Lifelong O’s Fan Remembers Baltimore Baseball Before Camden Yards

James Batty resides across the street from where Memorial Stadium was formerly located. (Timothy Cox/The Washington Informer)
James Batty resides across the street from where Memorial Stadium was formerly located. (Timothy Cox/The Washington Informer)

BALTIMORE — When James Batty sits on the deck of his senior citizens’ home in northwest Baltimore, he sometimes reflects on the times when the youth baseball field across the street once housed the massive edifice known as Memorial Stadium.

“I actually worked there two different times — first from 1957-59. Then, I came back in the mid-1960s,” said Batty, 76.

He worked as a vendor first while in high school, selling popcorn, peanuts and
hot dogs.

“Minors couldn’t sell beer,” he recalled. “So I was too young the first time.”

Though now somewhat slowed in his walk, while assisted by a cane, Batty’s mind remains razor-sharp, and easily recounts the times when the stadium consistently attracted sold-out crowds and fielded championship-caliber teams.

“I really recall the 1958 All-Star Game,” he said. “That one had Willie
Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle.”

Having grown up on on Vine Street on the west side of Baltimore, Batty said he never imagined he’d someday live on the same property where Memorial Stadium was once located.

The structure, erected in 1950 and razed in 2001, was originally built as a tribute to World War I and World War II veterans, hence the name.

In addition to the senior housing facility, the mixed-use property now houses a YMCA and an athletic field used by youth soccer, lacrosse and baseball players. The field is sponsored by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and uses the original diamond setup of Memorial Stadium. The original home plate was relocated to Camden Yards when the new stadium opened in 1989, according to Bill Stetka, Orioles alumni director.

“They did a really good job in developing the area which once housed the old stadium,” said Stetka, who formerly served as the team’s public relations director before assuming his current role nearly 10 years ago.

Batty had studied to be a cabinetmaker at George Washington Carver High School, where he graduated in 1959, but retired having worked for years in the city’s waste water treatment department, he said.

“Somebody’s got to do that job, and I did it,” he said with a smile.

One of Batty’s many neighbors at Ednor Apartments at Stadium Place is Thomas “Tom” Gilk, 66, who said he resided in NYC before relocating to Baltimore as a teenager.

The retired chemical operator said he too is a longtime baseball fan, fondly recalling the numerous World Series trips for the Orioles.

“They won in ’66, ’70 and ’83, but lost to
the Pittsburgh Pirates in ’71 and ’79,” he said. “[The Pirates] were singing ‘We Are Family.’ Yeah, those teams were good, but those were all good games, very competitive.”

Batty’s highlight was having worked the 1958 MLB All-Star Game. On that July 8 night, he witnessed the likes of Mickey Mantle, Bill Skowron and Nellie Fox for the American League, while the National League’s starting lineup included Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial and Warren Spahn.

Batty faithfully wears his Orioles hat each spring and said he’ll always remains a “Birds” fan.

“They have some tough times, but overall, they’ve got a great organization,” he said. “But I’ll still always remember Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, John “Boog” Powell, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken — they were the all-time greats.”

Batty also worked as a vendor for the Baltimore Colts before the team left for Indianapolis in 1984. Proudly, he recalls seeing the likes of John Unitas, Lenny Moore and John Mackey wearing their iconic blue and white jerseys. He said he enjoyed the warm weather of the baseball season over the frigid NFL schedule.

For the record, Stetka said Memorial Stadium was never in disrepair, but the ballclub needed a venue that could compete with the modern stadiums of the 1970s such as Riverfront (Cincinnati), Three Rivers (Pittsburgh) and Busch (St. Louis).

The large red-brick structure behind right field at Camden Yards, the Orioles’ new home, was formerly a warehouse owned by Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company, Stetka said. It now houses Orioles’ administrative offices.

Camden Yards was once a large railroad loading area where trains off-loaded materials and goods. A sister warehouse is located in Cincinnati, he said, where the Ohio portion of the railway route ends.

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