Memo­rial Sta­dium res­ur­rected at lo­cal re­tire­ment com­mu­nity

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Mike Klinga­man

Memo­rial Sta­dium might be gone, but it lingers in the hearts of sports fans — and the hand­i­work of John Swope. A wood­worker from Parkville, Swope has con­structed a minia­ture ver­sion of the 33rd Street ball­park that was de­mol­ished be­gin­ning in 2001.

“It’s my field of dreams,” said Swope, 80, a res­i­dent of the Oak Crest re­tire­ment com­mu­nity. Ten months in the mak­ing, his sta­dium is a replica of the one where the Ori­oles played for 37 years, the NFL Colts for 30 and the Ravens for two. The Ori­oles played their last game at Memo­rial Sta­dium 25 years ago to­day.

There are im­ages of fans in the stands and tiny fig­ures rep­re­sent­ing Ori­oles on the base­ball field, as well as peo­ple buy­ing food at con­ces­sion stands and the ever-present line of pa­trons wait­ing to use the ladies room.

There’s the “HERE” flag atop the left­field bleach­ers, where in 1966 the Ori­oles’ Frank Robin­son be­came the only man ever to hit a fair ball out of the park. There are dugouts filled with play­ers, a screen back­stop, press box, ra­dio booth and four tele­vi­sion cam­eras perched just where they used to be. Metal light tow­ers, which Swope sol­dered him­self, bathe the field in bril-

liance. Mov­ingly, the words em­bossed on­the front of the ball­park echo the tribute paid to Amer­ica’s World War II ca­su­al­ties on the orig­i­nal Memo­rial Sta­dium, end­ing with, “Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.”

“The sta­dium is fab­u­lous; the de­tail is spec­tac­u­lar,” said Ron Stokes, pres­i­dent of the Oak Crest model rail­road club, who asked Swope to build the ball­park for the com­mu­nity’s ex­pan­sive train gar­den, a nod to down­town Bal­ti­more. “We set the bar high for John and he raised it. He’s a great crafts­man.”

Swope’s project speaks for the in­ven­tive­ness of se­niors, said Stokes, 77.

“Yes, we sit. Yes, we nap — but we do a lot of other things, too,” he said.

The sta­dium is on dis­play at Oak Crest and open to the public Satur­days from1p.m. to 3 p.m.

Swope called the project “a la­bor of love,” though he turned down the club’s first three re­quests to build it.

“I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see it through,” he said.

He toiled on the project for seven hours a day, seven days a week, in Oak Crest’s wood shop.

“Some days I wouldn’t see him un­til night,” said his wife, Carol Swope, 77.

He worked off old pho­tos as well as his rec­ol­lec­tions of hav­ing at­tended Ori­oles games years ago, when he rooted ei­ther from his seats in the mez­za­nine, be­hind home plate, or in the up­per deck (Row 7).

“A lot of stuff came back to me,” said Swope, who grew up in Spar­rows Point.

Armed with ra­zor blades, su­per glue, X-Acto knives, acrylic paints and sheets of bass­wood, most of which he bought at a lo­cal hobby shop, he con­structed a copy of a sta­dium dear to those who rev­eled there. The con­struc­tion cost? “I’m not sure, but a ball­park fig­ure is about $200,” he said.

It’s not fin­ished yet. There’s an out­field fence and bullpens to be built. Swope re­cently added a Na­tional Beer score­board, circa 1970, which will have flash­ing num­bers and a speaker play­ing CDs of long­time an­nouncer Chuck Thomp­son’s high­lights of Ori­oles games.

In Swope’s sta­dium, the home team plays host to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Ori­oles are clad in orange and black — he painted the fig­ures with tweez­ers and a tiny brush — with bird in­signias on their caps and num­bers on their backs. Jim Palmer is on the mound, sur­rounded by Boog Pow­ell (first base), Brooks Robin­son (third base) and Frank Robin­son (left field).

But there’s as much drama tak­ing place off the field as on it.

“See that lady?” he said, point­ing to a woman sur­rounded by three chil­dren near a con­ces­sion stand. “She brought her kids to the game and all they want is to go buy pop­corn. And over there, near that ramp, is a mother lec­tur­ing her lit­tle boy while a thief tries to grab her pock­et­book.”

His work is not with­out whimsy. Out­side the ball­park, a fig­ure dozes at the base of the wall, wine bot­tle in hand, as a fan peers at Claire Ro­mano, 86, helped fel­low Oak Crest re­tire­ment com­mu­nity res­i­dent John Swope build and paint a de­tailed model of Memo­rial Sta­dium, which was de­mol­ished in 2001. him from above.

“I would glue peo­ple down, then stand back and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s per­fect,’ ” he said.

And while he made mis­takes, not all of them bore cor­rect­ing.

“Look at that woman clean­ing the hot dog stand,” he said. “When I po­si­tioned her there, her hand turned by ac­ci­dent and the glue smeared. I let it be; it looks like she’s wip­ing off a dirty counter.”

At Oak Crest, re­ac­tion to Swope’s project has been heart­felt.

“When we take [the sta­dium] around to our din­ing rooms and lob­bies, peo­ple are emo­tion­ally moved,” Stokes said. “The first thing they do is point to a spot in the stands and say, ‘I used to sit there!’ ”

Of­ten, folks will grab their cam­eras and, with wist­ful sighs, take pic­tures of the ball­park, Claire Ro­mano said. An Oak Crest res­i­dent, Ro­mano, 86, helped Swope paint the fig­ures and brick­work.

“I saw the wheels turn­ing in John’s head when he started this project,” Ro­mano said. “When he said, ‘Would you help me?’ I said, ‘You betcha.’ ”

The sport will change with the sea­sons. Now that the Ori­oles are fin­ished, Swope plans to re­place the di­a­mond with a football field and cel­e­brate a Ravens theme.

“This work keeps me go­ing,” he said. “Many’s the day I’ve got­ten out of bed and not felt like do­ing any­thing … un­til I got to the shop. You’ve got to keep busy. You never stop learn­ing, no mat­ter how old you are.

“Too many [se­niors] sit around watching tele­vi­sion. I do this so I can sleep at night. Be­sides, it keeps me out of bars.”

KENNETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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