I was fortunate to have so many great memories and experiences during my 10 years with the Ravens Band (official name is Baltimore’s Marching Ravens) that it is hard to single out one or one group of memories.
However, I think the memory that stands out the most was a Baltimore weekend with my Dad that occurred less than a month after 9/11 in 2001.
I had purchased Orioles tickets early in the year once it became known that Cal Ripken Jr. was going to retire. Of course the last Orioles game of the season sold out immediately. The best I could do was the weekend before the last game. It didn’t really matter to me because I was still going to see Cal one last time.
Then the tragedies of 9/11 occurred and the sports world stopped.
Baseball was suspended and the remainder of the season was in question. The fact that I might not get to see the game really didn’t matter.
Then MLB rearranged the end of the season. Suddenly my ticket to the next to last weekend turned into the last game of the season.
As you can imagine, fans that had spent incredible amounts of money to see what they thought was going to be the last game were furious.
I smiled on my fortune. I had 6 tickets for my wife Joan and her brother John, a friend of mine from Lock Haven University (Shawn), my Dad, my Dad’s brother Jim and myself.
The Orioles lost to the Red Sox but it really didn’t matter. It was the first and only baseball game I had ever been to with my Dad.
The next day I brought my Dad & Uncle to the first home Ravens game following 9/11 against Tennessee.
I had to work at the game as usual. Dad & Uncle Jim met me in the stadium parking lot before the game where the band practices. I got them into the stadium with the band and had a great time introducing them to the band and showing them around under the stadium where few fans get to see. For pre-game I brought them on the sideline.
Dad was in heaven. He had in a manila envelope a picture of Johnny Unitas. Many of the old Colts used to hang around on the sideline and I had met Johnny several times.
Once during a game against Indianapolis I was walking with Johnny after the National Anthem. A fan in the first row began yelling his name. Johnny went over and shook her hand. As we walked away I looked back and the woman was crying. I looked at Johnny and said, “You know she’s crying now.” He smiled and said, “Yeah I tend to do that sometimes.”
So my Dad was anxious to meet Johnny. Johnny wasn’t there for pre-game that day but I knew where Johnny used to stand on the sidelines at halftime so I was going to have my Dad meet him.
Dad and my Uncle got to sit with the band while I put on my headset and went to work. During the game I worked with the audio for the stadium coordinating the video boards with music, announcements, promotions, etc. Usually during the game the band would get one or two time outs plus playing after each Ravens’ score. I was pretty good during unexpected timeouts of working the band in.
In the second quarter a few minutes before we were going to pull the band from the stands for the halftime show I got a call that the field was going to be evacuated at the end of the half. No one was allowed on the field.
No reason was given but considering all that the country had been through everyone was nervous. I passed on the news to the band staff and admittedly I was very depressed. I knew the opportunity for my Dad to meet Johnny Unitas wasn’t going to happen. I went over to Dad and explained what was happening and he understood.
At halftime on the video screens President Bush announced bombing had begun in Afghanistan. I’ve been to many games and heard fans cheer and boo for their team.
When President Bush made the announcement the stadium erupted in cheers. I tingled and got goosebumps. I took off my headset just to look around. The sensation was overwhelming.
Cheering for a team is one thing. Cheering for America, cheering for pain, cheering for retaliation, cheering for revenge, cheering for justice. Whatever everyone was cheering for was surreal. I quickly heard a voice on my headset and went back to work.
After the game I again apologized to my Dad about not meeting Johnny. Dad thanked me. I said it was great to have him come to the games. He said it wasn’t that. It was the fact I introduced him to everyone as my Dad. See my Dad adopted me and had always thought I thought of him as my Step Dad. I’ve always considered him my only Dad and spending that memorable weekend with him was something special.
Bill Welch spent 10 seasons as a Drill Instructor for Baltimore’s Marching Ravens