Monday, April 10, 2006

Sam Horn, he's one of ours

A long foul ball at Memorial Stadium gives the author territorial rights, Red Sox fans be damned

by Matthew Taylor

I've got a bone to pick with Red Sox fans, and it’s as simple as this: Sam Horn is one of ours.

That’s right, Boston, I’m claiming Sam Horn and his 62 career home runs for Baltimore. And I’m taking his .240 career batting average, his 250 hits, his 323 strikeouts (yes, more career K’s than hits), and even his lone stolen base attempt with me.

(I guess Sam learned his lesson after he was caught trying to steal a base during his rookie season; he never again attempted to pilfer on the base paths. You see, the guy’s smart. They say that colleges are like Dunkin Donuts in Boston, one on every corner. All that intelligence must’ve rubbed off on Sam before he came to Charm City.)

Sam Horn is an Oriole whether you Sawks fans like it or not. You can have him as an NESN studio analyst. The “brightest and most passionate Red Sox fans” can even continue to use his name for their famed “Sons of Sam Horn” discussion community. But Sam Horn is, and always will be, an Oriole.

Take Freddy Lynn. When I was a kid I saw one of his multi-homer games at Memorial Stadium, but I know he's "one of yours" in Boston.

Take Curt Schilling. He's rightfully yours after wiping out the Yanks in the 2004 ALCS. All we O's fans have when it comes to Schilling are the dreaded "What if?" questions. For example, "What if the Orioles had guarded Schilling for his potential the way they guarded Sir Sidney?"

Heck, you can even have Brady Anderson (41 games) if you want. We'll throw in Manny Alexander and his .211 Boston average and make it a package deal.

But leave Sam Horn in his rightful place in my memory, wearing the orange and black and blasting balls into the right field bleachers on 33rd Street.

Bottom line: Sam Horn belongs to Baltimore. He's one of ours.

This past Sunday marked the 16th anniversary of Sam Horn’s greatest documented career game, April 9, 1990. That’s the day – Opening Day in Kansas City, to be specific – he went 4-for-5 with two three-run homers and six runs batted in, as the Orioles beat the Royals (Johnny Damon’s team?), 7-6, in 11 innings. An equally-powerful performance by Sam Horn isn’t documented anywhere other than in my mind.

True story. It was a day game at 33rd Street. The O’s were playing against a team I can’t remember on a date that I’ve long since forgotten. It was sunny, I can tell you that much. What sticks out in my mind (there is something) is that Sam Horn nearly put a ball clear out of Memorial Stadium. The only player to ever accomplish the feat was the great Frank Robinson in 1966. As noted on “Frank Robinson hit the only home run long enough to leave the stadium completely when he drove a Luis Tiant pitch 450 feet and over the left field bleachers on May 8, 1966.”

The Orioles flew a “1966” flag out beyond the home bullpen at Memorial Stadium to commemorate Robinson’s accomplishment. Were it up to me there would’ve been a separate flag flying for Sam Horn in the right field upper deck.

Sitting in the stands at Memorial Stadium with my father that day, I watched Sam destroy a ball down the right field line. We’re talking Roy Hobbs stuff here, only minus the exploding stadium lights (that wouldn’t have been quite as cool during a day game) or the coverless baseball. A sure homerun – Dad and I knew it from the second it left the bat – if only the ball would stay fair. Instead, it raced just to the right of (and well above) the foul pole and kept rising … and rising … and rising. The only thing that kept that ball out of some poor fan’s passenger seat was the familiar horseshoe seating of Memorial Stadium’s upper deck.

The baseball came to rest – or, more appropriately, came thundering down – three rows from the top of the upper deck. To this day I’ve never seen a baseball hit that hard. And for what it's worth, I’ve watched Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds take batting practice at what was then Pac Bell Park.

Had Sam Horn played at Camden Yards I’m convinced he would’ve broken a warehouse window and made lifelong memories for Orioles fans everywhere. Instead, we simply have Ken Griffey’s warehouse shot during the All-Star Home Run Hitting Contest. No flags for that one. And no flags for Sam Horn's near-accomplishment on 33rd Street. Only memories.

I've hung pictures of three Orioles players in my home at one time or another: Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, and Sam Horn. So Sam Horn is an Oriole. Because although the specific details might be fuzzy, I’ll never forget that long foul ball one sunny afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

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