Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore
Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Credit: Barth Keck / CTNewsJunkie
Barth Keck

A recent jaunt to Baltimore with my son to watch the Orioles play the hated New York Yankees was as thought-provoking as it was enjoyable. Here are several takeaways from that trip.

I love making the periodic pilgrimage to my hometown to see my beloved Orioles play at Camden Yards, the first of the “retro ballparks,” currently celebrating its 30th anniversary. Paying the numerous tolls along the way, obviously, is not part of the joy.

Toll, Tolls, Everywhere

From the George Washington Bridge to the New Jersey Turnpike, from the Delaware Memorial Bridge to the Delaware Turnpike, from the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway in Maryland to the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, the trip costs $45.95 – nearly $100 in tolls, round trip. True, it would have been somewhat cheaper using the discounted E-Z pass, which I don’t have, but it’d still be rather pricey.

The multiple tolls got me to thinking how much revenue Connecticut could generate as a “through state” between New York and Boston. Even if the only toll roads were I-95 (112 miles in the state) or I-84 (98 miles), the revenue would be significant. Heck, the Delaware Turnpike stretches for all of 23 miles and requires a $4.00 toll each way.

I realize there are countless logistical and political issues surrounding the “Great Toll Debate,” but still! Connecticut somehow rejected a guaranteed cash cow that every other state along the Northeast corridor continues to milk. How do you spell “missed opportunity”?

More Baseball, Less Bickering

Nothing provides a better escape from the stress and strife of daily life than a trip to the ballpark, whether catching a Hartford Yard Goats game at Dunkin’ Donuts Park or embarking on a road trip to Baltimore to watch the Orioles beat the Yankees – at least once.

My son and I attended two games in Charm City on July 23-24: Saturday night’s thrilling, come-from-behind Orioles’ victory and Sunday’s tough 6-0 loss. While the second game had a disappointing result, watching any ballgame in person remains a welcome departure from the typical day-to-day. Besides, who could complain after experiencing the previous night’s magical win?

The O’s erased a 3-0 deficit off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and pulled ahead late in the game, winning 6-3 in front of 36,361 fans. A good number of those in attendance were Yankees fans, who typically travel south in impressive numbers and make their presence known with their “Let’s Go Yankees” cheer. But quashing that annoying chant with a comeback victory made the experience all the sweeter.

Throughout our two days in Baltimore, I noticed how the rest of the world retreated into the background. Negative headlines, posturing politicians, social-media trolls – nowhere to be found! The ball games were a reminder that there is so much more to life than the political negativity looming over us. So welcome was this escape, I could sincerely appreciate the offensive dominance of Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who was 6-for-9 with one home run when we saw him play. Seriously, why bother pitching to that dude anymore?

If only I could keep this lesson fresh and pay more attention to the “baseball” in life rather than the divisive bickering.

Passion + Hard Work = Success

Barth Keck with Orioles' co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller
Barth Keck, left, with Orioles’ co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller, of Old Lyme. The team hired Fuller, who had been an English teacher at Haddam-Killingworth High School, based on the success of his hitting-instruction business. Credit: Barth Keck / CTNewsJunkie

The trip to Baltimore had a special meaning this year because I was able to see a former colleague in his new – and improbable – role as the Orioles’ co-hitting coach. The O’s organization hired Ryan Fuller three years ago after observing, via social media, the incredible success of his hitting-instruction business, developed as a passionate sideline to his full-time job as a high school English teacher.

A Connecticut native, Ryan’s rise to the professional ranks saw him move from Lyme-Old Lyme High School to UConn-Avery Point to UConn to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ minor-league system. Realizing his playing career had plateaued, Ryan returned to school, earned a master’s degree, and began a new career teaching English and coaching baseball at Haddam-Killingworth High School – until the Orioles came calling.

So impressed was the Orioles brass with Ryan’s development of young hitters in his first two years, they promoted him to the major-league level last November. Reaching the majors was undoubtedly a goal for Ryan, but his rapid rise surprises even him. “I’m just living the dream,” he says with total sincerity. And that’s the kicker: Such success could not happen to a humbler, harder-working, or more deserving person.

Suffice to say, as a Baltimore native and lifelong Orioles fan, my reunion with Ryan on the field at Camden Yards was a dream come true for me, too. And the fact that the O’s are having a surprisingly successful season after three 100-loss seasons since 2018 feels like more than mere coincidence.

Ryan Fuller’s success, put simply, illustrates that passion, commitment, and hard work can still make a difference in an increasingly cynical world. Of all the lessons learned on my trip to Baltimore, this is the one resonating the most.

Barth Keck is in his 32nd year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

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