April 12th marks the 32nd anniversary of an historic contest between the Maryland Terrapins baseball team and their hometown heroes, the Baltimore Orioles. On a bright, clear, sunny afternoon in College Park, the Terps took on the O’s in an early season exhibition matchup, a rare occurrence especially in this day of multi-million dollar salaries that come with Major League Baseball’s superstar persona. Four thousand-plus fans packed the stands at Shipley Field, and students looked on from their high rise dorm room windows to watch the big leaguers. Testudo even had the temerity to take on the Oriole bird in a mock fight. It would turn out to be a day to remember for all.
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The team the Terps faced that day was not just any Baltimore Orioles squad. Part of the “Glory Years” of Baltimore baseball, they were coached by Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, and their roster featured Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., and Jim Palmer. The previous two seasons, they had just missed making the playoffs, and the following year, in 1983, the Orioles would win their third World Series Championship. Despite the challenge, the Terps felt they could hold their own against their heroes. Head Coach Jack Jackson, in his 22nd season with the Terps, had helped them build a 33-game home winning streak. In addition, Maryland’s offensive firepower the previous season either tied or set single-season school records in 19 categories, including an ACC record for the highest team batting average (.329). The Terps also featured a strong and deep pitching rotation, headlined by Robert Payne with his astonishing 0.84 ERA.
Both coaches had plenty of remarks before the game. “I don’t think our guys will take it that seriously,” admitted Weaver, “It’s just a work-out and a chance to get some swings. You won’t see any of our guys running into fences today.” Terps coach Jack Jackson joked, “If we win, we’ll count it, but if we lose, we’ll say it was just an exhibition and keep our string alive.” Weaver also added, “As long as we get a decent day and some good batting practice, it’s worthwhile.” It turned out the Orioles would get plenty of both.
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Payne started the game for the Terps, and the Orioles were slated to pitch two farm team hurlers whom they brought up earlier in the week. Payne struggled against the big league sluggers and was pulled early, but sophomore lefthanded reliever Mike Romanovsky had a most impressive day for the Terps. Romanovsky went four innings, allowing only two hits and a run. At one point, he faced nine straight batters without giving up a hit. It wasn’t enough to hold off the Orioles though; they teed off on the Terps for thirteen hits, five of them home runs. The O’s easily won the matchup by a score of 12-6.
More important than the score of this game were the lessons learned and the memories made, and that was all that mattered in the end. Merely having the chance to play on the same field as the Orioles was more than enough glory for the young Terps, a moment that they would remember for the rest of their lives. After the game, right fielder Steve Johnson tried to put his emotions into words saying, “I have never been this high in my life. I mean we just played the Baltimore Orioles, maybe I’ll come down from it sometime tonight.” Second baseman Bobby Zavarick exclaimed, “This is something I’ll tell my grandchildren about.” The most satisfying feeling, however, may have belonged to Mike Romanovsky, who struck out pinch-hitting specialist Terry Crowley looking at a fastball on the outside corner, “I loved it, I really did. Especially looking. Next time I see him on TV I can say, ‘I got that guy’.”