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Everybody around Camden Yards is familiar with the two kids who grew up in and around the Orioles clubhouse, watching their father at work, and eventually followed him into a career with the home team. The Ripkens know that story well, but it’s not just theirs….It’s the Tylers’ tale, too.
Together, without fanfare, the Tylers of Baltimore—patriarch Ernie and sons Jimmy and Fred—have logged about a century’s worth of service to the Orioles. With this week’s All-Star break, Ernie Tyler, whose current job title is umpires/field attendant, begins his 39th year with the club.
He never played for the team, but Tyler knew his way around the diamond before signing on with the O’s. During WWII, when he wasn’t flying his assigned missions for the Army Air Forces, Tyler was honing his game at military bases across Europe and North Africa. His stick was good enough to rate some major-league tryout offers when he got back to the States and settled in Baltimore.
“But I already had a wife and kids, and there was no way I could feed them all on the money minor leaguers were getting,” the eldest Tyler recalled before Saturday’s game with the Red Sox at Camden Yards. “So I had to turn them all down, and I just stuck with playing sandlot ball around Baltimore whenever I could.”
(While recounting bygone playing days, the 72-year-old Tyler chokes up and apologetically asks for a pause. It isn’t just a yearning for lost youth that sticks in his throat, however. “Damn ballpark peanuts!” he coughs. “Just give me a second….OK. I’m sorry. Where were we?”)
The burgeoning Tyler clan lived in the Waverly section of Charm City, mere blocks from Memorial Stadium, the Orioles’ old home on 33rd Street. Shortstop Willy Miranda, who had come to the O’s from the Yankees in the 1955 deal that sent future perfect-gamer Don Larsen to New York, was a neighbor. Ernie Tyler began attending O’s games as Miranda’s guest, and before long was friendly with all the players and Memorial Stadium staffers.
In the middle of the 1958 season, Tyler’s acquaintances at the park asked if he’d like to join the Orioles’ equipment staff in time for the All-Star Game, which was being hosted by Baltimore.
“So the way it worked out, my first day with the team was working an All-Star Game at Memorial Stadium,” Tyler laughs. “And I’ve never left.”
As they grew up, Tyler’s five male children (out of a brood of 11) all made the short walk to Memorial Stadium, where they put in stints as clubhouse boys. Both Jimmy, now 49, and Fred, 35, were preteens when they started helping out around Dad’s workplace.
“Me and all my brothers loved baseball and played it as kids, but I think the real reason all of us took those jobs at the stadium was because it was the only way we ever got to see Dad during the season,” says Fred. “He worked so much that whenever the team was in town, we all went to the games because that’s where he was.
“It wasn’t like a conscious decision that we were going to get jobs in baseball, or like baseball was what I always wanted to do. But baseball is really the only thing I’ve ever done. It just happened that way.”
The Tyler brothers are now O’s equipment managers (a job once held by Dad), and put in the same silly hours their father did when they were kids. From April through early October, the younger Tylers put in incredibly long shifts. Every day.
“At least six hours before the game, during the game, and four hours after it, we’re here at the stadium,” says Jimmy.
“Basically, our job is just to make sure everything the players have to have, equipmentwise, is in the right place,” adds Fred. “Bats, catchers’ and trainers’ equipment, weights, balls, batting tees, batting nets—everything.”
After the players take the field, Ernie assumes a position directly behind home plate and gets to watch the game from one of the best seats in the house. His sons’ job description, however, does not include paying attention to the on-field action. Shortly before the first pitch, the equipment guys retreat to the bowels of the stadium to set things up for the postgame activities. Jimmy takes care of the Orioles’ needs; Fred caters to the visitors’.
Until TV monitors became commonplace in major-league clubhouses, the Tyler brothers had to use crowd reaction as their only barometer of how things were going back inside the stadium. And even though they’re “with” the team, the brothers allege they’ve seen far fewer Orioles highlights than the average fan.
“We’re needed in the clubhouse, not on the field,” says Fred. “So we never go out there.”
On at least one very special occasion, Fred breached equipment-guy protocol: “I ran out to the dugout to shake Cal’s hand when he broke [Lou Gehrig’s] record,” he says. “That was just a weird moment, when everything in the stadium, even underneath the stadium where we were, just seemed to stop dead. So I ran out to watch. But I could only stay out there for a second, because the Angels were leaving town right after that game, and I had to get back to the clubhouse to get things ready for them to go. I get asked about that night pretty often, what it was like being here, but most of what I know about it I learned months later, from watching a videotape of Cal’s record-breaking game that all the Orioles’ employees got.”
Fred, who played baseball through high school, now satisfies his playing jones by bringing his glove with him when the Orioles are on the road and using it to shag flies in the outfield during batting practice. Even without that undeniably special perk, Fred asserts, he’s got it pretty good.
“You can’t compare what I do to a ‘normal’ job,” says Fred. “You could say I’m at work about 15 hours a day, seven days a week, and that sounds like too much time to some people. But the thing about being in baseball, the time passes, and you enjoy the time you’re here, so it’s not like you’re at a job; it’s not so much work. It’s doing something you really like. Look at this weekend: Fourth of July, nice weather, the Orioles playing the Red Sox in Camden Yards. I mean, if you love baseball, it doesn’t get much better than that! I love baseball.”
That love affair with the game at least partially explains why both Tyler boys swear they’ll stay with the Orioles as long as the team will have them. If the length of Dad’s tenure can be used as a gauge, that could mean a long, long time.
“I’ve seen World Series, All-Star Games, everything,” says Ernie, in tones too genuine for Ken Burns’ documentary. “But the truth is everything I do here is a highlight for me. I’m addicted to baseball. Every time I walk on the field before a game, I feel great. Just from being here, from being around the players and my kids, I feel young. Baseball keeps you young!
“At my age, you can’t throw like you used to, or run like you used to, but you come to a game, and it all comes back in your mind, you remember when you played, when you did those things these players are doing. However many years I’ve got, I’m going to use ’em all up right here on this damn game. You can’t ever feel old at the ballpark.”—Dave McKenna