There are any number of reasons why the city of Baltimore is the best place on earth in which to live, among which must be numbered the Lexington and Cross Street markets, the B&O Railroad Museum, the Bromo-Seltzer Tower, the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Alonso's Restaurant & Package Goods. But all of these and many others, although most assuredly civic adornments, pale by comparison with the one to which my heart belongs without reservation or qualification: The Baltimore Orioles, Inc.
Thus it is that Monday Baltimore once again comes back fully to life. At a few minutes after 2 p.m. (remember, you read it here first), the estimable Jose Dennis Martinez of said Orioles will induce Willie James Wilson of the Kansas City Royals to hit a feeble grounder to Richard Fremont Dauer, who will scoop up the ball and throw it in ample time to Eddie Clarence Murray. The umpire will cry, "Out!"--and from my perch in Section 35, Mezzanine Box C2, a great gasp of relief and exaltation will thunder forth. Even my son, Bill, who has the unspeakable effrontery to be a Red Sox fan, will raise a cheer; after all, for the next six months all of us will be in baseball heaven.
Nowhere, in my considered and absolutely objective judgment, is that heaven more heavenly than it is in Baltimore. Being an Orioles fan is the happiest fate to which any human being can aspire, for it is a state of grace that comes equipped with a full supply of earthly indulgences. These are, in ascending order of importance:
The Oriole food. Yes, the Oriole food. The nachos plate at Memorial Stadium is a junk-food junkie's delight, the crab cake is a passable representative of its genre, considering the circumstances in which it is sold, and the frankfurter is downright edible if you can find one that's been nestled in its bun for less than three hours; indeed, some of my New York friends pronounce it the best baseball frankfurter on earth, and New York friends always know more about everything than anyone else.
As for the beer, in a blind tasting conducted recently by Baltimore Magazine, the celebrated local product, National Premium, actually nosed out the previously incomparable Pilsener Urquel of Czechoslovakia for first place, which is why Maryland is known as the Land of Pleasant Living. For all of these reasons, last season I gained 20 pounds--a very expensive 20 pounds, I should add, as Oriole food is sold at prices that would bring a blush to the countenance of the proprietor of the Four Seasons.
The Oriole fans. Unlike the lawless thugs who follow the Yankees or the ill-mannered collegians who applaud the Red Sox, the Oriole fans are reasonably respectful of the rights of others (although less so, it must ruefully be admitted, in the upper reaches of the upper deck), passably informed about the subtleties of the game and good-hearted enough to acknowledge excellence of performance on those infrequent occasions when it is inadvertently displayed by the opposition. Memorial Stadium has, in fact, the smallest lout population of any major-league ballpark I have visited.
Memorial Stadium. Fenway Park may be the cutest, Wrigley Field the quaintest and Dodger Stadium the squeaky-cleanest, but Memorial Stadium is the best. Its field, thanks to the genius and diligence of Pat Santarone, provides a reliable surface upon which to play and is singularly agreeable to the eye. Its outfield fences are sufficiently distant to eliminate the cheap home run (except down the lines, which adds a nice element of chance) but close enough to encourage a style of play that blends pepper with power.
The line of vision from all but a few seats is first rate and most are surprisingly close to the field; nowhere in Memorial Stadium is there an acrophobe's nightmare comparable to that of the upper deck in Shea Stadium. But candor compels a confession: the less said about the men's rooms the better, which makes life at Memorial Stadium bittersweet for those of us who like our National Premium.
The Orioles themselves. So much has been written about the unique chemistry of this team--a chemistry that has been maintained, astonishingly enough, for fully a quarter of a century--that I can add nothing of consequence to it, only the sappy but heartfelt comment that, from where I sit, the Orioles individually and collectively seem to be good guys. If any Oriole egos have been inflated beyond the point of justifiable professional pride, there's no evidence of it on the field or in the press.
Many of the players live in Baltimore year-round (including some who have actually migrated from California) and many are more than perfunctorily involved in community matters of one sort or another. They don't isolate themselves from ordinary people; one day last summer, when my kids and I were shopping at Sears for an air-conditioner, Scott McGregor and his family were a few feet away shopping for a freezer, and I hope that theirs is quieter than ours.
Baltimore. After 4 1/2 years of residence there, I am persuaded that just about anything in Baltimore is better than the same thing anywhere else. This applies to beer, seafood, neighborhoods and markets. Most of all, it applies to baseball teams, the very best of which takes the field Monday afternoon to begin its inexorable march to the world championship