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Home / Articles / Columnists / Sports Feature /  Sports Traditions We Love – and Why We Love Them
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Friday, February 3,2017

Sports Traditions We Love – and Why We Love Them

By Mark Tudino  
The year is 1977, August actually. I am sitting with two good friends at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore on a hot Friday night. The hometown Orioles are hosting the Oakland Athletics and the pitching matchup is a dandy: Vida Blue versus Jim Palmer. We have seats in the upper deck, and because it’s 1977 and we’re students, it’s a cheap night of entertainment. The crowd is solid, probably around 30,000 or so, and enthusiastic; early on the O’s take the lead and behind Palmer’s two-hitter, win it 6-1. So, you ask, what makes a baseball game from 40 years ago memorable? Nothing really, except for one thing.

 

During the game, next to us, a very drunk guy keeps yelling out the Orioles name. Well, he isn’t really yelling it so much as he is spelling it. You know: O-R-I-O-L-E-S. Over and over again, he keeps this up. Finally, as much out of exasperation as anything else, we tell the guy to quit yelling his cheer at us and direct it to the crowd. He obliges and ups his game: he stands and begins to spell out the name with his body, contorting it in all kinds of funny ways only a chiropractor could love. But, suddenly, something strange happens:

towards the end of the game, and with the outcome no longer in doubt, the crowd in our section – section 34 – begins to cheer for the drunk guy to do his act.

So, with a little prodding (and a whole lot of beer) he obliges - and so was born the legend of Wild Bill Hagy, #1 Orioles fan, from famed Section 34. He and his cohorts (of which we were founding members) would then (at subsequent games) begin to expand on this idea and invent all sorts of cheers, from the exultations of individual players (“C’mon Lowenstein, hit the National Boh sign”), to the razzing of umpires and opposing players. Even the national anthem wasn’t spared; we’d wait until the song reached its crescendo of “O say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave...” when the entire crowd, en masse, would hold the “O” for as long and loud as they could. That “O” became our trademark – our tradition. To this day, in any ballpark, in any city where the O’s are playing, you will hear that trademark “O”. And it all started because of a drunken cab driver on a hot August night. Such is the way traditions are born.

I relay this tale to you not to praise the ramblings of drunks at ballparks, or even to wax nostalgic on a tradition hardly anybody outside of a very few know about (but still honor). But because it reminds us that sports is still the common language which can allow its expression to cross over generational, racial and economic lines. You can love your team, or love your school, and love its traditions as much as the next guy or gal and, in a way, draw a parallel to the people who share the experience with you. You may have nothing else in common, but for that single moment, everyone in that stadium or arena is of one mind and one heart and in this, the month in which we celebrate love, nothing is better than that.

Now that I’ve shared one of my fondest sports traditions, it’s time to ask… what’s yours?

 

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