MIAMI -- For one weekend at least, Major League Baseball has come to South Florida on a major-league scale, leaving local residents to wonder whether an expansion franchise will soon follow.
They showed their support for a Miami expansion team by setting an all-time spring-training attendance record for last night's game between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees at Joe Robbie Stadium.
The announced sellout crowd of 67,654 is the largest recorded spring-training crowd in baseball history, breaking the previous record set in 1985, when the Los Angeles Dodgers and California Angels drew 62,968 to Anaheim Stadium. The record is suspect, however, since Major League Baseball has only kept spring training attendance figures since 1975.
It also is questionable because the announced crowd was about 10,000 higher than the actual crowd, thanks in part to competition from the television broadcast of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.
But American League crowd counts are based on tickets sold instead of turnstile counts, so it was the largest crowd for any Orioles game. The previous record was set during the 1983 World Series, when the Orioles and Philadelphia Philllies drew 67,064 to Game 5 at Veterans Stadium.
"It is very impressive that a community can do that," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "They are to be commended for responding so well."
Miami is thought to be a front-runner in the competition for the two expansion franchises that will join the National League in 1993. Washington also is a candidate and will play host to two games between the Orioles and Boston Red Sox at RFK Stadium next week.
More fun facts:
* The crowd was not the largest exhibition crowd in baseball history. The Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers drew 93,103 to a benefit game for injured catcher Roy Campanella May 7, 1959, but that was during the regular season.
* The crowd count last night was larger than the all-time record home crowd of 12 of the 14 American League teams. Only the Cleveland Indians and the Yankees have drawn more for a single game.
* The crowd exceeds the Orioles' total spring training attendance for each of their first 20 seasons in Miami. The club drew more in 1989, but only because that exhibition season included games at Joe Robbie Stadium.
* Shortstop Cal Ripken apparently likes hitting in front of newly acquired cleanup hitter Glenn Davis. Ripken doubled in the first inning and homered in a seven-run fourth inning as the Orioles scored a 9-2 victory.
Ripken has 23 hits in his last 40 at-bats (.575) and ranks among the top hitters in baseball this spring with a .464 average.
But he wasn't the only one swinging a big bat last night. Bob Melvin had a home run and a single in the fourth inning to drive in four runs and raise his spring average to .350. If not for the roomy baseball configuration of revamped Joe Robbie Stadium,
he also would have hit a home run in the second inning, but the ball was caught just short of the 380 sign in right center field.
Third baseman Leo Gomez also contributed two hits to a 17-hit Orioles attack, raising his average to .327.
* Right-hander Jose Mesa went a long way toward securing his place in the starting rotation. He went a long way, period.
Mesa pitched seven innings and gave up two runs on seven hits to earn his first victory of the spring and drop his earned run average to a respectable 3.50.
He walked only one batter and struck out three in what should be his second-to-last appearance of the spring.
* Retired Orioles groundskeeper Pat Santarone was brought in to help prepare the field for the two-game series. The stadium used to have sliding cutouts for the bases and home plate. Now the infield is configured like a typical natural grass stadium.