March 13, 2018 By Frank Connolly

1944, the Year of My Debut

Early in the summer of my eleventh birthday, I realized my future was to be a major league pitcher or first baseman. I was on a sandlot team and loved both playing and the camaraderie of the team. I was also a rabid fan of the Baltimore Orioles who were in first place in the International League. I listened to every game and spent endless hours discussing the relative merits of the players and the team.

For my June birthday, my father presented me with a ticket to the Fourth of July doubleheader at Oriole Park. Oh, how I reveled in the thought of the upcoming event!

On July 3rd, I spent the day in preparation and could hardly sleep that night. I was awakened early and given the bad news. During the night, Oriole Park, a rickety wooden stadium, had burned to the ground. Of course, the Fourth of July doubleheader was canceled and I was devastated. And, if a simple visit to a ball game could be so easily disrupted, perhaps that boded ill for my major league aspirations.

The sandlot team continued to succeed and I performed well enough to support my dream. Parenthetically, I came to realize I wasn’t good enough at batting to be a first baseman, so I restricted my dream to pitching. In the meantime, I followed the Orioles assiduously. It was during World War II and the players were mostly 4Fs and players either “too old or too young” as the wartime ballad bemoaned. The team seemed to lose its spark when, after the fire, they suffered a losing spell.

One of the players was Kenny Braun at shortstop. He could gather in any ball hit within his wide range of coverage, but what would happen after was only a guess. With a powerful arm, Kenny could throw the ball anywhere in the stadium but rarely to first base. When a ball was hit toward him, you could actually hear the intake of breath in the stadium. Many of the players went on to significant major league careers, including Sherm Lollar, a long time all-star, and Bob Lemon, who became a star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. I never heard of Kenny Braun again. However, I digress.

I reveled in the success of the Orioles for the season and in the success of our sandlot team, which managed to beat several other teams. The Orioles had a nearly disastrous second half of the season, getting into the playoffs only when a rival team lost a succession of games to close the regular season. The Orioles went on to win the Junior World Series as it was then named.

That summer was my entry into the world beyond the small one of home, school and relatives I had inhabited. I remember the year vividly, and as I age the memories are more poignant. The only disappointment — I did not become a major league Pitcher.


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