Introducing the queen to fans, fans to the queen, as tonight's royal visit nears HOW TO DO THE WAVE For Her Majesty, a rundown of the Orioles' quirky habits


May 15, 1991|By Jean Marbella

We'll leave it to President Bush, who played first base on his college team, to explain the actual rules of baseball to first-time spectator Queen Elizabeth II.

But more interesting than the rules are the quirks and rituals surrounding the game, especially as played in Baltimore. So as a service to Her Majesty, we're answering some questions she might have as she watches this command performance by the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics tonight.

Is everyone on the team named "Ripken?"

No, just three of them. Cal Ripken Sr. is the third base coach who signals batters and runners on what to do and where to go. His son, Cal Ripken Jr., called "Junior" by fellow players, is the team's All-Star shortstop, and his younger son, Bill Ripken, plays just steps away as the second baseman. They're like Prince Charles and Prince "Randy Andy" Andrew -- an heir and a spare.

Why do Orioles' fans suddenly shout "Oh!" during the national anthem?

At every home game, fans sing the national anthem -- which was written in Baltimore -- in the usual monotone mumbling way until they get to the line, "Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave . . ." Then, they shout rather that sing "Oh," in tribute to the team's

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nickname, "The O's."

The tradition started as many such do: for no apparent reason, although team historian Jim Bready believes it began in the late 1970s when superfan Wild Bill Hagy started leading cheers in the stadium. "Most of the Star-Spangled Banner is so utterly routine, and the high notes unattainable, the 'Oh' is a moment for fan participation," Mr. Bready said.

Why do we love this team so much?

It's like the old joke:

Adam: I love you, Eve.

Eve: Who else?

Baltimore used to have a football team, the Colts, but they stole away in the middle of the night in 1984 to Indianapolis. Baltimore also used to have a basketball team, the Bullets, but they left for Washington in 1973.

So, in part, we love them by default. They're who we watch and gossip about, whose every move we

analyze and second-guess, whose lives we live ours through. In other words, they're our substitute for a royal family.

How do fans identify each other around town?

"How 'bout them O's?" is the not-so-secret password. It can start a brief and meaningless exchange, much in the way "Hot enough for you?" does, or it can kick off a long, angst- and statistics-filled discourse on the meaning of life or baseball, which in some minds are one and the same.

L Are people booing Randy Milligan every time he comes to bat?

No! One of the most popular players on the team, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Milligan is nicknamed "Moose." That, rather than "boo," is what you're hearing.

What does "give that fan a contract" mean?

You'll hear stadium announcer Rex Barney say this when someone in the stands catches a foul ball or home run on the fly and doesn't drop

it. Meaning, they're good enough to sign for the team. Yeah, right, and I'm the queen of England.

What do players talk about on first base?

When someone gets to first base, you often see the runner talking to the opposing team's first baseman. About what? The weather, the game, the babe in the halter top in section 44? On this particular night, they're probably talking about you!

Why do players spit so much?

Some of them are chewing tobacco and spitting its unswallowable juice. Others are eating sunflower seeds and spitting the shells. Still others spit just for the sheer heck of it.

L Why does the other team smash elbows together at home plate?

The Oakland Athletics, arguably the most arrogant team in baseball, like to rub it in when they score, so the players raise their arms to head level and "bash" their lower arms together, hard. This has led to nicknames like "the Bash Brothers" and "the Bruise Brothers." They presumably have been told not to do this to you when you meet them before the game.

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