A few years ago, as Boog Powell watched the organization he won two World Series championships and an MVP award with scuffle through 100-loss seasons, he could only shake his head.
“What’re they doing?” Powell would think. “Why are they playing like that?”
The first baseman, who played for the Orioles from 1961 to 1974, was used to competitive squads. Baltimore finished with below-.500 records twice during Powell’s tenure. His longevity and career .822 OPS earned him a place as an Orioles legend — as well as his own barbeque stand along Eutaw Street at Camden Yards.
When Powell sits down to watch the Orioles play this season, though — or as he took in Saturday’s game from Camden Yards with his bobblehead being given away — there’s a different feeling. The 81-year-old’s excitement is mounting for what’s being built in Baltimore, with a race toward a wild-card spot ongoing.
“All of a sudden, everything kind of came together,” Powell said. “The whole thing was like, ‘Wow, they’re doing the right thing. They know what they’re doing.’ They’re doing the right thing all of a sudden and I love it. I’m in love with this team, I really am.”
Powell is still a popular figure in Baltimore. When he walked onto the field pregame, fans shouted his name from the stands. The line for his barbeque stretched along Eutaw Street, and fans carried his bobblehead around.
But before Powell became an icon in these parts, he was a 12-year-old playing for his Florida Little League team, finding his way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. That’s where the Orioles are going Sunday, facing the Boston Red Sox in the Little League Classic on ESPN, and Powell recalled his own trip there.
He and his brother jumped in a stream beside their lodging and shrieked, not used to the frigid northern water temperatures. The all-you-can-eat dining room still remains a fond memory — “When you’re 12, you can eat a lot,” Powell said.
Powell helped his team win the regional in North Carolina by pitching on a Friday and Sunday and playing shortstop in between. Then, as he could hardly lift his arm, Powell and his team rode the train from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to Williamsport, stopping in Washington along the way to climb the Washington Monument.
“When we were in North Carolina, we found some tobacco, rolled up some whole tobacco leaves and smoked ‘em,” Powell said, laughing in the Orioles dugout. “We had a good time. I got dizzy, I couldn’t figure out why. ‘Why the hell am I dizzy?’”
All the adventures added to one of his favorite experiences, laying the groundwork to become the first player to feature in the Little League World Series and Major League Baseball’s World Series.
That first experience came in 1966 when the Orioles won their first championship. Powell manned first base. Three Hall of Famers were central figures. The winning attitude pervaded the clubhouse and could be seen on the field nightly.
Now, as Powell watches this season’s edition of the Orioles, there’s a similar feeling that comes over him.
“It kind of reminds me of 1966, the way we felt as a team going out there,” Powell said. “We knew we were going to kick your [butt]. That’s exactly what these guys are like. That’s what I see in their actions and reactions on the field. They’re very exciting, and they’re having fun, too. That’s the bottom line right there: They’re having fun.”