Inside the filing cabinet in which Ernie Feibelman’s mother kept her most valuable paperwork — their German birth certificates, their immigration papers to America — Feibelman found a wrinkled old page that looked out of place.
His mother, at 108, had recently died. As Feibelman got her affairs in order, searching through her belongings, he was struck by the paper’s inclusion among his mother’s most vital life documents — he recognized it, from long, long ago.
He drew it, in 1947 or 1948, shortly after he and his mother had escaped the Holocaust and arrived in New York. There was a diamond, with little marks for nine position players and one batter. It was a diagram of Feibelman’s newfound love: baseball.
“And she had that with her papers when she died,” Feibelman said.
Feibelman was only 11 when he arrived in America with his mother. Much of his life had been spent on the run, escaping from his birthplace of Mannheim, Germany, to Belgium, France and finally Switzerland. The rise of the Nazi Party threatened his life. He remembers a time he was forced to line up in front of what he thought was a firing squad, only to be let go. His father was captured and sent to Auschwitz. He was never heard from again.
When Feibelman arrived in New York City in 1946, though, the wonder of a childhood that had been stolen returned in the form of a ballfield.
“Baseball was part of my Americanization,” Feibelman said.
He remembers the first time he arrived at Yankee Stadium, when he saw Joe DiMaggio hit a grand slam against Cleveland Indians star Bob Feller. Feibelman’s eyes were open wide, his mouth agape, at the 70,000-some people in attendance. It stuck with him in the same way his first visit to Radio City Music Hall captivated a boy who was used to small towns in Europe.
Feibelman, then, never let go of baseball. And it’s what brought him and nearly 50 others to Camden Yards in Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon.
At the Edward A. Myerberg Center in Baltimore, Feibelman made an offhand remark to the facility’s security guard, Perry Standfield. The 88-year-old had asked Standfield whether the other had watched the Orioles game the night before. Standfield only caught the highlights.
Then, the pivotal remark from Feibelman: “Man, I would love to see a game.”
“Baseball was part of my Americanization.”— Ernie Feibelman
A dedicated Orioles fan since he moved to Baltimore at 26, Feibelman couldn’t precisely remember his last trip to Camden Yards. The pandemic kept him away, but, even before that, Feibelman might not have seen the Orioles play in person for a decade.
“Mr. Ernie,” Standfield said, “we’ll make that happen.”
Within eight hours, word of Feibelman’s remark traveled throughout the hierarchy of the Myerberg Center. And Jessica Monaghan, the director of operations, worked quickly to make a return trip for Feibelman possible.
First, she secured a bus for the interested members. Then she reserved Section 17, just under the shade of an overhang on the first base side of the park. And on Wednesday the group took in a high-scoring loss against the Chicago White Sox.
“I love these members so much, and Ernie is very dear to me. I was like, ‘We’ve got to go to the game, guys,’” Monaghan said.
“I didn’t know I was such an influence on it,” Feibelman said of his passing comment that put the trip into motion. “It was just a casual remark.”
Feibelman’s first trip to Yankee Stadium began a lifelong love of the sport. He and a friend walked to the Polo Grounds to see the New York Giants play before the club moved to San Francisco. He once saw Jackie Robinson play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
It was all so different from what he was used to. While living in Switzerland with an adoptive family (his mother didn’t want him to be in the refugee camp), the city of 65,000 had seemed large. It was, in comparison to many towns around Europe, but walking into Yankee Stadium was another experience entirely.
“This huge, huge place,” Feibelman said. “Suits and hats, and getting up all as one when a ball was hit. It was just an overwhelming experience, on a positive side. Absolutely loved it. And I said, ‘I’ve got to do this more often.’”
So he did.
For many years, once he moved to Baltimore, Feibelman was a regular at Memorial Stadium. His company had season tickets, and he was fortunate enough to make use of them frequently. When the Orioles moved to Camden Yards, he was there plenty too.
Feibelman has seen the highs and lows of the organization. He was in attendance for at least one game of all three of Baltimore’s World Series championships in 1966, 1970 and 1983 — although for two of them he was about as far from the action as could be.
But the view didn’t matter much to him.
“We got single seats, and we simply took them wherever they were,” Feibelman said. “One time I sat in the last row of the upper deck, and I was delighted to be there.”
In more recent years, if the Orioles play too late at night, the first thing Feibelman does when he wakes up in the morning is turn on his computer to check the box score. During Baltimore’s rebuilding stretch, the result wasn’t always encouraging. Now, the rise of a young team into a contender enthralls Feibelman once more — and brought him back to Camden Yards.
On Wednesday, as he looked out at the field, Feibelman sat with sunglasses on. He wore a blue button-down shirt and khaki pants, and a grin was fixed on his face. It has been just over 75 years since Feibelman first took a train to the Bronx to see DiMaggio’s grand slam.
He’s been hooked ever since.