For plate umpire Jeff Evans, Opening Day was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Even grumbling from a few players couldn't sully it.
Evans and three other minor-league umpires worked the Orioles-White Sox game yesterday even though there is a tentative settlement between the major-league umps and baseball. Evans is now heading for his home in Northfield, Vt., where he works as a substitute high school English teacher and coach.
"I enjoyed it," Evans said of the experience before a Memorial Stadium gathering of 50,213. "I had dreamed about it for quite a while. I certainly didn't go out there comatose. I was excited."
A few players beefed about some of his balls-and-strikes calls, HTC but no one was overly critical. Orioles catcher Bob Melvin was asked if he thought Jeff Ballard had Sammy Sosa out on strikes before the Chicago outfielder hammered a three-run homer in the second inning.
"Close," Melvin said. "How's that for diplomacy? The umpire was in a tough situation -- Opening Day, 50,000 people. He missed a few, but he wasn't terrible. I think he was a little nervous, but you expect that."
Evans, 31, who umpired for 11 years in the minors, including Triple A, said he got no serious static from Melvin or Chicago catcher Carlton Fisk.
"I didn't think he had a bearing on the game one way or the other," Fisk said.
Said Evans: "They thought some were balls and I thought they were strikes. That happens. Maybe they felt I had a big strike zone, but if the ball touches the plate I call it a strike."
Evans retired as a minor-league umpire after last season because jobs weren't opening up in the majors. And now?
"I'll play a lot of golf this summer," he said.
* CAPTAIN HOOK: It was no big deal, according to the principals, that pitching coach Al Jackson went to the mound and removed starter Jeff Ballard in the sixth inning.
It was the first time since he joined the club in 1989 that Jackson actually lifted a pitcher. The common practice was for Jackson to make a consulting trip, with manager Frank Robinson arriving later for the actual removal.
Robinson said there was no particular reason he instructed Jackson to remove Ballard and he didn't know if it would become a trend.
"I've been around a long time," Jackson said. "After all, I do know how to take a pitcher out. I knew the relief pitcher needed warmup time, so I didn't rush getting out there."
* DANNY BOY: Vice president Dan Quayle made one of the ceremonial first pitches (1954 Opening Day pitchers Bob Turley and Virgil Trucks shared the honor), then trotted toward the White Sox dugout to shake hands with manager Jeff Torborg.
That unscheduled detour came as a surprise to the Secret Service agents and sent them scurrying. Quayle then did an inning on radio and TV for both sides and departed shortly before 4 p.m.
* UNSTOPPABLE: Fisk, the 43-year-old wonder, started behind the plate, went 2-for-3, scored two runs and drove in one. It was his 20th opener. He's coming off arthroscopic surgery on both knees.
* BACK TO WORK: The Orioles were to have worked out at the stadium today, followed by the White Sox.
Righthander Jose Mesa will oppose Chicago lefty Greg Hibbard tomorrow (7:35 p.m.). Dave Johnson will start the Orioles' first road game Friday at Texas.
* OPENING IN STYLE: In five openers with the Houston Astros, Glenn Davis reached base 13 times in 23 appearances, going 6-for-16 with three home runs. He had an RBI double in four trips yesterday.
* SILENT HORN: After a stunning opener last year -- a pair of three-run homers in an 11- inning, 7-6 win in Kansas City -- Sam Horn struck out twice and walked once yesterday against Jack McDowell. In the Chicago-Baltimore exhibition opener this year, Horn touched McDowell for a three-run homer.
* THIS 'N' THAT: The temperature for the final opener at the stadium was 89 at game time, the warmest ever for the occasion. It was only the second time over 80 degrees; the previous high was 85 in 1964 . . . The game was No. 2,926 at the stadium; a mere 80 are left . . . The national anthem singer, Delores King Williams, is a graduate of Catonsville High and Virginia Commonwealth U. . . . It was bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks' 23rd opener in an Oriole uniform, a team record; Brooks Robinson dressed for 21, Jim Palmer for 19 . . . The Orioles drew more than 50,000 for the home opener for the 10th time in the past 12 seasons. . . Cal Ripken's .380 spring training average is his career best and the highest by an Oriole since Alan Wiggins' .393 in 1987.