The Orioles sold tickets for only two-thirds of the 48,000 seats available for the first game at Camden Yards, a contest with the New York Mets played 17 years ago today, on April 3, 1992. My father and I settled into two of those seats and together with 31,284 other fans enjoyed a 5-3 Orioles victory. It was an exhibition, but please don't call it meaningless.
The game itself was engaging if not altogether memorable. I had to look up the details.
-Neither team hit a home run. Sam Horn's one-hopper to the outfield wall was the longest shot on a windy Friday afternoon.
-Sid Fernandez no-hit the Orioles for five innings before things fell apart in the sixth. RBI singles by David Segui, Cal Ripken, and Glenn Davis tied the game. A Dave Magadan error allowed two additional runs to score on a Chris Hoiles grounder.
-Mike Flanagan, who got the last out at Memorial Stadium, picked up the first "win" at Camden Yards.
No matter. It was a day to celebrate the ballpark, not the game. Consider the ebullient words of The Washington Post's Tom Boswell the following day.
This afternoon was exactly what many has expected for months -- dead solid perfection. The only question left, after one game, is whether Camden Yards is merely one of the half-dozen best parks in baseball -- it's certainly no lower -- or whether it is already, all things considered, the best. If that's a stretch, it may not be one for long.
Still, the beauty of the ballpark wasn't enough for me.
Having spent 6,204 days of my young life knowing just one ballpark, spending day number 6,205 at a new one was as strange as seeing Eddie Murray in a Mets uniform. I had my own team history, and it was missing from Camden Yards.
Here rested no memory of my first souvenir purchase. "Make it good," my young mind whispered, "in case you never come back."
Of gloving my first ballpark baseball, a batting practice blast off the bat of the Brewers' Dante Bichette.
Of bare-handing my second ballpark baseball, a grab made during a pre-game bullpen party. Randy Milligan was the batter.
Of knocking my friends' nachos - and the cheese, especially the cheese - into the seats in front of us when we jumped up in excitement over another Earl Weaver tirade.
Of rising to cheer Freddy Lynn as he made his way to his position following his second consecutive homer of the game.
Of visiting the press box where my math teacher worked in the off-season and having my dad point out a guy named Tug who wore a big ring.
Of flipping through the promotional calendar I received at the ballpark gate, the one with cartoons including the "Amazing Outfield-O's" - Mike Devereaux, Brady Anderson, and Steve Finley.
Of watching Devereaux climb the left-field fence to steal a home run. Indeed, it was amazing.
Of cheering on a young "Chitooooooooooooooo" Martinez from the right-field bleachers, the same spot where I learned years earlier that one particular word was an unacceptable taunt among polite ballpark company.
Of watching Sam Horn clout a foul ball to the highest confines of Memorial Stadium's horseshoe upper deck.
Of calling out from the upper deck for a lemonade that we never wanted as a prank on our high school classmate who was a ballpark vendor.
I can remember where I was sitting for nearly every one of these games, and it wasn't in Camden Yards. Seventeen years worth of memories were missing from this new ballpark that I was seeing for the first time.
The Second 17
Another 17 years now have passed, and I own a distinct set of memories that belong to the ballpark that initially seemed so foreign.
Here rests the memory of my 21st birthday and finally understanding what Chuck Thompson meant by "Ain't the beer cold."
Of skipping work in the hopes of seeing Cal Ripken's 400th home run.
Of celebrating Father's Day at the ball game.
Of cringing as Terry Mathews took to the mound during Game 3 of the 1997 ALDS.
Of applauding the visiting team following a would-have-been, should-have-been bounce back Game 6 of the 1997 ALCS.
Of looking on from the press box as I covered a story about the ballpark's music man.
Of missing on an awkward high-five with the guy sitting next to me following a Palmeiro walk-off during the first game that I attended alone.
Of introducing my future love, the woman who would be my wife, to my first love, the Orioles.
As was the case with Memorial Stadium, I can remember where I was sitting for nearly every one of these games at Camden Yards.
It all started on April 3, 1992, when my father arrived at school on my birthday and brought with him two baseball tickets - first base side, under the overhang. Dad had something in common with the Orioles; he came through in the clutch, he made the Magic happen.
Back in 1992, then-General Manager Roland Hemond boasted of the tradition that traveled with the team from 33rd Street to 333 West Camden. "To me," he said, "I feel like there's already history here. It's like we transported the tradition and didn't lose it."
My tradition didn't travel to Camden Yards that day. Rather, it began anew.