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Aug '09 24

A grandfather’s baseball gift – a Baseball-Blog by John Miller



Old World Pastime

John Miller, player/coach of the Brussels Kangaroos and a reporter for a major American newspaper, is back chronicling his team’s 2009 season in his weekly column that will appear every Monday on mister-baseball.com.

These are the happy days of summer. Throw open windows for a breeze, decap a cold one, and lock your laptop into an internet radio ballgame. The crowd buzzes, the bat cracks, and sharp American voices tell the story of two teams on a Sunday in a faraway ballpark.

I follow and love the Baltimore Orioles. I’m still investing emotional cash down that drain, hoping that one day the team’s record will be 73-50 instead of 50-73. The day the Orioles win a World Series, it pains me to tell my wife, will be the happiest of my life. OK, maybe second-happiest.

Following the Birds on the radio is one of my oldest habits. It started with my grandfather.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when I was growing up in Brussels, Bill Miller, a retired NASA engineer, taped Orioles games on WTOP radio out of Washington. He sent his recordings across the Atlantic Ocean every week. The Belgian postman would drop a pair of 90-minute audiotapes through our mailbox. They were always strapped together with a thick rubber band, and wrapped in a brown package envelope.

I’d insert the first cassette into a brick-shaped tape recorder with a brand name like Sharp or Grundig. Then sounded an athletic play in nine acts. The first game I remember was the Orioles’ inaugural win in 1988. They had started that season with 21 straight losses. The record losing streak made the cover of Sports Illustrated. There were jokes. “The Orioles have a new Korean manager: Win Wan Soon.”

The broadcast included the national anthem. And then there was the radio man with my name, the pitch-perfect Jon Miller: “Yes, fans, America is beautiful, even when you’re 0 and 21.” In the first inning, Cal Ripken walked and Eddie Murray dingered. The O’s won 9-0.

I listened to that game a dozen times. The commercials entered my mental narrative stream. “There she was, a beautiful girl with car trouble, and I knew where to get a good deal…” “Eat Eskay Orioles franks…”

Granddad, a generous soul who still lives with my grandmother in Bowie, Maryland, kept up this weekly baseball gift until I graduated from high school. At that point, I owned shoe boxes full of old tapes. I stashed them under my bed and, when bored, would sometimes dig out a five-year-old Orioles vs. Mariners contest.

The only possible substitute for granddad’s tapes was Armed Forces Radio, which carried few Orioles games and didn’t always come in with a clean reception.

A couple decades later, here I sit in northern Brussels, listening to the Orioles leading the White Sox 5-3 in the eighth inning. The commercials conjure up dreams of my ancestral Maryland. “Enjoy the old-fashioned goodness of Schmidt old-time wheat bread…”

To me, it’s still the sound of a grandfather’s love.

There is room for sentiment on this site. It’s baseball! Tell me stories of baseball fathers and grandfathers. I’m at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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