It’s not that Boog Powell needed a pandemic to refresh the memory bank — it just worked out that way. After all, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Orioles second World Series championship — and his American League Most Valuable Player award.
Under normal circumstances there would have been a joyful reunion, featuring a heavy dose of nostalgia. But the pandemic changed all that, and with no fans at Oriole Park or hot coals at Boog’s BBQ on the Eutaw Street plaza, life was reduced to virtual experiences.
It was during these unlikeliest of circumstances that Boog reflected on the unlikeliest of experiences, a personal one, relating to another celebration — the 25th anniversary of Cal Ripken’s 2,131st straight game that broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record.
The story of Boog’s reaction, both now and then, is best told in his words:
“I saw the show where Cal talked about not having watched video of the game until recently and how affected he was by the parts that showed his dad. I thought that was pretty cool and it hit home because it brought back a great memory of that night for me.
“I had gotten a phone call from my Uncle Ben about two weeks before Cal broke the record, and he said he’d like to come up for that game. It was a surprise to me that he’d have any interest — until he told me that he had known Gehrig and that they had often gone pheasant hunting together.
“Uncle Ben and Aunt Doris had been instrumental in our lives when my mom died when I was 12 and I knew he was a big-time hunter and fisherman, but he was a quiet guy who never said much about himself. As a younger man he lived in Detroit and worked at Ford, and he told me he originally met Gehrig on a pheasant hunting trip arranged through work. They became friends, and after that whenever Gehrig came to Detroit they would go hunting together.”
Boog invited Uncle Ben to come up for the 2131 game and, in the back of his mind, hoped he might be able to add a nice personal finish touch.
“I told him no promises but let me see what I can do,” Boog recalled. “I managed to get Cal on the side for a minute and told him the story and he told me, ‘Go over to Jimmy [Tyler’s] office and I’ll meet you in 10 minutes.
“To be honest, Cal might’ve just needed a break, but he came into Jimmy’s office and dived right in, asking questions. I stayed on the side, but I did hear Uncle Bens telling Cal what a great shot Gehrig was — and that he was a really nice guy.
“Cal obviously was genuinely interested in hearing something about Lou off the field. I know it meant a lot to Uncle Ben, and me, and said a lot about Cal that he would spend some time with us.
“When we got home, he couldn’t stop talking about it. He was like a little kid,” said Boog, happy that he could pay back Uncle Ben for past favors.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles