For a lot of die-hard baseball fans, you always remember major moments you were live in person for. Some I’ve forgotten, others I vividly remember.
I have a plethora. July 29, 2000 in Shea Stadium, I saw Mike Bordick, in his first AB as a Met after the trade from Baltimore, hitting a homerun off the first pitch he saw. August 12, 2000, Armando Benitez didn’t have a meltdown and struck out Barry Bonds to get the save and end the game against the Giants. I was there for Jacob deGrom’s MLB debut on May 15, 2014, the day the Mets tied for first in the National League East on August 2, 2015, and Steven Matz’s MLB debut on June 28, 2015. Plus, how could I even forget the 2015 NLCS Game 1?
And it isn’t limited to Met games, either. I was across the city in the Bronx for Chien Ming Wang’s Yankee debut on April 30, 2005 against the Blue Jays. There are just countless memories I’ve had as it comes to live baseball games, both good and bad.
However, you always remember your first ever game. For me, it wasn’t even in New York.
In 1994, Major League Baseball was in a state of turmoil. The owners and the Player’s Union were embroiled in a major labor dispute, with the players playing most of the 1994 season without a Collective Bargaining Agreement. When no agreement was reached by the end of July, MLBPA Union head Donald Fehr and the Union announced that the players would strike on August 12, 1994, unless a deal was reached. By August 11, nothing was reached, so the players prepped to play their final game on that day.
On August 11, 1994, my family and I were in Baltimore, MD. My dad was on a business trip and he brought my mom and his two baby boys with him. When he had to go to work, my mom brought my brother and I to different museums and spots across Maryland and Washington DC. It truly was one of the better vacations I had as a kid.
Around 6 PM, we were back in our hotel room, all exhausted after a busy day from both work and museums, respectively. My father, a die-hard baseball fan and someone who seemingly paid attention to everything about sports, knew the Baltimore Orioles was scheduled to start a four-game series at home against the Boston Red Sox. Sitting down at the table and reading the paper, my dad and mom were having a discussion about the 1994 Strike and how baseball was in danger of being done for the season. The conversation evolved into how we were minutes away from Camden Yards, where the Orioles were playing.
So, with the final day of play before the strike, and a matter of being at the right place at the right time - a Marriott three blocks away from Camden Yards - my father looked at my mom and said, “I think I’m gonna give it a try.” Big Norm grabbed me and left my mom and brother Greg, who absolutely had zero interest in sports, in the hotel and started the walk to Oriole Park.
After a 10-15 minute walk, my Dad and I walked up to the ballpark. Instantly, I was in complete awe of the stadium I was in front of.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the first time I ever saw a baseball stadium up close and personal. Opened on April 6, 1992, the home of the Baltimore Orioles replaced legendary Memorial Stadium. The ballpark was a retro style looking outdoor stadium that was a few blocks out from the Inner Harbor and actually incorporated the old school warehouse buildings surrounding the downtown Baltimore location into the integrity of the design. In actuality, Camden Yards became the trendsetter for other baseball teams building downtown stadiums inside their respective metropolises.
So when I eyed Camden Yards, I couldn’t believe I was mere moments away from entering an absolutely beautiful MLB stadium for the first time ever. However, there was one small problem…
The game was sold out.
At 63-49, the Orioles were actually in the middle of trying to fight for both the AL East division crown, as well as the newly developed Wild Card berth. Combined with it being a beautiful Summer night, year 3 of a beautiful stadium, and the final day before the MLB strike, Camden Yards was packed. So my dad, unrelenting, walked up to the ticket window and asked if there were anything leftover at all.
Surprisingly, there were two seats available on will call. However, we had to wait until 7:00 pm to see if the people who had reserved them would pick them up. As an 8 year old kid, being patient was not a virtue; it was a nightmare. For the next 20 minutes, I stood fidgety while Big Norm, all 6’6 of him, was a stoic rock, cool as a cucumber. He knew. He just knew.
Ultimately, 7PM rolled around and the lady at the will call window called my dad over. A few moments later, he pulled out his wallet. A few moments after that, two tickets appeared in his hand. My Dad and I walked into the gates of Camden Yards. I was experiencing history live and in person.
I remember walking throughout the ballpark getting to our seats and just taking it all in. Looking at the baseball diamond, the players on the field, the fans in the stands, the voices muttering in the stadium, I was infatuated. As it turned out, my father got us seats on the ground level, 12 rows behind home plate. The view was incredible.
As it came to the game itself, I remember three main things. One, I was able to see Cal Ripken Jr., one of my all-time favorite players, throw a runner out from shortstop in the 1st inning. Two, the starting pitcher for the game for the Orioles was #53 Arthur Rhodes, a left handed starter homegrown through the Orioles minor-league system. Finally, by the top of the 3rd, Boston had a 1-0 lead on the Orioles. I wish I could explain more about the rest of the game, but that’s where it all ends.
At 8PM, it started pouring. The umpires called a stoppage. There was a rain delay.
For three hours, my Dad and I waited around the stadium. We stood around for three and a half hours in the walkway of Camden Yards, seeing the rain hit the field and not letting up. The longer we stood around, the more I saw the disappointment in my Dad’s face that the rain wasn’t letting up. Just before 11:30 PM, the announcement hit the PA system that the game was postponed. Knowing the situation at hand, the Orioles said that all fans could turn in tickets for a future Orioles game in either 1994 or 1995.
Technically, the final game in Baltimore in 1994 never happened.
My father held onto the ticket stubs and we decided to take the short walk back to the hotel in the rain. Although it was a short walk, it felt like forever. By the time we did, it was 11:45. I know I was incredibly disappointed, and sadly drifted off to sleep.
Of course, August 11, 1994 would be the final night of the 1994 MLB season. The next day, the player’s strike began. A lot of things were ceased to be because of the strike. Matt Williams from the San Francisco Giants had 43 home runs and was incredibly close to challenging Roger Maris' record of 61 homers set in 1961. Tony Gwynn was batting .394 and was extremely close to hitting .400 for the season for the first time since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. And the Montreal Expos had the best record in baseball at 74-40. But all of it fell short of completion thanks to the ‘94 Strike. A month later, on September 14, Bud Selig, MLB’s interim Commissioner, would cancel the remainder of the year, due to the Player’s Union and the owners unable to come to a resolution. For the first time since 1904, there would be no World Series.
For years afterward, I always wondered where the ticket stubs from that day were. I figured they were thrown away and disposed of. I frequently referenced going to the game before the 1994 Strike to my friends whenever talking baseball, but I always just wanted to have the proof of it for my collection. It would just remain a mystery...
Until Wednesday night.
I was in traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway, going to the Yankees vs Mets game at Citi FIeld with Miss Monica and my stepdad. We were discussing different baseball games we’ve been to and I discussed the 1994 game in Baltimore.
“I wish Dad held onto the ticket stubs. I’ve been looking for them for years and I just can’t find them.”
“Jon, they are in your Dad’s wallet.”
“Wait, what? Where’s his wallet?”
“Underneath the microwave.”
Completely flabbergasted, I waited until the next day to go into the kitchen and went into the drawer under the microwave. There sat my old man’s wallet. Inside the left wallet sleeve, there they sat. Two ticket stubs of the Baltimore Orioles game from 1994.
The font had completely faded away on the stubs, but for the most part, they looked in pretty good shape. The 40th Anniversary emblem stayed on the ticket and everything else looked relatively OK. Quickly, I went out to Target and bought a picture frame. Twenty minutes, I framed them and put them right on the desk inside Hardway HQ Studios, next to the picture of my late father.
You never forget your first baseball game. I never did. And now, with the ticket stubs the day before the 1994 Strike framed and procured, I have the proof. More importantly, it’s another moment I shared with my father that I can look at and smile.