BALTIMORE — Brooks went out first. No announcement on the PA. "Field of Dreams" music in the background. He went to take his position at third, carrying a glove and a ball and a lump in his throat. He wore his old uniform, No. 5. The game was thankfully over, a 7-1 Orioles' loss to Detroit, home plate had been stuffed into a limo and moved downtown to Camden Yards, and now it was just 50,000 fans and 38 years of memories. It was what we'd come for.
Brooks stood there alone in the cool late October afternoon, kicking the dirt, for 15 seconds, maybe 30. It seemed longer. It seemed like the longest he'd ever been there without diving to his left to break some batter's heart. Then Frank trotted out to right. The fans in the right-field seats stood the way they always did for No. 20 in this packed Memorial Stadium house packed full of memories. The music played. The fans cheered. No PA to announce him. You never had to announce Frank Robinson in Memorial Stadium. And now you never will again.
Next, Boog to first. They saw his face on the Diamond Vision screen, which had its cameras trained on the dugout, and the \o7 "B-o-o-o-gs" \f7 began. The Booger is not as fast as he used to be, and he never was fast. But he finally got to the bag and, like Brooks and Frank before him, waved his cap to the crowd.
Palmer to the mound. Time stopped again. It was 1966. Twenty-five years ago to the day, Palmer was beating Sandy Koufax in the World Series. Brooks and Frank and Boog were bringing Baltimore its first championship. On this day, Palmer was trying to beat back tears. He couldn't.
Baylor to left. The Demper, who is playing with the Brewers but wouldn't miss this day, to the place where home plate used to be. And the old stadium started to explode. No announcements. It would have broken the mood. It would have made it too real.
"They recognize the trot," said Bobby Grich, who trotted out to second. "They know us."
That's all. The trot. Or the tip of the cap. No announcements needed. Not for these folks.
Lee May. Jim Gentile. Davey Johnson. Luis Aparicio. They were coming in groups now, each player taking his position. The fans didn't know where to look. Anywhere they looked provoked an explosion of memories.
McNally, Dobson and Cuellar joined Palmer on the mound--the four 20-game winners. It was reality slowed down to a dream.
"Unbelievable," said Dennis Martinez, who came here with the permission of the Montreal Expos.
Tippy was there, too. And Don Stanhouse, Full Pack. He came out in an orange uniform, because he's still Don Stanhouse.
Lowenstein and Roenicke went to left field together. Perfect.
It was all perfect.
I looked into the stands to see faces that were contorted as if they'd seen something unworldly. Maybe they had.
"It was the greatest day of my life," Brooks would say later.
And still they came.
Robin Roberts. Al Bumbry. Doug DeCinces.
Moe Drabowsky. Pete Richert. Dave Skaggs.
Gene Woodling. Eddie Watt. Steve Barber.
"I was pushing back tears," the Booger said. "We all were. This was a moment like nothing I'd ever seen."
There were more than 75 old Orioles on the field when the new ones joined them. The present-day Orioles had suffered through another terrible defeat, a 95th loss in a season to forget. They were down, 4-0, in the first. The day was a ruin until Mike Flanagan entered in the ninth, faced two batters and struck them both out. He was the bridge that took us from old to new. He understood. "It's never easy saying goodby," Flanny said.
Randy Milligan understood, too. When he took the field, he felt something he'd never known.
"It was the first time I really felt the ghost of this Oriole team," the Moose said. "Today I really felt the Orioles' past."
Cal was the last Oriole player to take the field. He earned that. His last season at Memorial Stadium may result in a second MVP award.
That left only Earl. He trundled out to home plate, to an ovation, and kicked the dirt. Of course he did. And then he cried. They took pictures of everyone, and still Earl cried. He cried and Palmer cried. The Demper led the crowd in the O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheer. And Earl cried. The players threw baseballs into the crowd. And then they played Auld Lang Syne, and I don't know who didn't cry.
"Everything came back to me in one big rush," Earl said, his eyes still red. "I knew this was the last time. I thought about Brooks and Frank. I thought about Palmer's no-hitter. There was the year when we were down by six games to Boston on Sept. 1, and Cuellar and McNally pitched back-to-back shutouts in a doubleheader and we came back to catch them.
"But they did it right today, with this ceremony. Just like they've done everything right here."
The last words came in a taped shot on the big screen of Rex Barney from his hospital bed saying one last Memorial Stadium \o7 "Thank-yew-w-w."
\f7 And that was it.
Going, going, gone.