Saturday Diary / Watching a ball game with the Queen ... yes, that queen
Queen Elizabeth II warms up her pitching arm (in fact, waving to the crowd at the Royal Ascot horse race on June 21).
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It is said that no two baseball games, like DNA or a Dave Matthews concert, are ever the same.
You never know what you'll see when you buy your ticket (or flash your media pass) and take your seat.
Case in point: May 15, 1991. Memorial Stadium. Baltimore, Md. Baltimore Orioles vs. Oakland Athletics.
It was the night I went to a ball game with Queen Elizabeth II.
(Go ahead. Re-read that last sentence.)
Actually, we were joined by 32,596 others that mid-May Wednesday evening. But that's just a quibble. After all, most of them were there because the defending World Series champion A's were in town and it was Bargain Night.
It was a night I hadn't thought much about since the last time I saw a Helen Mirren movie. But I did think about it when I saw the Queen on her royal barge waving her queen wave during Diamond Jubilee festivities on the Thames earlier this month.
In my mind's eye, she was no longer waving to 1,000 passing boats amid champagne toasts and gilded chairs and fireworks, but was standing in the on-deck circle of old Memorial waving her queen wave to a stadium of fans eating hot dogs and drinking Cokes out of paper cups and within sight of then-A's coach Reggie Jackson, who three years earlier had played the robotic right fielder/assassin who "must kill the queen" in the first of the "Naked Gun" farces.
Harold Pinter, where were you? This was theater of the absurd.
Minutes before, she'd held a receiving line in the Orioles' dugout to greet the teams. Her Majesty, the Queen of England, standing in the Orioles' dugout with Prince Phillip and -- how could I forget? -- President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara. Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent was on hand, too, as well as then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
(Traffic through the old Baltimore neighborhood that evening was a real joy.)
If memory holds, red carpet was laid over the old, wood planks of the dugout floor. That sheath of carpet was all that separated Her Majesty's royal feet from the spike-scuffed wood where guys named Boog once scratched and spat Red Man and rubbed dirt in it.
She had said that she wanted to sample some real Americana.
It didn't get much more American at the time than to have your picture snapped with Oakland outfielder Jose Canseco, who was at the height of his baseball and celebrity powers and years from has-been wrestling matches and steroid allegations. The picture ran in many papers across the country the next morning. Only days before, Canseco had been seen skulking about Madonna's New York City apartment building. Madonna's "Bat Boy," the New York tabs dubbed him. Now, here he was giving the queen a wink and a nod in the name of international relations.
Every scene was a sensory mind-bender: What's not right with this picture?
I was in my regularly assigned seat in the press box. The Orioles were on their way to another loss. Cal Ripken Jr. was playing in his 1,440th game of a record 2,632 in a row. And not three boxes to my left sat the 12th great grand niece of Henry VIII getting a primer from President Bush on why ex-Pirate Joe Orsulak was batting cleanup for Baltimore. So close I could have easily popped a hot dog into her lap during the hot dog launch (had there been such a thing in 1991).
Of course, I imagine the guards with rifles perched menacingly on every light tower wouldn't have looked kindly on me taking a shot at the queen, meat by-products or no meat-byproducts.
The snipers overhead were only the most visible part of the night's security. While the Secret Service didn't lean on Rickey Henderson not to do any stealing in the queen's presence, agents did make it difficult to retreat into the press lounge for a Coke.
Thirsty, sir? In by one door, out through another and down a long, out-of-the-way hallway and through a metal detector before returning to your seat. Another Coke? Same gantlet. Apparently, the federal government was convinced that one of Al Pacino's men had hidden a weapon for one of us in the press bathroom. Maybe even a hot dog launcher. Dare I say that no one thought about making a run for the crab cake line.
Despite all this, the queen, the president and their party stayed for just two innings. She didn't even stick around long enough to take part in the wave nor stomp to the traditional playing of John Denver's "Thank God I'm A Country Boy."
Nevertheless, two innings was long enough to say I went to a ball game with Queen Elizabeth. The five-inning rule applies only to a game being official in the standings. In the land of the absurd, two innings in the same stadium as the Queen of England and Secret Service agents at the Coke machine was quite long enough to count.
The next day, the Queen became the first British monarch to address Congress. Twenty-one years later, she stood on her royal barge celebrating 60 years on the throne.
And I could only think as I watched: Nice, but it's been done before. This was the second Diamond Jubilee in the past 115 years, dating to Queen Victoria in 1897.
But that night in Baltimore?
No reigning British monarch had ever seen a baseball game and she has not been back since. Rarer than seeing a player hit four home runs in a game (that's happened 16 times), seeing a pitcher throw a perfect game (22 times) or experiencing a winning season by the Pirates (62 times), I was at a ball game with the Queen of England.
A true one and only.
First Published June 23, 2012 12:00 am