A Serendipitous Al Kaline Deadball Moment

It is not every day that you come across a previously unpublished photograph of a 16 year old future baseball Hall of Famer. This is especially true when considering that the picture was taken in Baltimore and depicts that future Hall of Famer wearing the uniform of a local sandlot company team.

A few months back, serendipity brought that picture to me, providing yet another Deadball Moment. Since 1998, I have been a Sunday-Plan Baltimore Orioles Season Ticket Holder, first in section 84, then section 78, and then, beginning in 2012, section 76. My move to section 76 introduced me almost immediately to the Sunday Mayor of Section 76, Rob Noel, who just happens to sit one row in front of me. As luck would have it, Rob likewise shares a passion for the Orioles, baseball stadiums, and lost ballparks, hosting baseballpanoramic.com, a website devoted to panoramic photos of ballparks.

As with any true politician, Mayor Rob has a cadre of friends dispersed throughout section 76, including Mark Tharle, who just happens to be married to Kathy Kaline. Which brings me back to the previously-unpublished, future-Hall-of-Famer-photograph. Turns out Kathy’s father George was the cousin of Westport/Baltimore native Al Kaline. After having read my post about Al Kaline’s boyhood home, Mark forwarded to me a family photo of Cousins George and Al Kaline donning their Gordon’s Stores baseball uniforms. After doing a bit of research, here is what I have found out about that photo. In 1951, the cousins played for a local team financed by Gordon’s Quality Dry Cleaning and Laundry and coached by one of Al Kaline’s Baltimore mentors, Sterling “Sheriff” Fowble .

Cousins George and Al Kaline (original photograph and image owned by Mark Tharle and Kathy Kaline - used by permission)

Cousins George and Al Kaline (original photograph and image owned by Mark Tharle and Kathy Kaline – used by permission)

The Gordon’s Store jersey worn by Al Kaline is now on display at the Sports Legends Museum in Baltimore.

Al Kaline's Gordon's Store Jersey on Display at the Sports Legends Museum

Al Kaline’s Gordon’s Store Jersey on Display at the Sports Legends Museum

According to Kathy Kaline, the picture of her father and Al Kaline was taken at Carroll Park, which is located in Baltimore just north of Interstate 95 at the intersection of Bush Street and Washington Boulevard. Carroll Park originally was part of Charles Carroll’s 2,000 acre Mount Clare Estate situated along the Patapsco River.

Mount Claire Estate with Montgomery Park Building (formerly Montgomery Wards) in Background

Mount Claire Estate with Montgomery Park Building (formerly Montgomery Wards) in Background

In the northeast section of the park, approximately two miles west of Oriole Park at Camden Yards are four youth baseball fields. Presumably the picture was taken somewhere in this section of the park.

Youth Baseball Fields at Carroll Park in Baltimore

Youth Baseball Fields at Carroll Park in Baltimore

The Kaline family home still stands in Westport, just two and a half miles south of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. According to Mayor Rob, Al Kaline’s father, Nicholas Kaline, worked at the Atlantic-Southwestern Broom Company. Al Kaline purportedly played on a baseball field located near that building as well. The building still stands at 3500 Boston Street in Baltimore and is known now as the Broom Factory, which has been repurposed to include restaurants, retail, and office space. 

Former Atlantic Southwest Broom Company Building, Just a long fly ball from the old Natty Boh Factory on Brewery Hill

Former Atlantic Southwestern Broom Company Building, just a long fly ball from the old Natty Boh Factory on Brewery Hill

Al Kaline was a baseball phenomenon at Southern High School, once located in south Baltimore  near the Inner Harbor on Warren Avenue between William Street and Riverside Avenue (thanks to Bob Neal for the clarification!), across the street from Federal Hill Park.

Former Southern High School Building at Intersection of Warren and Battery

Former Southern High School Building on Warren Avenue across from Battery Avenue

The three buildings that once comprised the high school are now apartments.

Former Southern High School Building at Warren Avenue and William Street

Former Southern High School Building at Warren Avenue and William Street

A new Southern HS building was constructed nearby at 1100 Covington Street – years after Kaline graduated – and is currently Digital Harbor High School.

Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore, formerly Southern High School

Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore, formerly Southern High School

In 1953, two years after the Kaline Cousins photo was taken, Al Kaline signed a contract out of high school to play for the Detroit Tigers, never spending one day in the minor leagues before making his professional debut. As fate would have it, the American League Baltimore Orioles returned to the city the following year, but by then Kaline already had established himself as the Tiger’s every day center fielder.  Perhaps because of his Baltimore connection, serendipity came into play on September 24, 1974, as well, when Kaline made his 3,000 hit at none other than Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.

Thanks to Mark and Kathy for sharing your family photo with me. Thanks also to serendipity and Mayor Rob.

Gordy’s View From The Hagerstown Suns Dugout

Municipal Stadium, Current Home of the Hagerstown Suns

Municipal Stadium, Current Home of the Hagerstown Suns

The news last season that the Hagerstown Suns would be moving after the 2014 season to a new ballpark in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was not surprising given the age of the ballpark and many costly improvements that would be necessary to bring Municipal Stadium up to the current standards for a professional baseball park. Still, as a hopeless fan of old ballparks, the news sadden me nonetheless and I vowed to take in as many games at Hagerstown as possible during the 2014 season.

Gordy Schlotter, ESPN 1380 Radio Host Interviewing Hagerstown Suns Manager Patrick Anderson

Gordy Schlotter, ESPN 1380 Radio Host Interviewing Hagerstown Suns Manager Patrick Anderson

And so it was that my youngest son and I made such a trip in mid-May to see the Suns take on the Kannapolis Intimidators, a game which the Suns won 3-1. After the game I had the chance to sit in on an interview of Hagerstown Suns Manager Patrick Anderson by my good friend Gordy Schlotter, of ESPN 1380. The Suns Manager talks about the current season, as well as his record-setting season in 2013, leading the Gulf Coast League Nationals to a record of 49-9 and a .845 winning percentage.

To hear Gordy’s interview, click here: Gordy’s Sports World’s View from the Hagerstown Dugout with Patrick Anderson

Also, be sure to tune into Gordy’s Sports World every Thursday during the baseball season for the latest in local and national baseball brought to you by Gordy and his multi-talented baseball analyst Austin Gisriel.

And as for the future of the Suns in Hagerstown, reported delays in land acquisition and planning in Fredericksburg suggest that the Suns may remain in Hagerstown one more year, through the 2015 season.

For the Love of the Rain

Planning a week-long trip to minor league ballparks in the southeast United States during the first month of the season is a bit of a gamble given the penchant for April showers during that time of year in that area of the country. Still, one must play the hand dealt. With my youngest son’s high school spring break falling on the week of April 13th, the two of us gamefully set out on our long-planned, seven day tour of minor league ballparks in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, undaunted by bleak weather forecasts leading up to our departure date. During our stops in Kodak, Huntsville, Chattanooga, Nashville, Rome, Augusta, and Myrtle Beach, the rain mercifully held off at each locale, although the weather dipped into the 30′s and 40′s on a few nights. 

A Lone Stadium Usher Tries In Vain To keep The Rain Away at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, North Carolina

A Lone Stadium Usher Tries In Vain To keep The Rain Away at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, North Carolina

On the final full day of our trip, rain once again was in the forecast. Departing Myrtle Beach, we took a detour to Fort Mill, South Carolina, where the Charlotte’s Knights’ recently-abandoned ballpark stood in eerie silence, awaiting its fate as a future distribution center for Cato Corporation.  “There’s some sad things known to man, but ain’t too much sadder than” an abandoned ballpark awaiting demolition (with apologies to Smokey Robinson). It was dreary, to say the least, not the type of uplifting visit one needed on a day filled with the imminent threat rain. But because I’ve seldom met a ballpark I didn’t want to photograph, we stopped long enough for me to capture some images for posterity. 

The Now-Abandoned Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, South Carolina

The Now-Abandoned Knights Stadium in Fort Mill, South Carolina

Heading north on I-77 toward Charlotte, North Carolina, intermittent rain pelted the road and the dark skies suggested we might finally experience our first washout. We arrived long before the gates to BB&T Ballpark opened. My son and I walked around the outside of the city’s brand spanking new stadium, temporarily buoyed by the lack of rain and the tarpless infield. An hour later, as we waited for ushers to unlock the gates, we noticed stadium workers distributing and donning yellow rain ponchos. At exactly 5:30 pm, as the first few fans spun the turnstiles, the rain began and, after that, never really stopped.

Former Members of the Charlotte Orioles Gather in Rain For Pregame Ceremony

Former Members of the Charlotte Orioles  Tour the Charlotte Knight’s New Ballpark

The evening in Charlotte was to be extra special because the Knights had invited over 40 former members of the Charlotte Orioles to attend a pregame ceremony celebrating that team’s glory years and many championships. Long before the game officially was cancelled, however, my son and I departed Charlotte and, therefore, perhaps mercifully, were not in attendance when the Knights honored their former heroes during a soaked and rain shortened pregame “celebration.”

Former Charlotte Oriole and Baltimore Oriole Pitcher Sammy Stewart Signs Autographs In The Rain

Former Charlotte Oriole and Baltimore Oriole Pitcher Sammy Stewart Graciously Stops To Sign Autographs In The Rain During Tour of Ballpark

When it comes to minor league baseball in April, one must be pragmatic. Knowing ahead of time that inclement weather put the Charlotte game in jeopardy, my son and I devised an alternative plan that could put us around game time in another ballpark just 25 miles the north of Charlotte. With the northwesterly moving storm apparently not yet reaching Kannapolis, we headed up I-85 to CMC NorthEast Stadium in hopes of seeing the Kannapolis Intimidators take on the West Virginia Power.

Marquee At CNC NorthEast Stadium, Home of the Kinnapolis Intimidators

Marquee At CMC NorthEast Stadium, Home of the Kannapolis Intimidators

The rain followed us up the highway. Upon our arrival in Kannapolis, the stadium lights were dark, which is never a good sign when it comes night games that are supposed to be already underway. Although we were able to purchase tickets and walk around the wet concourse, we knew we were wasting our time if we were hoping to see an actual game that evening.

Tarp Covered Infield In Kinnapolis, North Carolina

Tarp Covered Infield In Kannapolis, North Carolina

Through the miracle of the internet, my son determined there were two minor league games already in progress in two different cities approximately one hour north of Kannapolis – Winston-Salem to the west and Greensboro to the east.  With Winston-Salem being a few miles closer, we rejoined I-85 on our way to yet another stadium named BB&T Ballpark in hopes of seeing the Winston-Salem Dash take on the Salem Red Sox.

Stadium Lights Illuminate BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Stadium Lights Illuminate BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

It was raining in Winston-Salem when we arrived, conjuring up notions of our setting our own personal minor league record – three rain outs in one day at three different ballparks.

Rain Doesn't Stop the Winston-Salem Dash From Battling The Salem Red Sox At BB&T Ballpark

Rain Doesn’t Stop the Winston-Salem Dash From Battling The Salem Red Sox At BB&T Ballpark

Alas, that record was to remain out of reach as it was already the bottom of the fourth inning when we arrived, meaning that game was about to become official. And it did.

The Red Sox Win

The Red Sox Win

Although the rain never stopped and increased as the game progressed, a complete game was played. After nine innings the Salem Red Sox had defeated the Winston-Salem Dash by a score of 8-1.

Post Game Fireworks Fill The Rain Soaked Night in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Youngest Son Watches As Post Game Fireworks Fill The Rain Soaked Sky in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Winston-Salem wasn’t about to let a little rain nix their First Friday Night Fireworks of the Season (after all, the team’s mascot, named “Bolt,” has lightening bolts protruding from both ears). The couple hundred fans who remained thrilled to the sight of fireworks launched and quickly extinguished by the soaking rain. My son and I stayed to the bitter end as well, a seemingly fitting grand finale to our minor league baseball trip that took us to ten different ballparks in the span of one week . . . with only two rain outs.

A Room With A View Overlooking Baltimore’s Union Park

stambroseprogramIt was March 31, 1894, and the National League Baltimore Orioles soon would begin their 1894 campaign, which ultimately brought Baltimore it’s first baseball championship. The Orioles opened at home that year on April 19th with a game against the New York Giants.

A mere 120 years later, on March 31st – Baseball’s Opening Day 2014 – that Championship Season was celebrated by St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at the former site of Union Park, where the National League Orioles once played.

St. Ambrose's Green Room

St. Ambrose’s Green Room

St. Ambrose, whose offices are located at 321 East 25th Street, held an open house  celebrating the reopening of its “Green Room.” Named after one of its founders, the Green Room is located in the basement of the building and provides community space for the furthering of St. Ambrose’s worthy mission.

The building at 321 East 25th Street has great historical significance to our National Pastime as it was once located adjacent to Union Park’s grandstand and its parking lot was once part of the actual playing field. 

The back of the building can be seen in the 1897 photograph below – it is the house with the distinctive pitched roof just to the right of Union Park’s grandstand.

Union Park Grandstand (detail from The Winning Team, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Union Park Grandstand (detail from The Winning Team, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Here is that building today:

325 East 25th Street, Baltimore

321 East 25th Street, Baltimore

I had the pleasure of attending St. Ambrose’s open house as a guest speaker. After the event , I took a tour of the  building, heading to the third floor for a panoramic view of Union Park’s former playing field as seen through the two windows located just below the tip of the roof.

Interior of 325 East 25th Street, Baltimore

Interior of 321 East 25th Street, Baltimore, Third Floor

For nine seasons, from 1891 to 1899, the view through those windows was one of the finest in all of baseball, providing witness to the feats of some of the game’s greatest ballplayers, including Orioles Hall of Famers Dan Brouthers, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Ned Hanlon and Joe Kelley. Indeed, on that spot, the Orioles won three consecutive National League pennants, from 1894 to 1896.

Site of Union Park's Former Playing Field, as seen from 325 East 25th Street, Baltimore

Site of Union Park’s Former Playing Field, as seen from 321 East 25th Street, Baltimore

Today that field is a parking lot, surrounded by row houses and brick garages. But 120 years ago, it was the center of baseball in Baltimore. St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is proud of its connection to Baltimore baseball history and there is talk of honoring Union Park and the old Baltimore Orioles with a wiffle ball game to be played in the parking lot where Union Park’s infield once sat. Should those plans come to fruition, I will post information on this site.

Celebrating New Beginnings at Union Park’s Former Site

East 25th Street, Baltimore, former site of Union Park

East 25th Street, Baltimore, former site of Union Park

The mission of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is to create and maintain equal housing opportunities for low-and moderate-income people in and around the City of Baltimore. A 501(c)(3) non profit organization, St. Ambrose’s main offices are located at 317 E 25th Street, adjacent to the former site of Union Park, once the home of the World Champion 1890′s Baltimore Orioles.

To celebrate the renovation of their historic structure, St. Ambrose is holding an open house on Monday March 31st in conjunction with the Baltimore Orioles’ Opening Day. St. Ambrose also will celebrate the baseball history that surrounds the historic structure in which it resides. St. Ambroses’ offices are housed in the distinctive red brick building that appears just to left center of the above photograph. St. Ambroses’ offices also can be seen in the the photograph below, with the building’s distinctive pitched roof appearing just to the right of the third base grand stand.

Union Park, Baltimore, Home of the National League Orioles, circa 1897 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Union Park, Baltimore, Home of the National League Orioles, circa 1897 (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

I am honored to be a guest at the open house this Monday,  where I will talk about the history of the Union Park and give perhaps a few mini tours of the site, explaining where the ballpark once sat. I also will have available for sale and signing copies of my book Deadball, A Metaphysical Baseball Novel.

Before heading to the Orioles game Monday, or to pregame festivities at Pickles Pub, stop by the former site of Union Park, where the 1894 Baltimore Orioles brought home Baltimore’s first baseball championship, 120 years ago this year, and 60 years before the current-day Orioles arrived in Baltimore in 1954.

For more information about St. Ambrose and the open house, visit the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center website. I certainly hope to see you there

Harrisburg Senators Fan Club – True Fans of the Game

This past Tuesday, March 18th, I had the pleasure of attending the monthly meeting of the Harrisburg Senators Fan Club. I was invited as guest speaker at the invitation of club president, Brian Williams, whom I had met at a Harrisburg Senators game last season.

Harrisburg Senators Past President Barry Fealtman, David Stinson, Harrisburg Senators GM Randy Whitaker, and Terry Hartzell

From L to R, Harrisburg Senators Past President Barry Fealtman, David Stinson, Harrisburg Senators GM Randy Whitaker, and Terry Hartzell

With the D.C. area having just been hit with yet another winter storm, the snow covering the country side along I-83 toward Harrisburg belied the notion that spring is just around the corner. Judging from the number of people who turned out for an evening talking baseball, this winter’s harsh weather has done little to dampen fans’ excitement about baseball’s imminent return.

The Senators Fan Club meets in a banquet room at the Sons of the American Legion, Post 143, on Market Street in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, a place well suited as a winter home for baseball fans to congregate. Harrisburg fans know their baseball, and I truly appreciated the opportunity to talk with those in attendance about baseball, lost ballparks, and my book, Deadball.

Many thanks to Barry Fealtman, the club’s past president, and Jeanne Jacobs, the club’s Vice President, who both made me feel right at home, and Randy Whitaker, General Manager of the Harrisburg Senators, for providing the necessary projector for my presentation about lost ballparks. Thanks also to fan club members who shared with me stories about their visits long ago to stadiums now vanished. Those stories, and memories they invoke, help keep the ballparks alive and seemingly still present.

I look forward to heading back up I-83 to Harrisburg this summer (the snow should have melted by then). The Senators (AA Eastern League) play at Metro Bank Ballpark, one of the most unique ballparks in the country, as it is located on City Island in the middle of the Susquehanna River. Baseball has been played on that spot for over 100 years (since 1907) and the team has done a wonderful job of incorporating that history into the fans’ game day experience.

For more about the Harrisburg Senators Fan Club, visit their website here. For more information about the team, visit their website here.

Paul Blair – Centerfielder Extraordinaire

Paul Blair and Boog Powell, Memorial Stadium, 1970

I am saddened by the passing of Paul Blair, one of my all-time favorite Orioles, who died on Thursday December 26, 2013, in Pikesville, Maryland, where he was playing in his Thursday night bowling league.

I was fortunate enough to have seen Mr. Blair play center field for the Orioles. In my book Deadball, I recount a story (as a remembrance of the protagonist, Byron Bennett) that actually happened to me when I met him outside Memorial Stadium after a game in 1973:

“One of Byron’s most treasured childhood memories was standing in a crush of fans  outside Memorial Stadium after a game as Paul Blair, the Orioles’ fleet-footed center fielder, towered above him, signing his program.  Excited and not wanting the moment to end, Byron handed the program back to Blair, which the center fielder dutifully commenced signing again, until he realized he already had autographed the item, thus leaving half a signature – a second “Paul” – just below his fully signed name.  Although the memories of that day remained with Byron regardless of Memorial Stadium’s ultimate fate, the idea of the Grand Old Lady of 33rd Street becoming another lost ballpark saddened him nonetheless.”

Mr. Blair passed away too soon, but the memories of his grace on the field, and his kindness off the field, will stay with his fans as long as we are around to recall them.

Fenton Street Holiday Market This Saturday December 21st

This Saturday, December 21st, I will be back at the Fenton Street Holiday Market in Downtown Silver Spring from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The weather forecast has highs in the 60′s with little chance of precipitation. The FSHM is the perfect place for last minute holiday shopping. Please stop by and buy. My booth is No. 8

Here’s a map of the market area and here’s a link to Fenton Street Market web site.

Smithsonian Friday and Fenton Street Saturday

I’m looking forward to spending Black Friday November 29th at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum outside the gift shop on the second floor (Mall Entrance). I’ll be there from noon to 3:00 pm signing copies of my book Deadball, a Metaphysical Baseball Novel. For those interested, here’s a link to the Smithsonian web site.

Saturday November 30th I will be at the Fenton Street Market in Downtown Silver Spring from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. It’s Small Business Saturday (and you can’t much smaller than my business!) so please stop by and say hello. My booth is No. 26. Here’s a map of the market area and here’s a link to Fenton Street Holiday Market web site.

Can Redevelopment of Westport Waterfront Save Al Kaline’s Boyhood Home?

Albert William “Al” Kaline was born in Baltimore in 1934 and raised in Westport, an area of the city just south of the intersection of I-95 and I-295. Kaline is one of two baseball Hall of Famers born in Baltimore, the other one being, of course, Babe Ruth.

Westport is notable in Baltimore baseball history not only as Kaline’s hometown, but as home in 1950 to the Negro American League Baltimore Elite Giants. Westport Stadium, once located just southeast of the intersection of I-295 and Annapolis Road, hosted not only Negro League baseball, but also was home to some of Baltimore’s first NASCAR events.

Cedley Street, The Block Where Hall of Famer Al Kaline Grew Up

On a recent trip to Westport in search of the Elite Giant’s former home ballpark, I stopped in front of 2222 Cedley Street to take pictures of the house where Kaline once lived. The white-painted brick house is currently boarded up. A key box hanging on the front door knob suggests that it is either soon to be on the market or perhaps under renovation.

2222 Cedley Street - Boyhood Home of Al Kaline

For the past decade or so there has been talk of redeveloping Westport’s waterfront to include new office space, hotel rooms, retail, and residential units. Over the years those plans have hit a variety of snags and delays, however, redevelopment seems all but inevitable. The area in Westwood projected for redevelopment is just a long fly ball from Kaline’s former home.

Westport Waterfront - Just a Couple Blocks North of Kaline's Former Home

Given the current state of 2222 Cedley Street, and the chance for a nearby neighborhood renaissance, hopefully those planning Westport’s revitalized waterfront appreciate the history of that house and will find a way to insure it is part of Westport’s future.