As you know, the Baltimore Ravens won their first Super Bowl 20 years ago. I was a senior at Perry Hall High School and the moment was one of the more transcendent of my life. When my friend Tony told me just a month or so later that star kicker Matt Stover, the man responsible for a significant amount of the team’s offense that season, went to the same church as his own family, I had questions.
“Really? Does he sit there with everybody else? Does he talk to people? Does he have security with him? Does he take pictures and sign autographs? Are other humans aware of this phenomenon? That THE LEGEND HIMSELF MATT STOVER LITERALLY JUST GOES TO THIS CHURCH LIKE HE’S ANY OL’ FELLA? HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE?”
I got Tony to invite me to come to church with his family and … sure enough, the great Matt Stover autographed my church program that day. I remember saying to Tony something like, “You probably shouldn’t tell anyone else about this. If more people find out, he’s gonna stop coming here.” (I realize this may sound a bit silly because we’re talking about a kicker … and one whose presence in this community quickly became ubiquitous, but I was a 17-year-old kid who didn’t have a football team to root for growing up.)
This transition might sound strange, but the first scenario in which I met Matt Stover was the first thing I thought about in attempting to describe what it’s been like to have the pleasure to listen to Gary Thorne call my favorite baseball team’s games for the last decade plus.
Have you ever dated (or perhaps married) someone who objectively you knew was WILDLY out of your league? I’m talking about someone not just more physically attractive but someone who is smarter, funnier, more pleasant to be around, far more successful and a genuinely better person than yourself?
When Thorne arrived in 2007, the Orioles weren’t just miserable. They were miserable without any clear purpose other than being miserable. Since Cal Ripken’s final season in 2001, life as an Orioles fan was largely a parade of indignity. And yet Gary effing Thorne was coming to call our baseball games. Gary Thorne! THE authoritative voice of the sport of hockey (until the rest of the country got to know Doc Emrick in recent years, anyway). A man who was synonymous with big-time events and national broadcasts. Why on earth would that man be the one describing the exploits of Jay Payton and Freddie Bynum? Did no one else know he was available?
We didn’t love Gary Thorne because he was one of us. It was far, far from it. He was about the definition of a baseball carpetbagger. You were constantly reminded of that when you’d hear something like “Registertown Road” during a broadcast. As provincial as we’re capable of being, Thorne was an exception. He wasn’t an “outsider” but more like “the voice of God.” A true authority figure was willingly choosing to spend his time with a team and fan base that, until half a decade later, didn’t appear to deserve such broadcasting royalty.
When you were dating that person that was so wildly out of your league, your friends might have jokingly said something along the lines of, “Does she not know there are other men available?” When I would inform friends in other cities that Gary Thorne called Orioles games, I would get a similar response. And that feeling I had that no one should tell anyone that Matt Stover just hung out like a regular taxpayer at a suburban church for fear crowds might push him away? I genuinely felt that way about Gary Thorne and the Orioles. “I hope the Dodgers never find out that Gary Thorne is slumming it with the Orioles … they might come take him away!”
Our love for Thorne grew even deeper because he became the soundtrack for the greatest moments in a generation’s worth of Orioles history. “Don’t throw it away, don’t throw it at all!” thrilled us when Manny Machado authored a pump fake in 2012 that would make Ben Roethlisberger blush. His emphatic “We are not done yet!” after a play at the plate the day Chris Davis pitched in Boston was perfect. And we spoke along with every “goodbye home run” and “adieu adieu” nightly.
We’ll never forget his “Masters” call of the no-fans game in 2015 or his furor at the Orioles still pitching to Gleyber Torres in 2019. And sure, his idiosyncrasies (“three-RBI home run,” “Arn-car-nay-cion,” etc.) drove us nuts sometimes, but they were more than made up for by his storytelling, occasional song and laughing fits.
Perhaps this doesn’t hurt quite as much as losing Jon Miller once did, but this truly hurts. We were so fortunate to have Gary Thorne be associated with our town and our team and to be able to spend our evenings with him every summer.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles