Friday, September 01, 2006

For the Birds #7

I will always remember Mark Belanger as #7. "The Blade" as he was affectionately called was one of the first of a new breed of shortstops at over six feet tall. The Blade could lay down a sac bunt with his eyes closed and often gunned down runners from deep in the hole. He hit .270 in 1976 and I remember his one home run that year, just grazing the foul pole. Attending 2130, the game Cal Ripken tied Gehrig's record, the crowd parted and I was standing there with what looked like a miniature Earl Weaver, Lee May, and The Blade himself--all of whom were feeling no pain. I was speechless. Belanger's wife also contributed to the team's success and mystique by suggesting in 1975, after the switch from organ music to recorded songs, that the team play John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," during the seventh inning stretch. This often ignited the crowd in Memorial Stadium, and subsequently the team, who recorded many late-inning comebacks after the song was played. Wild Bill Hagy in Section 34 led his "O-R-I-O-L-E" cheer and, with moths swarming the klieg lights, Lee May would step to the plate. A poor man's Hank Aaron, The Big Bopper franctically waved his war club at the opposting pitcher. I remember one humid August night in the bleachers tracking a wallop that the crowd willed over the fence in left center, the ball traveling inches over the outfielder's glove to give the Orioles the lead.

Two more "moments" have occurred in the last ten days. The promising rookie Nick Markakis clubbed three home runs against the Twins in one game and the Orioles defeated the Devil Rays in the bottom of the ninth after Patterson stole second and Hernandez blooped a two-out single. "It looks like a line-drive in the paper," my grandfather would have said. In Belanger's time, the Orioles won bushels of games this way.
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