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Warehouse Windows

My Longest Day in Baseball

I was drinking a beer, sitting with friends at Murph’s Study Hall in York PA. I can’t remember who exactly I was sitting with (probably my future wife Andrea was next to me) because I was intently watching the TV. Specifically, I was watching the Baltimore Orioles play in Toronto against the Blue Jays. It was September 27, 1996. I doubt many Orioles fans actually remember that date, but I’d be willing to guess that they clearly remember the events of that night.

The setup was that the Orioles held a 2.5 game lead in the Wild Card race with three games to play. A win by them and a loss by the Mariners locked up their first trip to the playoffs in 13 years as the American League Wild Card team. It was a tense and important game to the team, obviously.

Anyone that knows me knows how locked in and intense I get around these games and this may have been the worst as I was coming up on the end of my first season in Major League Baseball and the playoffs were on the line.

Ahead of me was a long weekend. I was an intern in the Orioles Public Relations department and we had the postseason media guide to work on, would need to head into the office on Saturday. Since we would need the final stats from Sunday’s game before we could wrap up the media guide, I knew at least a 24-hour stretch likey lay ahead of me and the rest of the PR staff starting on Sunday morning. If everything went as planned, the postseason would start the following days. So, I was trying to get one last calm and easy night in before all hell broke loose and, hopefully, before the playoffs began.

It was only the top of the inning and Roberto Alomar, the star second baseman of the Orioles was called out on strikes by home plate umpire John Hirschbeck and an argument between the two broke out. I remember distinctly taking a sip of my beer and looking up at the TV just over the rim of my mug and seeing what looked like Alomar spitting into the face of the home plate umpire. I nearly spit back out my beer. I thought that I must have not seen it correctly, however, the replay quickly confirmed it.

I was dumbfounded and shocked by it and knew it was going to be a big deal as a new wave of anxiety crept in to join forces with the anxiety of will they or won’t they clinch. It was not a good feeling, but I had no idea just how big of a deal it would become.

When I got to work on Saturday, things were pretty normal. The Orioles lost their game but clinched a tie for the Wild Card when the Mariners lost their game. I really don’t remember much of it, but whether the Orioles would clinch that afternoon slightly edged Alomar in the talk of the few people that were in the office that day. I remember a few calls coming in with people complaining about Alomar, but nothing too serious. With the team on the road, there weren’t going to be any media calls coming in, either.

The Orioles did clinch that afternoon, so when I arrived to work on Sunday morning it was with the knowledge that the long day and night ahead to get the media guide out to print by Monday morning would not be in vain. I remember feeling excited and a sense of a new beginning. While the sports shows were all talking about Alomar and whether he would be allowed to play in the Division Series, I had an extremely false sense of security that it would all blow over. That was probably a good thing because we had higher priorities that day.

To provide a bit of context, the Postseason Media Guide was something all playoff teams had to put out in time for their first playoff series. It had updated stats and information on all the players as well as highlights and notes from the season. I believe we started working on it in August on the chance that we made the playoffs (that was a kickoff meeting that very much holds firm in my memory). It would be an absolutely vital guide for all the media that would be coming in to cover the postseason run. There was absolutely nothing more important that needed to be accomplished in that 24 hours.

There was plenty of work to do that Sunday morning before even beginning with the media guide that Sunday. There was the beginning of the press clipping avalanche around Alomar and the Wildcard clinch that buried me in the newspapers. While there was still some “pre-work” to do with the media guide…basically making the last few changes that did not rely on the last games to be played and proofreading what was already final…clearing the deck of the clippings would allow me to focus more on the stats and other information that would come in after the last out of the season was recorded.

Once that happened, we could get to work in earnest, which we did. The plan, if my memory is serving me right, was that we would work through the night and have the media guide ready for printing first thing in the morning on Monday. Then, I think, we would take turns heading home to freshen up and possibly take a short nap (although, as I type that, it does not sound right) before coming back in.

The first part of the plan was nearly flawless. While I was exhausted by around 1 or 2 in the morning with the take-out Chinese food wreaking havoc on my system, I really enjoyed the work. There were at least six of us working together, as a true team, to get the job done. Each of us knew what we needed to do and it felt great to be a key part of that effort. When the guide was sent out to the printer, there was such a wave of excitement and relief and pride in being part of that. That long night and the even longer day that followed was one of my favorite memories of working in baseball.

However, around the time that we sent off the media guide to the printer on Monday morning, the phones started ringing. One of my jobs as an intern was to answer the calls from media members, like Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal who covered the Orioles back then, other parts of the organization and fans. While I would do my best to answer media questions and the organization, they were often directed to others higher up. The calls from the fans, however, were all for us interns. So, I had grown accustomed to busy days on the phone, but nothing prepared me for that day. As talk around baseball heightened with the debate on whether Robbie Alomar should be suspended during the Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, more and more media calls started coming in.

However, mixed in with the calls from media came more and more calls from fans. These were people that followed the Orioles their whole lives, respected the team, and thought them to be a class organization. The shock of what had happened on Friday night manifested itself as anger, disappointment, and hatred for Alomar from the Baltimore faithful.

Some would be yelling before I even said hello, screaming angry and sometimes vile words at me while others would be more gentle as they seemed honestly confused as to what was going on with their team. The last time they witnessed a postseason game, Cal Ripken Jr. was catching an easy liner to clinch the World Series Championship 13 years before. It was an extremely long 13 years for this city that loved this team, but instead of excitement as they headed in, fans felt this mix of emotion regarding Alomar. And through the course of that long, slow blur of a day, I had heard every one of those emotions expressed to me on the phone.

While most people were angry, what they wanted varied. Some wanted to just be heard. Some wanted to know what the Orioles were going to do about it, insisting that the team sacrifice winning for discipline and suspend Alomar. Some wanted the Orioles to do nothing and let the league handle it. My job was simple…to just sit on the phone and, unless they were extremely belligerent, listen. Make no promises. Express no opinions of my own. Say very little and just listen.

Added to the tension of the day was what would Major League Baseball do about it. We already know the team wasn’t going to suspend him for the division series, so we were waiting anxiously to find out what the league was going to do. Ultimately, they would hand down a five-game suspension to be served at the start of the next season and Alomar would go on to play hero against the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series.

Towards the end of the day, I received one call where the guy on the other line had a very calm voice. He started telling me how he was a fan of this team his whole life and how much he loved them. He talked about how excited he was to have the team in the playoffs and how proud of them he was. He talked about how he was disappointed in Alomar’s actions and felt he should be punished but expressed the sentiment that we all make mistakes. We need to move on from them. He was so calm and so unlike most of the calls I answered that day. It brought a certain peace. This was my inspiration for the Middle of the Sixth chapter and I think about this often.

It was about 36 hours after I had first come into the office when the phone finally stopped ringing. I found myself alone in the office (different people had other responsibilities around the stadium) finally able to catch my breath. I can’t remember the logistics of how I got clean clothes or anything like that for the next day, but John eventually came back to the office, took one look at me, and insisted that the team put me and the other intern up in a hotel for the night. I don’t remember much after that and my next memory was of waking up in the hotel the next morning, taking a shower, and heading back to the office.

However, despite the nightmare that day was, as I mentioned earlier, I recall the day with fondness. It was a day that pushed me to my mental limits…exhausted, emotionally drained, angry, happy, excited…and I survived and was able to do what I needed to do. It taught me a bit about myself and what I could accomplish. And I was proud to have been a part of that IT team for how we handled what was a public relations nightmare. I’ll always remember that day and that team (in the PR office) fondly.

This is a bit of a tangent from the story above, but talk about this in the novel and feel this belongs here. In the warehouse at Oriole Park, on the sixth floor (if I am remembering correctly), was a storage room. I can’t remember if it was actually called the attic or if that was just what I started calling it. However, it contained nearly every bit of newsprint about the Orioles ever written, every boxscore was meticulously kept in binders, stat books (giant binders full of notes about every run, hit, home run, strikeout, and probably every single pitch was kept) for every season, and media guides. It also contained promotional items given out in past seasons, banners that were used, and memorabilia from the old stadium. It was an unorganized museum of probably every moment in the history of the Orioles.

As a lover of baseball history, I enjoyed going up there. Fo me, it was a sort of magical world where you just got absorbed into the game itself. Surrounded by all that history was just absolutely mesmerizing.

When I had some free time I would find myself up there looking through the clippings and boxscores and memorabilia. It was quiet up there and I really enjoyed the escape that it provided. It was one of my favorite places in the stadium.

I am not sure if the Mets had the equivalent at Shea Stadium. I assume they did. I can’t remember if I ever went looking for it, but I wasn’t part of the PR team there. As I look back, exploring that possibility is one of my very few regrets while working in baseball.

It is also strange for me to realize that another nearly 25 years of history would have been added to that place since I was last there. I would love to go back and visit, but sadly, I doubt I will ever have that chance again.