Episode 144 — Michael Ortman: 50 Opening Days, Regaining a Team, & Life Lessons from Davey and the Nats

Michael Ortman is a Washington Nationals fan now living in Florida. He grew up a Senators fan and attended his first Opening Day in 1970. For the next 50 years, Michael was at every Opening Day. Even after his beloved Senators were relocated to Texas, he found a way to keep the streak alive – spanning three cities, six ballparks, and five different home teams. His half-century streak is chronicled in his book Opening Day: 50-for-50.

Michael and Anna discuss how the streak came to be, what it was like to lose and gain a team 33 years apart, and how the 2019 World Series was the perfect cherry on top of an incredible 50 year story.

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Website: openingday5050.com
Facebook: openingday5050
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Read the full transcript

[00:00:00] Michael: Major League Baseball owned the Nationals at that time in, in 05, did a wonderful job.

[00:00:05] Michael: Recreating a a perfect pregame ceremony that brought back a dozen or so one time Washington senators, introducing them one by one. On to the field some of them weren’t getting around so well as I used to, but Mickey Vernon and Eddie Brinkman and Joe Rosenda and Dick Bosman, it was on and on and they saved Frank Howard for last and the stadium shook.

[00:00:33] Michael: And I’m sobbing adults were crying everywhere. It was really a big, powerful, emotional night for the city. I don’t know that you could ever replicate that. 

[00:00:45] Anna: What’s up bucketheads? Thanks for tuning in and welcome to episode number 144 of the baseball bucket list podcast. I’m your host Anna DiTommaso, and each week on the show, I speak with a different baseball fan about their favorite memories, what’s left on their baseball bucket list, and what the game of baseball means to them. 

[00:01:01] Anna: This week, I got to chat with Michael Ortman, who now lives in Florida, but grew up in the DC area as a fan of the Washington Senators. Michael has a unique story and a claim to fame that I think few can make. Over the course of 50 years between 1970 and 2019, Michael never missed a single opening day. Despite his beloved Senators, relocating to Texas and the DC area, not having a team for 33 years, he found a way to get to opening day each year. A feat that is covered in his book opening day 50 for 50. 

[00:01:33] Anna: The 50 opening days covered three cities, six stadiums, and five different home teams. We learn how the tradition started with Michael’s dad springing him out of school early in 1970 and how it continued while Michael was in college and began his career. Throughout the changes of life. There was always baseball. And always opening day. Michael. 

[00:01:54] Anna: And I discussed the book, including some of his favorite stories and what it felt like to learn that baseball was coming back to DC after several decades away. Now you may be remembering the unlikely champions of the 2019 season, and you might be connecting the dots that 2019 was also the 50th year for Michael’s opening day streak. 

[00:02:13] Anna: All I can say is that the epilogue of this book, which we hear about in this interview is incredibly fitting for this story. This one was a ton of fun. I so enjoyed chatting with Michael. I know you guys are going to love the interview, so let’s get right to it. Now without further ado, sit back, relax and enjoy some baseball banter with Michael Ortman.

[00:02:33] Anna: Michael, thank you so much for joining us today on the Baseball Bucket List. How are things in beautiful Florida?

[00:02:39] Michael: Absolutely wonderful. It’s a great place to be when it’s cold and snowy and Messy up north. So like to be here this time of year,

[00:02:46] Anna: And I know this episode’s not going to come out until opening day, at least that’s the plan. But uh, as we’re speaking, I am fresh back home in Dallas, Texas, where it is already, you know, reaching up into and um, just spent a week in Florida and man, I, Miss it already. Like every time I leave, I, I just wonder like, why don’t I live here anymore?

[00:03:08] Michael: you know, opening day. Baseball season often has wonderful weather, but I went to many, many, many that it was in the thirties and rainy and cold and miserable, but by gosh, they got the game in. Right?

[00:03:18] Anna: exactly. You have to, it’s the first one you have to. So we’re going to get into all of that. And, um, we can reminisce over Florida, but I know that that’s not where you spent a big chunk of your life. And so, you know, the first question I’m going to ask right out of the gate is how is it that you kind of fell in love with this beautiful game of baseball?

[00:03:38] Michael: You know, I, the first game I remember going to was on my birthday, my ninth birthday in August of 1969, RFK stadium and my Washington senators were playing the Seattle pilots. And Jim Belton was pitching for the pilots. The pilots only lasted a year or two. Um, but Frank Howard hit a home run that day that just mesmerized this little boy.

[00:04:01] Michael: It was autograph day. In fact, on the book’s website, I have a picture of me trying to get Somebody’s autograph. A lot of debate about who it was. We think it was Tim Cohen, but, and, and when you have memories like that of days like that and listening to the games on the radio, which is what we did in the 60s and 70s, um, all the time, there were no home games on television.

[00:04:18] Michael: There were only a few road games on television. And that connection you had with the radio under your pillow at night, listening to the volume down low. So mom and dad didn’t know you were doing it. That’s how we fell in love with the game of baseball.

[00:04:30] Anna: the, the Washington senators and the. Seattle Pilots. I mean, you know, two teams that aren’t around anymore in their original kind of I guess, variation. Obviously the senators are now down here in, in the Arlington area. That’s about halfway through the book. I realized, you know, six cities got baseball teams after I lost mine. You know, Bud Selig saw to it that his city got a team when he bought the Seattle Pilots and moved to Milwaukee.

[00:04:59] Michael: When is Bud Selig going to see to getting a team back in my city? And it was a long odyssey for 33 empty seasons, but we finally got baseball back in, in 2005.

[00:05:08] Anna: 2005. The, uh, poor Montreal Expos make their, their way from the, the great North back down to, uh, to the U. S. here. Mm

[00:05:18] Michael: And of course, you mentioned the Rangers, who used to be the Senators. That was the second time D. C. lost a baseball team. The Minnesota Twins used to also be the Washington Senators. They left around 1960. So, two times, baseball said, no more, and we had to wait a long time to get it back.

[00:05:34] Anna: So I guess we’re glad that they’re no longer named the Washington Senators, and well, maybe the Nationals will have a little more stay in power.

[00:05:42] Michael: They were never going to do that again. It was a great debate at the time that the Expos moved to Washington. What are you going to call them? And some people wanted them to be the

[00:05:48] Michael: Senators, but a number of elected officials said, Look, you, the nation’s capital does not have representation in the United States Senate.

[00:05:56] Michael: So why are we naming our team after a body we are not in? So thus came the Expos. the name nationals. Then you also know years and years earlier, decades earlier, it was the Washington National Senators was the name of the team. You harken back and talk a little bit about the book. It’s, they were the Washington Nationals years and years earlier.

[00:06:13] Anna: You mentioned a couple of times the book, which I know is one of the primary reasons we’re here, because it just perfectly encapsulates not only your Passion for the game, but your your own unique history with this thing that you know we and anybody listening to this show right now just absolutely adore and you’re talking about 50 for 50 Which is the book that you put out, um, just after the pandemic, it sounds like, you know, based on when the introduction was written, I should, I should say you put it together just after the pandemic, um, chronicling 50 opening days.

[00:06:51] Anna: You’ve never missed one in your life. 

[00:06:53] Michael: Until, until the pandemic

[00:06:56] Anna: Yeah. Well, we all missed them, unfortunately.

[00:06:59] Michael: we all did.

[00:06:59] Michael: Right. 

[00:07:00] Anna: yeah, so three cities five teams and six different stadiums, you know, we touched a little bit on the the senators moving Before I get too far into that, kind of give listeners an overview as to what this book is about.

[00:07:15] Michael: Yeah. So as you mentioned, it was my pandemic project. I took the time. I took four hours a day of commute time out of my life and spent it finally getting around to writing the book that people kept saying, you ought to write a book. You ought to write a book. You ought to write a book. Yeah, I went every year and there were a bunch of great stories around many of those.

[00:07:35] Michael: So I sat down to, to kind of put together 50 stories that, uh, one friend recently wrote a, a review of the book. He said Each game really is a pretext for a story that may be about the game, but rarely is it about the game. I just take something about the game and turn it into a story about baseball that was relevant to that day or that player or, or something about the game.

[00:07:58] Michael: So try to preserve a little bit of history of the game for the younger fans. Don’t remember that complete games used to be normal. Or don’t remember when I was writing it, we hadn’t had a strike or a lockout in 25 years. What do you mean strikes and lockouts? Players would never do that now. Well, they did, but nonetheless, I was able to chronicle that in the book as well.

[00:08:19] Michael: When did the DH arrive? And what about the steroid era? Those kinds of things fill in the blanks where I didn’t have a personal story to share.

[00:08:26] Anna: I think this is such a unique idea because you know, my favorite thing about it is that When when you were nice enough to send me a copy of it in the mail and I got to kind of leaf through it I didn’t start reading it from cover to cover Because it’s not created in such a way that you have to, right?

[00:08:44] Anna: I would flip to the index and I would look up, you know, some of my favorite players, like Rafael Palmeiro was my, my guy when I was a kid. I loved watching him play first base for the Rangers, and there were several years it mentioned Rafi. Um, you could look up, you know, So if, if you’re a team of the Tampa Bay Rays, Devil Razor, things like that, you could look up things in relation to that, or, you know, 2008 was a great year for me.

[00:09:09] Anna: So I wanted to see what opening day for you was like in 2008. And I think that the fact that the book is kind of laid out that way is so unique because it does tell the overarching story of you, your relationship with baseball, your relationship baseball’s history kind of as it unfolds over half a century.

[00:09:30] Anna: But also each chapter is its own snippet that you can, you can read, you know, one here, one there. I just thought that that was so clever,

[00:09:39] Michael: That was my original intent, was to create a baseball storybook that you could read in any order. Chicken soup for the baseball soul kind of thing. Read it however you want. And I even spent a few extra dollars to put, you just mentioned it, an index in the back of the book, which you don’t see too much anymore.

[00:09:55] Michael: I did that because one of my editors looked at it and said, you know, this book is very dense. It’s got so much stuff in it. And she was right. And there are names of people or places, 700 different people or places or teams in the book. So, yeah, I’ve heard that a lot, that the index is a real helpful way for people to jump around.

[00:10:13] Michael: However, that was my intent. And it’s a very personal story, but I got about halfway through. An opening day in 1999 in Baltimore, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were in Baltimore, and I kind of snapped, and I realized here we go again, another expansion team in baseball, and Washington, D. C. still doesn’t have a team. And I realized this book is not just the stories that I can share, but it was also the story of a little boy who lost the thing he loved the most in life, his Major League Baseball team. When I was only 11 years old and I’d lived, I’d done a lot of wandering around and finding a team here and falling in love for a little while and then got into the business for a little while, fell in love with another team, but it wasn’t the same.

[00:10:56] Michael: I wanted baseball back in Washington. And so the fact that the book goes all the way through 2019 when the Washington Nationals win the World Series made a perfect epilogue for that 50 year journey. So yeah, stories are nice, but it’s also part memoir of that journey that I went through.

[00:11:14] Anna: I can imagine it would be pretty tough to stomach. Again, a handful of expansion teams as, as DC is still just kind of sitting there going, Hey, you know, remember us? We, we’re still here. I want to back up and, and just kind of touch on the overall premise of this.

[00:11:30] Anna: I guess not even the book, but just this idea of going to every opening day. for 50 years. I mean, it starts with your dad kind of springing you out of school, which is the greatest story ever told to any kid, you know. Everybody’s kind of got their own version of that memory and it’s so relatable and just quintessential Americana, I think.

[00:11:53] Anna: But I mean, how do you go from, okay, I’m seven years old. I want to see the Senators play to,. I’m gonna do this for the next 49 years I mean when did it become kind of like a conscious decision?

[00:12:07] Michael: Yeah, the first 15 or 20 years, it was, there were many times it shouldn’t have continued, not the least of which is 1972 when I didn’t even have a team. And dad said, let’s go to opening day and keep in mind, my dad was not a baseball guy. He was a big event. guy. I mean, whenever, you know, you grew up in Washington, D. C., the presidential inaugural was a big deal, the parade and so forth. That’s, was more his cup of tea. And the fact that the president of the United States was often at opening day, made opening day that kind of thing. But then we get to 72 and this is the first baseball strike. Delays opening day to a Sunday, and it happens to be convenient.

[00:12:43] Michael: Dad says something like, you know, let’s go to open today. And I thought he was kidding because my team was now in Texas and Baltimore. And where’s that? And off we went. And I was not an Orioles fan, but I went and I don’t have a whole lot of vivid memories of those years in the seventies when we went, but we went every year because Dad wouldn’t go off to college.

[00:13:03] Michael: Chicago filled the void. Got to college again. No team anywhere nearby. But my best friend had the two things were the most important things in life. Love for baseball.

[00:13:12] Anna: Car

[00:13:13] Michael: So off to Comiskey Park, we went, fell in love with the White Sox, did that stint, and by the time I get back to the D. C. area, um, I start to work in the business a little bit.

[00:13:23] Michael: So now opening day became work, , and loving the Orioles a little bit more now. Um, I figured that out once they started kind of co signing my paycheck for a few years. , And then it became a thing. So I didn’t wake up one day as a teenager saying, wow, this is just great. But. At the time I was, my twenties opening day was in cruise control.

[00:13:42] Michael: Opening day is such a special day. it’s not just another regular season game. It’s pageantry, it’s sold out, it’s the weather’s 50 50, but you never know. But, uh, the flyover and the flag on the field and they introduce every player and every coach and every locker room attendant. It’s, it’s different and it’s great.

[00:13:59] Michael: It’s just a rite of spring.

[00:14:02] Anna: When did you notice or I guess did you notice They obviously weren’t doing flyovers for every opening day back in like the 70s, right? Like when did all of that kind of fanfare start with opening day?

[00:14:15] Michael: I didn’t notice it until, uh, baseball came back to Washington in oh five. I don’t know that flyovers happened in Baltimore. They may have, just I don’t have a vivid memory of it. I can vividly remember opening day in 05. My wife and I and three of the kids had seats four rows from the top of RFK Stadium.

[00:14:34] Michael: I mean, all the way up there. And keep in mind, I had not been to a baseball game of any kind in that stadium in over 33 years. And we wind up up near the top and there’s guys in military uniforms and they were the, spotters for the Air Force flyover. And their, their job was to kind of coordinate the timing of the flyover.

[00:14:53] Michael: And that’s how close to what we were, but that’s the very first memory I have of those flyovers.

[00:14:57] Anna: Yeah, I think it might have started around that like the post 9 11 kind of you know Camaraderie and patriotism that kind of went on display as part of our sports fanfare, but there’s nothing like a flyover it just, it, you feel the, the rumbling of the jets coming before you can see them and it just kind of gets you right, right in your soul, um, and you know, you get that very few times.

[00:15:25] Anna: You get that opening day, you get that all star game, you get that World Series game one perhaps, but limited options to see those.

[00:15:33] Michael: True. And in Washington, it goes hand in hand in certain years with the President being there.

[00:15:38] Anna: Mm hmm.

[00:15:39] Michael: You know, prior to the Senators leaving for Texas, uh, most years, the President of the United States, starting with William Howard Taft all the way up through Richard Nixon. The president was there to throw out the first pitch, usually from the stands.

[00:15:52] Michael: In fact, it wasn’t until Ronald Reagan that a president went out on the field and threw it, but the fly over the president, the flag, it was all part of the trappings of opening day.

[00:16:00] Anna: Yeah, very cool. One of the things I appreciate about the way the book is set up is, you know, you’ve got in every chapter, it’s got I guess like the basics of a box score. The, you’ve got the teams, the score, you’ve got the ballpark attendance, the date, and the weather, and If you didn’t read anything beyond that, and you just thumbed through the book, that in and of itself is kind of this excellent representation of the gamut of baseball, right?

[00:16:32] Anna: I mean, you saw, you saw walk off wins, you saw complete and utter blowouts, you saw beautiful, pristine, I can’t believe, that there could ever be a better day than this. And then you saw miserable, it’s snowing and we’re going to delay the game type scenarios. And, um, it’s so parallels kind of life in general, in a sense that you never really know what you’re going to get, but you know, any day at the ballpark is still a good day.

[00:17:04] Michael: Right. Absolutely right. And even if it was miserable, I, and some of those days were memorable. You don’t realize how memorable till after the fact. I mean, a lot of people create their bucket list looking forward. I think this book is my bucket list. Looking back, who knew on opening day, 1982, that when Harry Carey defected from the White Sox to the Cubs, that this was the beginning of the Harry Carey, era on WGN and all of America would get to know who he was. I was at his first game as the broadcaster at Wrigley Field for the Cubs. And it was 34 degrees and there was ice and snow and fans were throwing snowballs. It was miserable. But you remember that day because of what the weather was like.

[00:17:43] Michael: And it was a rite of passage, rite of spring.

[00:17:45] Anna: Yeah, definitely. So in addition to to those details you did something else That’s really unique and kind of fun is at the end of every chapter There’s a QR code that the reader can scan it leads back to your website, which has Links to the box score to the play by play Sometimes even more information in addition to kind of what was added to the book I mean I guess you were you kind of had your hand forced in that in a sense that you you didn’t want to write basically a Yellow pages of a book, you know just based on content But how’d you come up with such a cool idea to kind of Give the reader more if they want it.

[00:18:28] Michael: You know, my brother in law read a couple of chapters and he said, you know, you should put the box scores of all these games in there. And I said, okay, I get that because it’ll bring back memories. And I really can relate to that because as I was researching, this book isn’t all memories. It was a lot of research of Okay, I know it was there, but I don’t remember the game, and you’d go into baseballreference.

[00:18:46] Michael: com or some other online resource and, and newspaper archives, and you’d piece those things together, but I didn’t want to add 50 pages to the book just to get 50 box scores in there. And it occurred to me that I could keep the cost of the book down by keeping the pages down if I put the pictures and the box scores, and you mentioned play by play, somewhere else.

[00:19:06] Michael: So the QR code does take you to the website each year, each chapter has. Some pictures and the box score thanks to the great folks at BaseballReference. com. And then a fan can do a deeper walk on their own down memory lane if that particular box score’s I remember that player was my favorite player.

[00:19:25] Michael: I’m sure you would love to delve into that 1999 Rays game, right? The Orioles and the Rays. I remember that game because Frank Howard, my childhood hero, was the first base coach for the Rays. He just kept showing up on opening day, but you know, those are the kind of things you find when you look in box stores or online newspaper articles and pictures that you just may not remember vividly, but boy, there they are.

[00:19:50] Michael: It makes you feel very good about the days of the past when you love baseball so much.

[00:19:55] Anna: Yeah, definitely. And we’re so fortunate that, that it’s a game that is so well recorded, you know, because I’ve had so many similar situations where the Frisco Rough Riders are the double a team up here. And, , you know, the manager is a guy named Brian Shouse and I would have never known that except for I was.

[00:20:13] Anna: Going through one of the the programs after we had been there for a game and I was like That guy used to be the bullpen coach for the Rays or you know Like in just the way that the game is so interconnected and things like that It’s it’s always fun to kind of go backwards and connect the dots We’re, of course, audio only.

[00:20:31] Anna: Listeners can’t see your beautiful backdrop there. I’m looking at two jerseys. One is a red jersey, got the name Zimmerman on the back, and then of course we’ve got the home white Cal Ripken jersey kind of draped over a chair. Do you want to give us the significance of those two jerseys and why they’re the ones that are up in your office?

[00:20:53] Michael: Yeah, out of the 50 opening days I went to, I spent 33 of them with these two gentlemen. Cal Ripken Jr in Baltimore was there every day for I was at 3161. I was at that game in August of 96 when he broke the record with my 11 year old son, kind of, and years later, I went to opening day with his son to see Ryan Zimmerman play.

[00:21:16] Michael: Ryan Zimmerman played for the Nationals for 14 of my opening day. So that’s why those two gentlemen are so significant. They really hark into an era with the same guy, played for the same team their entire career, which we don’t see too much anymore. So they’re really tremendous stories. In the book, I tell the Cal Ripken story.

[00:21:31] Michael: many personal stories and encounters that our family had with Cal. I put that in chapter 1993 because the Ripken family was an important part of baseball in Baltimore. On that particular opening day, it was the first time Cal and his brother Billy were on opposite teams. They had been teammates for many years.

[00:21:51] Michael: Billy got cut by the Orioles, let go by the Orioles during the previous offseason, signs with the Texas Rangers. And who were the opening day opponent in 93? The Texas Rangers. It was also painful for the Ripken family because it was the first time in Cal’s career that his dad was not in the dugout, either as a coach or as a manager.

[00:22:10] Michael: They’d offered him a demotion, he turned it down, and was home watching the game on TV. So was this a day that the family wanted to get out of the way, get over with? Um, and so I just chose 93. You can put Cal Ripken’s story in any one of 20 chapters, but that’s where you put that one. And Zim, it was easy.

[00:22:25] Michael: He hits the walk off home run in the ninth inning, in, uh, the night they christened Nationals Park in 08, uh, to beat the Atlanta Braves, and he was dubbed Mr. Walk off that night, and he hit, in fact, every guy ahead of him on the list. Of walk off home runs in his career is already in the hall of fame. No ryan’s not a hall of fame caliber player.

[00:22:47] Michael: We all get that but in washington It was a no brainer to retire his number. So that’s why these guys are here

[00:22:53] Michael: big chunk of the story 

[00:22:54] Anna: Yeah. I mean, you, you, you’re right. There are not guys any longer who, who play for their play for one team for their entire career. It just is, is non existent now. And I mean, you see guys go from one team to their biggest rival, or you’ll see, you know, the Edwin Jacksons of the world who basically play for 95 percent of of all the teams, but, you know, the Chipper Jones types,

[00:23:22] Michael: George brett robin you out. There’s a few but they stand out

[00:23:26] Anna: yeah, right. yeah, exactly. You’ve obviously had a career that that kind of revolved around sports and baseball.

[00:23:35] Anna: Can you kind of give listeners maybe the Cliff Notes version of how opening day kind of became your job?

[00:23:42] Michael: well Yeah, I never worked for a baseball team. I worked in sports television. I was a At the bleeding edge of cable TV back in the early 80s and had When I first got it was in college I went to Notre Dame which was a sports school and worked in the athletic department there Got an internship with a pr firm that was focused in sports I did that for a couple of years.

[00:24:02] Michael: I read chapter 1983 about a legendary Charlie Brotman. and then I get a job with a startup cable channel called Home Team Sports, which eventually became part of NBC Sports and more recently Monumental Sports, um, and worked there for a couple of years, left and went to the World Wrestling Federation for a couple of years and came back to Home Team Sports.

[00:24:21] Michael: So I was in sports television for a few years, but then I left and went to work for Comcast Cable for the next 25 years. So no, I didn’t really, I didn’t work for ESPN and get a press pass all the time. I do pause in one chapter and say, I’ve got a press pass for Opening This is the greatest thing ever.

[00:24:37] Michael: Um, and it was, Ted Williams was there that day in Baltimore and, uh, the president of the United States and all these things, it was a dream come true. I thank God every day. I’ve lived a very privileged and blessed life to have so many really cool opportunities, and never took any of it for granted, just, you know, I just kept finding ways to go to great baseball games, to go to the All Star game in 76, to go, uh, and by the way, I’m going to pause here, your website did so much for me to force me to go back and research games I had attended at different stadiums, when they were, is that stadium still here anymore?

[00:25:14] Michael: What are my memories of it? Uh, it was fantastic. So anyway, back to your point, I, I was able to go to different games, different places doing some really cool stuff because of my connection to sports and television, but, but no means was I a big shot in any of those fields.

[00:25:29] Anna: No, but that’s the dream right is, you know, just to kind of be working even even on the periphery of Yeah, baseball that it’s just like Oh, you know, I still sometimes just pinch myself recognizing what I’ve been afforded the opportunity to do and, and some of the lucky breaks that I’ve had and things like that.

[00:25:50] Anna: So, um, I can imagine that, you know, 20 plus years of kinda doing something like that’s gotta be pretty special.

[00:26:00] Michael: Well, and there were things on the bucket list, my bucket list that never happened until the book came out. when I like would find a mutual, like Frank Howard was my idol as a little boy. And he kept showing up on opening day, and I was there when they inducted him into the Ring of Honor at, Nationals Park, but I never met him.

[00:26:20] Michael: I went to autograph day, my ninth birthday, but the line was too long, you know, so, so I reached out to a friend, and I said, It’s time. I want to meet Frank Howard. And to be able to go to Frank Howard’s house and spend an hour with him one on one, at the ripe young age of 86 years old, this is just a year and a half ago,

[00:26:40] Anna: yeah.

[00:26:41] Michael: And he has, we know he passed away just a few months ago was the thrill of a lifetime and there’s no notes.

[00:26:49] Michael: There’s no book. There’s no articles. It’s just, it was just so incredibly special. I called his cell phone and left a message and figured that was going to be that. And about a week later, I got a phone call and you look down at your phone and it says Frank Howard and your hand starts shaking and you, uh, Hello? Hey Mike, this is Frank Howard. How are you? Oh my gosh, I was just, I was nine years old again. It was just fantastic. So that’s the kind of things that we get to do just from the periphery if you, if you just jump on it and ask the right question sometime.

[00:27:30] Anna: Yeah. I love that. What a great story.

[00:27:33] Michael: Yeah.

[00:27:33] Anna: Unfortunate that that was, you know, after the fact that the book came out, so it’s, it’s not included, but, um, what an incredible story and, you know, you mentioned the Ripken story that’s in the book kind of chronicling the Ripken family story. I flipped too.

[00:27:51] Anna: I can’t remember what year it was, but, you know, one day the game Dusty Baker got lost on his way to the ballpark and I’m just like sitting there laughing to myself because You can totally see Dusty Baker doing that But you know, I that’s one of the things I love about it so much is is it’s not just a cut and dry Here’s what happened.

[00:28:11] Anna: It’s not just your own Memory wrapped up around that specific year or day. It’s it’s Such a unique kind of weaving of all of that together that makes it really a lot more interesting than if it had been either One of those things on its own I know this is a tough question. Is there a favorite story in the book for you?

[00:28:34] Michael: Yeah, there’s two really emotionally hard stories. The tragic death of Harry Kalas on opening day in 2009 after he just called the World Series of the Phillies year before and that happened at Nationals Park. That was hard to, to tell. In researching it, I found the stadium announcer and I reached out to Jerome Krushkin and I said, Jerome, recreate that day for me, for yourself.

[00:29:02] Michael: So, you know, Mike, no one’s ever asked me. But Harry Callas was like a father figure to me. I was the youngest stadium announcer in baseball. Every time the Phillies came to town, I idolized him. He would sit down with me for dinner. It was a really powerful story. Turns out, he was the one who found Harry on the ground in his, in his, in the broadcast booth.

[00:29:24] Michael: And he performed chest compression before the paramedics got there. Of course, tragic ending. And less than an hour later, poor Jerome is told he’s got to announce to 45, 000 people what has happened to his idol, his father figure. Those kind of chapters in the book, you can’t, you know, the tragic murder of my friend John McNamara is in there.

[00:29:46] Michael: It’s one of the victims of the Annapolis is that shooting. So those were hard. Um, but the, the, the one chapter that sticks out that has to is when baseball comes back to Washington. And when you wait for 33 plus years for that to happen, your childhood dream comes true. It’s finally back. And the emotions.

[00:30:06] Michael: I did the audio book myself, and when we tried to record that chapter, I broke down crying multiple times. I just kept, let’s do it again. Let’s do it again. It’s so hard. And I have now, I don’t know when you last checked the site, but about two weeks ago, we finally said, you know, it’s been two years.

[00:30:22] Michael: Let’s put the audio book up on the website so people can listen to it a chapter at a time if they want. As you said earlier, jump around. But as you listen to Chapter 2005, you’ll probably hear my voice crack a couple of times because it was something unbelievably special.

[00:30:35] Anna: Talk to us a little bit about what that meant to I mean, it’s obviously a big deal to the the metro of dc But you as someone who grew up a fan of the senators and then obviously a big enough fan of the game to try to kind of fill the void through some surrogate teams that you kind of latched on to.

[00:30:56] Anna: But when you hear the news that there’s going to be baseball back in D. C., one, did you believe it? And two, you know, Then what

[00:31:07] Michael: Yeah, I believed it and, uh, there have been so many efforts over the years that were false alarms. You know, in the early, in 74 or so, the San Diego Padres were supposedly coming to Washington and there were rumors of other Um, but what was really happening was baseball was using Washington to get

[00:31:24] Anna: right?

[00:31:25] Michael: a new stadium for the city or an expansion fee from that city.

[00:31:28] Michael: but by the time it came down to the Expos, yeah, I believe that we got the news in late September of the prior year. Um, and a couple moments there where you pause and think of that poor little boy in Montreal who’s losing his team and you can relate. getting to the game, I wrote a letter to the Washington Post when I heard the news and I kind of reminisced about what it was like to be at the last game.

[00:31:50] Michael: ugly Senators game in September of 1971 and all hell broke loose, the fans are throwing things on the field, they storm the field, the Senators wound up losing the game by forfeit to the Yankees. that’s the last memory you have, really. So to bridge that gap and retell that story with those details, the Senators did a wonderful, I’m sorry, the Nationals did a wonderful, Major League Baseball owned the Nationals at that time in, in 05, did a wonderful job.

[00:32:15] Michael: Recreating a very, a perfect pregame ceremony that brought back a dozen or so one time Washington senators, introducing them one by one. On to the field and they, some of them weren’t getting around so well as I used to, but Mickey Vernon and Eddie Brinkman and Joe Rosenda and Dick Bosman, it was on and on and they saved Frank Howard for last and the stadium shook.

[00:32:45] Michael: And I’m sobbing and it adults were crying everywhere. It was really a big, powerful, emotional night for the city. most people there, very few of us, I think we’re at the last senators game and the first nationals game just because the passage of years and

[00:33:03] Anna: Yeah.

[00:33:04] Michael: in life. but it was, I don’t know that you could ever replicate that.

[00:33:08] Michael: There’s no city that I know of that has that long a gap. a lot of cities lost NFL teams, um, various baseball teams have moved. Uh, I can feel for the people of Oakland right now that are going through the same thing, because they certainly have plenty of World Series championships in the past to look back on and great teams.

[00:33:24] Michael: We didn’t have that in Washington, at least not in my lifetime, um, but a very emotional night.

[00:33:29] Anna: man. I can only imagine I mean, you know as a fan of the Rays no longer living in that area I obviously am a little more disconnected probably than the folks who live there But you hear the rumors of the team, you know being sold being moved doing split season between Montreal and Tampa Bay and It gets you.

[00:33:55] Anna: It really does. And so, to think about, like you said, the people in Oakland, what they’re going through now, that, for some of them, that’s been all they’ve known their entire life, and, and now it’s gonna be gone. to kind of put yourself in the shoes of, you know, you as a kid, losing the Senators, and then that 35 year stretch, and, and, and, Just thinking holy smokes.

[00:34:17] Anna: They’re coming back.

[00:34:18] Michael: It is. It was so,

[00:34:20] Anna: gotta be

[00:34:20] Michael: so special.

[00:34:21] Anna: Yeah for sure So is that the favorite baseball memory or is there something that tops even getting your team back?

[00:34:29] Michael: Favorite baseball memory at this point, looking back, it’s got to be the Nationals winning the World Series.

[00:34:36] Anna: 2019

[00:34:37] Michael: Now my 50th opening day was opening day 2019. You can’t let the book end there. So I’m writing it during the pandemic. And had to add an epilogue and it’s life’s lessons. According to Davey, Davey Martinez had three things.

[00:34:51] Michael: He told us his team a lot, stay in the fight, go want to know bumpy roads, lead to beautiful places. And by golly, the bumpy road, the nationals went on in 19 to when the world series was the beautiful place. Um, and I mentioned earlier, a lot of cool things happened because of the book. I went to a.

[00:35:09] Michael: Fundraiser for the D. C. Grays urban baseball program in Washington in May after the book came out. And I brought copies of the book to give to a couple of radio guys that had me on the week prior, just as a courtesy to say, here’s the books. I brought the books and I hid them in the corner and one of them walked in.

[00:35:24] Michael: I said, just a minute, I got a book for you. I went over to get the books where I had hidden them in the corner. And there’s two guys sitting at a table in an open seat where my books are. And I asked the gentleman, excuse me, I can get the books. And as I’m doing that, I realized. Oh my goodness, this is Mike Rizzo and Dave Martinez, the general manager and manager of the Washington Nationals from the previous season. I quickly said, you know, those two books, they’re not going to the radio guys. So I asked the David, Mike, if the seat was taken, they said, no, go ahead. So I sat there and had cigars and wine and talk baseball and signed the book to Dave Martinez. Thanks for the epilogue, because that final chapter, that final piece was absolutely my finest baseball memory, just for a team that started out in 19-31, come back and win the World Series.

[00:36:18] Michael: Never been done before, will probably never happen again.

[00:36:21] Anna: What a perfect ending to the story, you know? I mean, not only, not only what the Nationals did, not only winning the World Series, but then for you to just casually happen across these two guys sitting there and, I mean, wow. I mean,

[00:36:36] Michael: And Davey was going to the Caps playoff game that night in this particular place where it was a couple blocks away, and I pounced. 

[00:36:42] Anna: Yeah,

[00:36:43] Anna: I’m glad you had the guts to do it, because a lot of people would have, would have maybe shied away and maybe, you know, hearkening back to you picking up the, uh, Frank Howard phone calls just to, uh, have your voice jump a couple octaves and, yeah. Yeah. But I’m glad you did it. I mean, like that’s, that’s incredible.

[00:36:59] Anna: And it probably, it probably meant the world to him to know that, you know, here you are with, with 50 years of stories and, uh, it wraps up the Nats winning a world series, thanks to him and finishing the fight. I remember the, the slogan all throughout the post season. And, um, what a 

[00:37:18] Michael: Well, and there’s some, there are such valuable lessons for life. I don’t care whether you’re talking baseball or anything else. Go 1 0. Just go out there and do what you can today to be successful. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. Stay in the fight. Don’t quit, right? And there’s going to be bumpy roads, but if you stay on that bumpy road, you go 1 0.

[00:37:35] Michael: Stay in the fight. It’ll lead to a beautiful place.

[00:37:38] Anna: That’s what’s so great about this game. Cause, uh, you know, that’s it. It’s just a parallel to life, and it’s just such a good Allegory for, for our day to day and our life to life and, um, 50 years wrapped up in, in one book is pretty special and, plenty of life lessons there. 

[00:38:00] Michael: My best friend for 45 of those 50 years, Steve Ebner, was dying of cancer as the book was getting ready to come out. And he’s in a lot of the latter chapters. Like, I tore up my knee, he’s the one that got me to the game in a wheelchair. He was there with me multiple times, spring training companion. And so the book is written, I’m doing the audio book, recordings.

[00:38:22] Michael: I just need his permission because now it’s Tom’s time. You know, the acknowledgments you put in the front of the book. I said, and for people like Steve Evner that are dealing with these struggles, you know, may his bumpy road lead to a beautiful place. And literally I said, can I put this in the book, Steve? He said, yeah, yeah, that’s good. That’s good. I like that. Uh, another fitting finish to the very last words that got done before I had to press. Was a tribute to Steve. So all, you know, a lot of people talk about the stadium was this, or the team was that, or the favorite player it’s so often it’s who you were with at the game that makes the memory so special.

[00:38:58] Anna: That’s a hundred percent right. And that is, I think why we love the game so much. And maybe we don’t even necessarily recognize that when we’re younger and we just, we don’t We can’t understand why we want to be at the ballpark or on the couch watching the game with somebody but we do and uh, You know turns out it’s a lot less about the baseball and a lot more about who you’re sitting next to and that’s that’s 100 percent Right.

[00:39:22] Anna: So what a beautiful thing. It really is what’s left. I mean Come on, what is left you seen 50 opening days I mean, you met Frank Howard face to face. is there still something at the top of the list? You saw your team win a World Series. I mean, what, what more?

[00:39:40] Michael: Your site Anna pushed me to come to grips with what’s left. There is one thing that’s within my control. I do want to go to the field of dreams game in Iowa. I love the fact that this year it’s. In Alabama, a tribute to the Negro League, etc. That’s fantastic, but that movie and all the subsequent documentaries that have been done on the making of and so forth are so telling about how people in Hollywood are tripping over themselves to be associated with this movie and the weather challenges they faced with the cornfield and all these great things about the game of baseball and the movie.

[00:40:15] Michael: Thank you. Acknowledgement that the dedication in the front of the book, the book is dedicated to baseball fans everywhere. That’s a bad, and I go on to quote James Earl Jones from the book, and that’s really tells you about the game of baseball and what it’s done for all of us and how it’s, What’s the point of that movie?

[00:40:35] Michael: It’s reconnecting with his dad through this field outside of farm. That’s part of what makes the game great, and that is a place I want to go, and I want to be part of that game. That’s the only one thing in baseball that’s left on my list.

[00:40:49] Anna: it’s a good choice. I’ve not been, I would also love to go. It’s, I’m afraid I would just cry the whole time though. You know what I mean? Like I’m just, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it because I wouldn’t be able to see anything through the tears and the sobbing.

[00:41:03] Michael: and I already know who I’m going with. Another great side story of how the book has brought people into my life that I didn’t know before. I didn’t know what SABR was either. I used SABR.org. site to do some research for the book, but did not realize it was a organization that brought together the geekiest baseball fans in the world.

[00:41:20] Michael: God bless them all, love them, got to know many of them. But I get hit up via my website after the book comes out from a guy I thought I was getting an email from myself. It was a guy in San Diego named Michael Ortman. Ken Rosenthal had tweeted about the book. This guy’s friends hit him up saying, Hey Mike, we didn’t know you wrote a book, but turns out he’s every bit the baseball junkie I am.

[00:41:43] Michael: So I wound up later going out to LA to visit our daughter, and then I drove down to San Diego to go to a Padres game at Petco Field with Michael Ortman. We have become baseball besties in the two years since. And when I started reading about this year’s Field of Dreams game, populating your site with that information on my bucket list, I said, when that game comes back to Iowa, do you want to go with me?

[00:42:07] Michael: And it was the fastest response to a text they ever got. Absolutely! It’s almost like, I don’t care what it costs, gotta do it. And I know it’s, you know, a few dozen of your followers have singled that out as something they want to do too, but that’ll be a very special cherry on the sundae.

[00:42:23] Anna: I think so. That’s a good one. I think it’s done the right way usually You know judging from from the firsthand accounts I’ve heard of folks who have been there and what I’ve seen on TV So I think it’s it’s got to be kind of baseball at its best. So what a what a fitting answer 

[00:42:38] Michael: I’ve been to Cooperstown, I’ve been to Waterworld Series, been to All Star Games opening days. That’s the only other one I got.

[00:42:43] Anna: yeah, I like it I guess I have one more question for you. And that is does the streak continue is opening day still a thing for you?

[00:42:53] Michael: Absolutely. Um, I figure if I’m going to get to 50 more, I’m either going to have to live to 116 or I’m going to have to do two or three a year. After the lockout ended, I did go to three opening days that year. I went to Philadelphia for the first time. went to Baltimore, went to Washington. Last year, I went to Baltimore, Washington.

[00:43:08] Michael: This year, now I’m moving to Florida. I’m still flying up to Washington for opening day. so I’ll get a couple in. So yeah, it continues, It’s a ritual. I’m just going to keep going and going like the Energizer Bunny. I, um, on that opening day in Philadelphia, I see this little crowd gathering around the Harry Callas statue in center field. I’m a little curious, like, what’s that all about? And I asked one of the Phillies officials, what’s this all about? Well, um, Harry’s son sings the national anthem here every year on opening day. Oh my. So he’s an opera star. It was fabulous. And after he’s done, I go up and introduce myself and I said, I want 13 years after the fact, I want to express my condolences, but I was at Nats Park the day your dad died.

[00:43:55] Michael: And, um, we had a wonderful conversation. He wanted the book. Of course, he wanted to read what I had to say about his dad. But those kind of things just keep coming up, and that’s how you extend your opening day streak to other cities, and sometimes these rich rewards come as a result of it. Same day in Philadelphia, I run into Greg Luzinski, who’s got his barbecue placed there, and he’s signing things.

[00:44:15] Michael: I was at Greg Luzinski’s first game with the White Sox. He hits a home run, um, on opening day in 1981 when he was playing in Chicago. So he was more than happy for the picture in the book, and those kind of things just keep coming up. So we’re going to find new ways to get to opening days in different places, but I’m excited about

[00:44:32] Anna: Yeah. I love it. I love the idea of kind of expanding, you know, beyond, beyond Washington and, um, seeing some, some different places. It’s kind of cool opening the door to unique things like that. And there’s always going to be kind of like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon. There’s always 

[00:44:46] Anna: going to be something that ties back to a game that you were at once, once before.

[00:44:51] Anna: So, um, yeah. Michael, I’ve so enjoyed this. I, I really have. I, I love the book. I think it’s such a unique idea. It, uh, it really just kind of ties all the things I love about the game together. Where do we send people to find you online?

[00:45:07] Michael: Opening day, 50 50 dot com there. You can listen to each chapter. We just uploaded the audio files recently. You can order the book itself, whether Kindle or Amazon, whatever, whatever you want to get, but also, as you mentioned earlier, the pictures that bring to life and add credibility and credence to all these stories like, no, that didn’t really happen.

[00:45:27] Michael: Well, yeah, actually, here’s a picture. Are there and is the box score on the play by play a lot of fun stuff there So and then a lot of the interviews and things that we’ve done too to reviews a lot of good things there So opening day 50 50. com

[00:45:39] Anna: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us. I really enjoyed it and, you know, look forward to hearing about Opening Day 2024 and seeing what that holds in store.

[00:45:50] Michael: and anna Thank you and all you do for the game and us fans. We appreciate it

[00:45:54] Anna: And that will wrap up this episode of the baseball bucket list podcast. Special. Thanks to Michael Ortman for joining us today and sharing those 50 years of baseball stories and memories. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, if you think you might like to be a guest on the show, head the baseball bucket list.com/podcast and fill out an application. I’d absolutely love to hear from you. 

[00:46:13] Anna: While you’re there. Make sure to spend some time on the site, sign up for a free membership, build your own baseball bucket list and track your ballpark visits. If you find yourself enjoying the show each week, please take a moment to rate and review it in the podcast app of your choice. I would really appreciate it. 

[00:46:28] Anna: And it goes such a long way. That’s it for this week. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you next episode.

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