In the world's eyes, the highways between Washington and Baltimore link a city of marble with a town of brick.
To baseball fans, they connect the bushes with the bigs.
Were Washington not so stuffily confident of its eminence, it might have purloined the Orioles long ago.
Baltimore has a Mayor's Committee to Save the Orioles, but if Washington gave a baseball party, the invitations would read:
"Come if you must."
Son, a-driving we shall go.
Contrary to myth, neither passport nor vaccination is required at the Memorial Stadium gate.
Those who refuse to locate the Birds' nest on 33rd Street - and then master the easiest and fastest way to get there - only punish themselves.
The 33-mile distance between RFK and Memorial stadiums is more a cultural gap than a physical one. As much as old Nat diehards protest, it is a mere one-hour hop between the ballparks.
Few things in baseball are as pathetic as the Senator chauvinist still weeping over the loss of a miserable team, when a better product is on his doorstep.
Allow one native Washingtonian: to confess:
For this Senator fan of 15 years and Oriole observer of seven. Baltimore offers better baseball on almost all counts - from cost to ambiance to quality.
Is this trip necessary?Yes - and worth it too, as long as James Schlesinger doesn't find out.
Surely one of the tricks of sensible living is the knack for turning inescapable ritual into enjoyment. The path to Birdland is not a penance, but rather, a road for thought - a leisurely preamble to a cogitative name.
Anyone who doesn't enjoy the company of his own thoughts is probably not a fan of baseball anyway, since the game is constructed on the piquancy of its dramatic pauses.
Since the mainspring of the sport is anticipation, no wonder fans have traditionally traveled far to their ball-yards - and even then arrived two hours early for batting practice.
Those without a taste for rumination should avoid the prolix pastime, for that is a slow, discursive way of passing time. Those in a hurry need not apply.
In New England, fans from seven states think a drive of two or more hours to Fenway Park is a small sacrifice to get their Sox on Midwestern farmers think little of hundred-mile excursions to Cincinnati.
New Yorkers, within sight of Yankee Stadium, often spend an hour just to cross the 155th Street Bridge and park. The Friday night traffic jams at L.A.'s Chavez Ravine break up just before the Saturday afternoon snarls begin.
By the standards of other teams on the Orioles' level of excellence the hardships of the Baltimore trek are negligible.
In fact, the trip between the cities - especially for night games, which predominate - should be a tranquil delight. It is unfortunately a nervous nightmare for many Washingtonians who manage to do everything wrong.
In an age dedicated to harrowing hustle-and-bustle there is a constant choice between good travel and bad.Most fans pick the worst kind following this perverse recipe for modern [WORD ILLEGIBLE] insanity:
(1) Leave Washington between 5 and 5:30 p.m. so you can catch the beginning of its rush hour
(2) Hit Baltimore between 6 and 6:30 to hit the conclusion of its mass and tangle
(3) Arrive at Memorial Stadium between 6.30 and 7 just when the parking mess revs up.
(4) fight the ticket line.
(5) Once inside find a quiet rest from and beat your head against the wall until you are senseless.
This is standard operating procedure for D.C. fans. Wise up, neighbour either depart for Baltimore very early or very late. Ficher works equally well. A two hour plus headache will become a 60 [WORD ILLEGIBLE] minute breeze.
Try this: leave downtown Washington before 4:30; arrive at Memorial Stadium about 5:30, take a constitutional or read a paper until the gates open at 6, watch batting practice, eat a ballpark dinner and enjoy every leisurely minute.
Or else, leave downtown D.C. at 6 or 6:15 - with your dumb friends laughing that you'll never make it" - and marvel at how the traffic has disappeared, the ticket lines are non-existent and you're in your seat munching a hot dog for the first pitch at 7:35.
Don't be distracted by the banging noises as you pass the restrooms - the folks who left an hour before you just arrived five minutes ago.
The last-minute method works for 60 of the Birds' 78-or-so home dates. Yankee, Red Sox and giveaway-day games with crowds of more than 25,000 don't count. Then, you gotta leave early or else miss the first half-inning if you leave late.
Likewise, the terminally dim fan will walk to the parking lot after the game's last pitch, get in his car and drive smack into as horrendous a traffic jam as he deserves.
You got three ways to beat this, baby. And only one of them make sense.
(1) Leave before the last inning, which is silly after driving all the way to Baltimore.
(2) Jog don't walk to you car after that last pitch. You'll probably beat most of the traffic but will you ever sweat in squirm all the way home.
(3) Or, for you bright folks, don't budge for 30 minutes after the last out, then casually stroll to your car, reflecting on the beauty of the night and the empty, darkened ballpark. Net result: you'll get home perhaps 10 minutes later - and in a mood to fall fast asleep.
That half-hour wait can be the key to the experience. Why do you think you bought that scoreboard? On speculation as an heirloom?
Other sports leave a confused residue that caused mental "indigestion." Only baseball if given a chance offers a sense of order and a proper summing up of itself.
It is a well kept secret of baseball writing that the charm of the job is the satisfaction of studying that scorecard and asking, "What was the dramatic sequence? What was unique to this game? What, if anything, did it mean?"
With the scorecard's aid, every play of the game will jump to mind - try that with a 128-125 NBA game. Only a dull wit finds no answers in the baseball scorecard.
Now that we have avoided the pitfalls, what will our drive to see the Orioles be like?
The first 40 minutes of the trip are best - the 30 miles of the pastoral B&W Parkway. Just point the car and look at the rolling, tree-lined highway that swoops so gracefully that at times it seems to be one long manicured fairway of some endless golf course.
Between the car radio, the approaching evening and casual thoughts of the game to come, the time passes easily.
Balitimore, true to form, announces itself with unintentionally parody. The city limits sign - "Welcome to Baltimore" - has been poorly planned. It has been hyphenated - "Balti-More." It's tough to mess up a three-word sign.
The first major Baltimore building that catches the eye is, no kidding a solid waste disposal plant painted in several shades of lavender.
The city has courteously posted two signs [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] about as large as [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] indicate the two vital [WORD ILLEGIBLE] parkway to Memorial Stadium. The first is correct the second a deceitful snare.
Obey the injunction to turn right on Bratt Street. Take a quick flash past the modern buildings and cubist civic murals ("Go Go Future Baltimore") around the Inner Harbor - Baltimore's architectural meeting place of a drab past and a promising future.
Do not, however, obey the sign that tells you to turn left on Charles Street. A thousand time no. That way construction and congestion lie.
Go a few more blocks on Pratt and hang a left on Clalvert Street. Follow Calvert with its synchronized green lights, all the way through Baltimore at a steady and surprising 35 mph.
The auto flow is so smooth that the scrubbed stone strps of residential row houses are just a blur.
Instead of continuing to 33rd Street, as those signs say fool everybody and turn right on 32nd instead.
Why do that? Oh to save yourself about 15 minutes of crawling along 33rd while the white-gloved policemen smile.
What do you do on 32nd? Well, you'll probably get lost the first time.
Instead of facing one of Baltimore's typically well-defined conventional neighborhoods, 32nd leads through several blocks of that urban sickness where once middle-class housing has been smeared, like a wet canvas, by the hand of poverty turning a familiar portrait into a surrealistic monster of disorientation.
In the long run, however, the homely detour is worthwhile when you discover the well-concealed intersection of 32nd and Tinges Lane just beyond the Mouse House.
No more clues. You'll just clutter it up for its Oriole regulars.
Suffice it to say that he who proceeds along Tinges, across Gorsuch, and down an alley, will pop back out on 33rd Street at the foot of the stadium - thereby avoiding about a thousand of his bumper-to-bumper baseball soul mates.
The return trip, by contrast, is simple, swift and therapeutics. At night it takes no more than 50 minutes to cruise between Memorial and RFK stadiums. All return routes are equally empty, star-filled and soothing.
Wait your half-hour before leaving the stadium, switch the radio dial from the Yankees finishing their business in Chicago to the Phillies beginning their game on the West Coast, and you'll still be home before the first car-chase of the Rockford Files repeats on TV.
Those who cry that their summers are barren of baseball fruit have only themselves to blame. As for the rest of us, a-driving we shall go.