I vividly remember the day.
Already an avid sports fan and aspiring young athlete, my love affair was cemented on one gorgeous afternoon in the summer of 1968. It was my first Orioles game.
The excitement built as we drove up 33rd Street and caught a glimpse of Memorial Stadium off in the distance. Not one to fight the traffic on the parking lot, much less pay the $4 fee for the right to park right next to the ballpark, my dad weaved his way through the adjacent neighborhoods until we found a spot on the street.
I was too excited to be concerned about the half mile (or so) jaunt. I practically floated as my anticipation built with every step. I was oblivious to the thousands of other fans filtering along the same sidewalks, but as we reached the stadium lot, the smell of ball park hot dogs, the color, the chirp of the vendors and the murmur of the crowd began to intoxicate me.
I hadn’t seen anything yet.
My dad stepped up to the window and purchased our seats and in we went. The lower concourse seemed massive. I tried to pull free from his grip and rush up one of the nearby tunnels into the stadium’s seating bowl, but my father held firm and said, “No. We go over here.”
Over here was the entrance to one of the stadium’s massive ramp towers which led to the upper deck. Anxious to see the field and the players, all I saw as we began our steep, zigzag ascent up the outside of the stadium was a wider view of the parking lot.
I was starting to become impatient but, about halfway up, it happened.
Through a narrow opening where the upper and lower decks separated, I gazed through a chain-link fence and got my first glimpse of the field. The vision was stunning.
Lush green grass framed the perfectly raked reddish-tan infield dirt. The bright orange popped from the white uniforms of the hometown Orioles and all of the other sights and sounds moved me unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
From that moment forward I was a sports junkie and, although I did not know at the time, my journey to becoming a sport journalist was underway.
I played so many different sports as child and young adult, I could not possibly list all the teams. Like most, I dreamed of becoming a professional athlete, and, like most, there came a day when I realized that would not be my reality. Still, I played on. The zenith of my own athletic career was a spot on my high school football team and a place on the Towson University (then Towson State University) wrestling team. That was followed by more than 20 years playing tournament softball and an ongoing pursuit of little white balls on area golf courses.
It was at Towson where I first considered a career in sports journalism when I landed a job in the sports department of The Baltimore Sun as a junior mass communications major. I spent three years in that position, covering high school sports, among other things.
That experience would come in handy about 20 years later when I inherited control of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) website, where I began to publish stories. The entrepreneur in me then took hold as that site evolved into a larger site, which was sold to an even larger one. As one of the very first individuals to produce prep sports content online, I helped pioneer the digital age of covering high school sports.
I took a deeper dive into this world in 2010, when I launched VarsitySportsNetwork.com. Always popular with our audience, we survived the rough spots most small businesses encounter and the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when most high school sports were shut down for the better part of a year.
We’ve covered good teams and bad; future pros and guys who were just like me. We’ve brought a spotlight to the positive efforts of local athletes, telling their stories and helping document their memories.
We’ve adjusted, adapted and overcome. We’ve tried to operate a viable business, but it never was, and never will be, about money. It’s been about sharing our passion for sports, especially high school sports. Now, we start a new journey.
My team and I are excited to be part of The Baltimore Banner, joining forces to bring a fresh new face to local journalism in Baltimore. If you are a past reader of VSN, everything you have come to know and love is still around, it is just residing in a new location. If you are new to VSN, welcome. We look forward to entertaining and informing you with our comprehensive brand of high school sports coverage.
Just like my first Orioles game, my eyes are wide open with excitement, as VSN begins this amazing new phase with the Baltimore Banner — and you.
Gary Adornato is the founder of Varsity Sports Network, a high school sports news network that was acquired by The Baltimore Banner in August 2022.