The crowd in the stands at the last Opening Day at Memorial Stadium had some statistics, records and traditions rivaling the lineup on the field.
* The Longevity Award. Otis Amrein, who prefers not to give his age, could make a case for being the Lou Gehrig of Opening Day at Memorial Stadium. Amrein, of Jarrettsville, has attended every one since 1954, when he and seven others from the bottled gas company where he worked were treated to the game by their boss. Gehrig, the late, great New York Yankees first baseman, set the record -- 2,130 -- for consecutive games played.
As of last year, one other man from that original eight had made every opener, Amrein said. But Amrein was the only one who made it this year.
"I guess the first game was the most exciting to me," Amrein said yesterday, reflecting on his Opening Day string. "Bob Turley pitched [for the Orioles] that first game. And I have a picture of him [taken later in the '54 season] with my two sons. I dug it out today."
Amrein is still a Turley fan and also has a soft spot for ex-Orioles first baseman Boog Powell. But this former Susquehanna League ballplayer -- who once played against Orioles third base coach Cal Ripken Sr. -- says another former Yankees great, Joe DiMaggio, was the greatest player he's ever seen.
* The "You Really Gotta Be There" Award. That's what Patrick Huber and Mike Dorsey, former Baltimoreans who now work as system analysts in Chicago, said to themselves two years ago when they heard this would be the final Opening Day in their hometown ballpark.
So they got a friend to find them some tickets, called in sick -- laryngitis for Huber, mononucleosis for Dorsey -- picked up a beeper, got in the car and made the 14-hour drive.
Picked up a beeper?
"My girlfriend's going to have a baby any day," said Dorsey, producing the beeper from under his T-shirt. "I hope it's not during the game."
*While it was hard for any single outfit to stand out in the stadium's sartorial display, which ran from cut-offs to impeccably tailored suits, Dixon and Eleanor Hills could have passed for ushers.
He had an orange Orioles jacket, found years ago in a uniform store; orange socks; an Orioles tie; and an Orioles floppy hat. She had an orange polo shirt; an Orioles floppy hat; and earrings, in the shape of small baseballs, with the Orioles' logo.
"We've missed one Opening Day in 25 years, and that was when I had jury duty," said Dixon Hills.
The Hills live within eight blocks of the stadium. Dixon Hills said he wished it wasn't being replaced. After all, he spent his wedding day there. "We cut out of the reception and came here. That was in 1962. We played the White Sox, the score was 4-2, but I can't remember who the pitchers were, I'm afraid."
"I got to go to Europe later," Eleanor Hills said.
*The Ripkens aren't the only ones working on family traditions. Sue Price became a regular at Memorial Stadium 21 years ago, when she was 18. Now her son, 13-year-old Jeff Brooks Price -- his middle name was inspired by the 1977 retirement of former Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson -- has the habit.
Jeff, whose bedroom is a shrine to his namesake, first came to a game when he was less than 8 months old. He doesn't remember that first one, on Father's Day 1978, but he is sure his sentiments would have been what they are every year: The Orioles are going to go all the way.
Switching to the Camden Yards ballpark downtown is going to be tough for the Perry Hall family, who arrived at the stadium before the gates opened yesterday and basked in the sun.
"We're going to go downtown, but we'd really rather be here," Price said. "To me, this is what baseball is all about."