OPENING DAY at Memorial Stadium. There is nothing quit like it. It summons memories of freshly mowed green grass and sunshine, Cal Ripken ranging far to his right to spear a line drive and . . . some drunk spilling beer on my arm.
It means the reassuring THWACK! of ball meeting bat, the rhythmic, graceful strides of Mike Devereaux racing to home plate, my kids whining for more cotton candy and a chance to glimpse that baseball icon, the Oriole Bird.
It means rebirth. Redemption. Re-visiting my bank's ATM. What follows is one fan's tips and observations as the Orioles prepare to open the new season Monday:
* The considerate fan goes to the restroom and concession stands BETWEEN INNINGS. There is nothing more frustrating than watching an exciting 6-4-3 double-play only to have your view blocked by a guy in a Dee Dee's Show Bar jacket on his way to the bathroom.
* For you corporate types whose only connection to baseball involves sucking up free box seat tickets on Opening Day: Three strikes and a batter is out. Four balls and a batter walks. A base runner must touch first, second and third base in succession before crossing home plate and scoring a run. You might want to clip these rules and carry them in your wallet.
* Note to the Oriole Bird: Nothing personal, but if I had my way, you and all your goofy mascot friends would be standing in an unemployment line with the Help Wanted ads tucked under one arm. Stay out of the way, OK? It's not Halloween. We're trying to watch baseball. I'll figure out something to tell the kids.
* I'd swing by the bank on my way to Memorial Stadium Monday, if you catch my drift. A ballpark beer, hot dog and peanuts goes for $37.50, give or take a few bucks. Toss in the price of tickets, program, souvenir and parking, and you have to be a major cocaine dealer to afford it more than a few times a year.
* On a related note, they're selling yogurt at the stadium this season. Repeat: yogurt. You know those guys in flowing robes who walk around with signs proclaiming "The end is near?" They might be on to something.
* People who bring books to the ballpark should be wrestled to the ground, put in restraints and hustled away in unmarked vans. You don't bring a bat and ball to the library and start smacking line drives, do you? If you don't want to watch the game, give your ticket to someone who does. Stay home and curl up with that Michener novel.
* The same thing goes for people who bring knitting to the ballpark. I'm not kidding, Mom.
* Etiquette tip for you corporate types: When the home team does well at the plate or on the field, it is considered customary to clap. (Instructions for clapping: Briskly strike one hand against the other. Repeat several times. Return hands to normal position and fold neatly in lap.)
* Do not, under any circumstances, do the Wave. Please. We're asking nicely.
* Grown men who come to the ballpark with gloves should have their names listed in the police blotter. Hey, guys, let the kids catch the foul balls, OK? What are you going to do with the ball, impress your date? She knows what a baseball looks like. And if she doesn't, I wouldn't expect a whole lot from the relationship in terms of intellectual stimulation.
* To the grown man who sat in front of me last Opening Day wearing an Orioles uniform (No. 8) complete with wristbands and shoe polish under the eyes: Not once -- not even for a second -- did I mistake you for Cal Ripken. Instead you looked like a middle-aged guy with gray hair, a gut and a Budweiser trying to look like Cal Ripken. It was sad to see. Really.
* Baseball terminology explained for you corporate types: Dugouts are partially-enclosed areas along first and third base lines where players sit and spit tobacco juice. Home run means batter hits ball over outfield fence. Manager is the middle-aged guy with gray hair and gut (but no Budweiser, at least during game) who wears a uniform and is in charge of team.
* A word or two about drunks. Too many people view a ballgame these days as a nine-inning happy hour, minus the Buffalo wings. you're one of these fools, we'd appreciate if you get hammered quietly. Or else we'll all get loaded and go over to YOUR house and curse in front of YOUR mother.
* Baseball lingo deciphered for you corporate types: "That Billy Rip can really pick 'em." (The Oriole second baseman is a sure-handed fielder.) 'Let's take this guy deep now!" (It would be smashing if someone were to hit a home run.) "Hey, ump, you really stink!" (The umpire is mistaken regarding his judgment.)