Sunday, July 29, 2012

Memories of Bumbry & Baseball

Going to the ballgame with GoofBoy the other day brought back an odd memory.

I haven't gone to many Major League Baseball games in the past twenty years - since the strike year when they cancelled the World Series.  In particular I stayed away from Camden Yards because, while it was beautiful, I grew up loving baseball in Memorial Stadium.  The first time I went to Camden Yards, sometime in the 1990s, I only recognized one participant - and it wasn't a player - it was former Oriole outfielder Al Bumbry, who was a coach.  I have fond memories of Al Bumbry.  (The picture comes from the Orioles Cards Blog, which cannot view too much since it makes me misty-eyed.)

When I was a little boy my mom dropped my brother and I off at the Randallstown library where went to a basement room to meet Oriole centerfielder Al Bumbry.

Everything about that statement stuns me in retrospect.  My mom just dropped me off (I was less than 10), with my brother (four years younger) in my charge.  And we met a major league ball player in the basement room of a public library, at no charge.  Is any part of that statement still possible?

Someone asked Mr. Bumbry a question about Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey.  Bumbry replied and mentioned that Dempsey was the second best defensive catcher in the league and asked if anyone knew who was the best.

I piped up, "Jim Sundberg of the Texas Rangers."

"That's right," Bumbry replied.

My brother grinned proudly, "My brother knows all that stuff!"

I remember Bumbry nodding towards us, smiling, and saying, "I'll bet he does."

Maybe he just favored us with a friendly grin.  Either way, it was big.  As an elder brother I was terrible.  My attitudes towards my sibling ranged from utter ambivalence to sheer cruelty.  I never stuck up for him, played with him, or gave him attention.  I was also incredibly weird and gave him no glory reflected glory to bask in.  But, for that one moment, in the basement of the Randallstown Library it was great to be my little brother.

I have another memory of Al Bumbry.  In 1979, after the Orioles defeated the Angels to win the American League pennant, TV reporters entered the Oriole locker room.  Al Bumbry was there, sitting on top of some lockers, grinning and unwilling to come down.  He was intoxicated, I assumed he was drunk but it was the late 70s so who knows?  But I need to emphasize, I was not disturbed by this at all.

Alcoholism, of course, is a very sad thing.  But I didn't think Al Bumbry was an alcoholic.  My thinking was quite simple: the Orioles had just won the pennant, which to my 9 year old mind was, on the scale of human achievement, on par with the Moon Landing.  It seemed entirely appropriate to me that after something like that an adult who is so inclined might "tie one on."

The next year, 1980, Bumbry had a fantastic season - the best of his career.  Moderation in all things.

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