catching up on some work, when the Orioles upset the Indians in the Division Series in Cleveland. I got up from my desk and was celebrating on my own in the middle of the warehouse. My friend and coworker, Kevin, was in Cleveland for the game and he arrived a few hours later, somehow racing by car to beat the team’s plane and bus. We excitedly talked and celebrated as others would trickle in to be a part of the moment and get to work on the next. By the time the team bus arrived, there were hundreds of fans outside the warehouse cheering and celebrating. When the bus arrived, pandemonium erupted and I stood along side my friends cheering and hugging. It was such an awesome moment…I felt like I was in a movie.

Even in losses, there was celebration. For home games during the ALCS, there was a postgame party in the restaurant inside the warehouse for media and VIP’s. When the Yankees beat the Orioles in that year’s ALCS, employees were invited up to the postgame party and we celebrated like we had won. The intensity of the last few weeks of the season, the Alomar situation, and a frustrating ALCS (Jeffrey Maier!!!) were unleashed in a wave of emotion. It was the end of the world, so to speak, and there was no tomorrow. Later that night, a few of us not wanting to let go drove around (we did have a designated driver) looking for an open bar. We never found one, but that quiet time driving around a very quiet city, and talking with friends are moments I will always cherish.

However, perhaps my very favorite moment during my time in baseball, and the inspiration for the latest chapter of my book, came in 1997, back with the Orioles. Despite a better record, they were expected to struggle against the Seattle Mariners in the Division Series mostly because they would have to figure out how to beat Randy Johnson, who finished 2nd in the AL Cy Young vote that year, and shut down the awesome trio of MVP Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodrigues.

The Orioles were up to the task and made it seem easy, beating them in four games, with the final game at Oriole Park. It featured two of the best pitchers of that generation, Mike Mussina and Johnson. Honestly, I remember absolutely nothing from the game itself or the immediate postgame work that had to be done, but what followed that was amazing.

The Orioles offices inside that long warehouse featured hallways right down the middle, maybe 10 feet wide. Running along the hallway were low walled, built-in desks where administrative assistants and other staff worked. Behind those desks were staff offices that had windows overlooking either the walkway and field or the road in front of the warehouse.

After the Seattle game, and after our work was done, a few of us were hanging out at the desks along the hallway talking about the game and speculating about the ALCS. Our team had won 98 regular-season games and had just made the mighty Mariners, with at least three Hall of Famers playing for them (Griffey, Johnson and Martinez; Rodrigues probably would have been if he had stayed clean), had been taken down easily. We were reinvigeratorated and excited and felt invincible.

Originally, if I remember correctly, it started out as just my coworkers (and close friends) Kelly and Kevin and myself. Slowly, more and more people would join us there and the excitement and voices grew. Eventually, these rolling ice carts with beer in them showed up, I think courtesy of either John or my manager at the time, Spiro (I had moved from PR to the website before the 1997 season). I can’t be sure, but I think eventually food showed up and all of it was down the middle of that hallway. The production folks broke out some makeshift music system and soon it seemed nearly the entire staff of the Orioles were in that hallway celebrating and laughing and cheering and singing (pretty sure Tubthumping was played more than once). And since it was a late afternoon game, it was still early enough that no one felt the need to go anywhere and late enough that there was no time to do anything else. It really was one of my absolute favorite moments working in baseball.

It was truly a magical moment that still makes me emotional and gives me chills to this day. It would also be the last of so many magical moments I remembered from my time there.

Just over a week later would be one the hardest moments I had in baseball. Coming off that big Division Series win, we were the favorites to beat the Cleveland Indians and advance to the World Series. Through some heartbreaks and another Pendelton moment (Armando Benitez, who would repeatedly break my heart during my baseball career, gave up a three-run home run to Marquis Grissom in the top of the 8th inning of game 2 when it looked for sure that we were about to go up 2 games to none), we found ourselves in a 3-1 hole in the series.

The staff refused to concede and after winning game 5, we came home needing to win the final two games. We took on a makeshift slogan of “We Believe” and we had a bunch of orange signs printed up and distributed around the ballpark for game six.

Unfortunately, Game 6 was a heartbreaker, 1-0 in 11 innings. It was the second consecutive year that the team failed in the ALCS at home. However, again, a few of us gathered in the hallway to talk a bit and console each other until it was time to go home. In five full seasons working in major league baseball, the team I worked for went deep into the playoffs four times without winning it all and I never got used to that shockwave of a season just suddenly ending. After a month of intensity, of constantly having something to do and working off just pure adrenaline and to have it suddenly being over like flipping off a light switch hits you hard. So we just sat in that hallway, contemplating what to do next. It was a mix of not wanting to go home, but also not wanting to be there anymore.

Eventually, we did head for the exit and as I approached the door that came into our section of the warehouse, I noticed one of the “We Believe” signs taped to it. I went up to it and ripped off the “Be” so that it just read “We lieve” and we walked out with a couple of chuckles.

And that was really the end of those glory days at the Orioles. While I wasn’t there, 1995 had 2131 and 1996 and 1997 had exciting playoff runs. But with that loss to Cleveland, it was over. A lot of my friends, who were mostly seasonal, would leave that fall, and in February, I would leave for my dream job at the Mets. The Orioles would inexplicitly fire the great manager, Davey Johnson during the winter and they would put up 14 straight losing seasons before making it back to the playoffs in 2012. They have only had 4 winning seasons in the 24 seasons since I was there, which is a shame for that fanbase that loves their team more than any other fanbase I have ever seen.

While I never did have that clubhouse champagne celebration, (part of me still feels a tug at having passed up on the opportunity twice) those moments with my friends in the warehouse, even in the losses, are some of my most cherished memories in baseball.

(In my three seasons with the Mets, there was a lot to celebrate like the 2000 NLCS, the Grand Slam Single, Todd Pratt’s Division Series clinching homerun, and so on, but those are stories for another time.)

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