“It’s like watching a close family member agonizing and going through a long and painful death.” The year: 2000. The place: Memorial Stadium, Baltimore. The quote: a woman, during an interview in the making of the documentary, The Last Season, referencing the political jockeying going on regarding the fate of the stadium and the strong emotions tied to that fate.
This riveting retrospective takes a look at the collective soul of Baltimore- both the community and it’s sports- unfiltered and highly charged through the mouths of fans that did more than just watch ball games.
Freelance writer Charles Cohen and videographer, Joseph Mathew teamed up to do a web-video (a relatively new concept at that time, pre You-Tube) on the closing of this historical Maryland landmark. The gem of an idea: they’d head to the stadium the last day fans were allowed in. Cohen admits that although he had high hopes for this project, he didn’t fully realize this assignment would take on a life of its own. “It was emotional, to be there on the spot…” he said, realizing soon into the process “this is much bigger than a little story.”
On this day, the lines were long and the passion provoked. Baltimore fans were waiting for one last look, one final goodbye. They were also hoping to snag a sliver of history; for memorabilia and fixtures which would eventually turn into tomorrow’s treasures. These treasures speak of another era rooted in local traditions and pride where true top-grade heroes were born and made. And the connection between hero and fan was unprecedented.
Art Donovan might have summed it best during his interview on Season, “It was a love affair between the football team and the fans.” He is not the only talent represented. Other interviews include immortals like Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, Jr., Ginor Marchetti, Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Tom Matte and Wild Bill Hagy.
What did Memorial Stadium mean to its people? Here is a collection of quotes from the documentary: “I grew up here; I saw the double over-time game here with the Colts and Raiders; Mom would make crab-cakes and wrap them in foil, Dad would gather up gigantic bags of Geppi’s peanuts…it was an all-day family picnic; Guys behind me used to shuck oysters and pass them around; I saw Ripken play his first game here; You were proud to be from Baltimore, we had the Orioles and the Colts; I saw Earl Weaver rip up the rule book at homeplate!”
Memorial Stadium, also known as the world largest outdoor insane asylum hadn’t been used for some time. The Orioles final home game took place October 6, 1991; the last Colts game -December 18, 1983 before the Mayflower trucks greedily chugged out of town thanks to Robert Irsay.
So what you see in Season is a field of dreams that had seen better days. The once robust memory maker and hotspot went neglected and faded into the background. It became an eyesore to its neighbors and a political battle. Cohen and Mathew don’t let that battle slide and capture the many sides of this puzzle with interviews from the key power players.
Why does this matter now? Like one of the interviewees stated, once the stadium comes down so too go the memories. Not necessarily so. As we remember the legends of the NFL game-changer, The Greatst Game Ever Played (December 28, 1958), so too come a flood of memories. We reflect on a sport and era that has changed dramatically. For better or worse- likely both- depending on your perspective.
Like Tom Matte said during an interview at M & T Bank Stadium last night during the 1958 celebration (Grazing with the Greats) while reminiscing about the past: “Baltimore is a football town, number 1!”
Interesting on the eve of the Ravens playoff hopes. As the Orioles sputtered through recent years (11 seasons…) and the Ravens have brought quality sport back into Baltimore radar, it’s incrdibly easy to relate to Matte’s sentiment.
No doubt, The Last Season is an evocative glimpse into Baltimore’s soul but also offers a peak into the ever-changing landscape of new sports stadiums that are popping up and bringing sports history to its knees. The Last Season delivers in it’s presentation. This is a must-have for all of Baltimore’s DVD collections. The interviews alone are worthy of prime-time. Highlights of games and moments past are also worth the price of admission.
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