Brevity of Queen's visit hits wrong chord, isn't cricket


May 16, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

Back in the beginning, before the details were firmed up, the Orioles were really fired up about meeting this "Queen" everyone was talking about. A lot of them had bought the last album, see, and it was really awesome, all these totally major outstanding guitar licks . . .

The queen turned out to be a woman in a dark red dress, of course, and that has to be a letdown when you're expecting some serious, head-banging metal. But hey, there she was. Just a-walking down the street. Yes, Queen Elizabeth II came on out to the ballyard last night. Kicked it way back and took in some pastime. For 48 minutes.

Yes, she came, she saw -- two innings -- and she got home in time for the end of "Jake and the Fatman." Hey, don't laugh. If you'd watched British TV all your life (average prime-time fare: "The Yak: An Uncommon Life"), you'd be fired up, too. And anyway, in those two innings she succeeded in catching the flavor of the entire season. The Orioles didn't get a hit, and they gave up a run on a walk and a wild pitch. She saw enough.

So anyway, get this. Jose Canseco was standing in the on-deck circle listening to some fans harass him in the first inning, and suddenly this high, sweet, heckling pearl of a voice came floating down from the owner's box on the mezzanine level: "I hear Madonna is quite the lovely date, actually."

OK, not really. But an Oriole did hit a foul ball up in the direction of the queen, and a dozen men wearing "inconspicuous" clothing pounced on it and hustled it the hell out of there and arrested it out in the parking lot. OK, OK, not really. (But if you bought a ticket, you did have about a one-in-three shot of sitting next to a man with a two-way in his ear mumbling into the boutonniere in his lapel.)

The queen did put on her glasses and give the proceedings a good, hard look for the few moments she was there. President Bush, the old first sacker himself, sat next to her and tried to guide her through it. Three strikes and yer out. The fastball thing. That kind of stuff. We're not sure what he said when the umps ruled a Randy Milligan homer foul in the second inning and the fans in the bleachers got rowdy and started chanting, um, well, never mind.

And then she was gone. Forty-eight minutes and out. The protesters in the bleachers barely had a chance to unfurl their "Bread, Not Bombs" poster. Headline for the night: Queen, we hardly saw ye. Maybe it was too hot. Maybe her hot dog went down wrong. Maybe she knew it was going to take 2 1/2 hours to play the first six innings. Anyway, that was that: the most overrated visit to our fair burg since Bill Bidwill showed up coughing and choking on his one-word answers.

But hey, let's look at the positive side. The queen got Milligan going. The Moose is first-team All-Queen. He had been paralyzed at the plate all season, but he shook hands with the queen before the game and suddenly couldn't keep the ball in the park. Had the queen stayed she'd have thought he was Babe Ruth. (Actually, since she's never heard of Babe Ruth, she'd have probably thought he was, oh, maybe Lord Mountbatten or Lawrence of Arabia or some other outsized British hero.)

And there were other bright spots. Sure. The queen accomplished the near impossible and spent 15 minutes in the Orioles dugout without getting splatted by someone's soupy brown projection of chewing tobacco. And let's face it, this was a woman in the locker room, more or less, and no one called her names or pulled any stunts that the commissioner might be forced to investigate.

All the players and coaches on both teams got to meet her, too. The clubhouse doors were closed an hour before the game and everyone was told what to say, to call her "Your Highness" or "Your Majesty," not to use joy buzzers, that kind of thing. A couple of the players had given this moment some thought. It was almost touching.

"I'm gonna ask her about Princess Caroline," said Brady Anderson, Mr. Consistency.

But Brady, someone said, they aren't related.

"Yeah, but they all talk to each other," he said.

Dave Johnson planned to keep the proper perspective.

"I'm going to shake her hand like I'd shake anyone else's hand," he said. "I mean, it's not like she was elected to this or anything. It was like, bam, you're born and you're the queen. I don't know. I might ask her if she's got anything lying around Buckingham Palace that she doesn't need."

In the end, no one did anything strange. Bush, Mrs. Bush, the queen and her husband stood in a line in the Orioles dugout, and the players walked briskly down the line, shaking hands. Only a few stopped to offer anything beyond a greeting. Cal Ripken Sr. and Prince Philip, the queen's husband, had the longest chat.

"He asked me if I was a player or a coach," said Sr. -- a question he probably hadn't heard in a while. The prince also asked Richie Bancells, the club's trainer, what his function was. Then the whole party took off for the owner's box, and, soon after that, took off period. Just a guess, but they didn't listen to the broadcast on the way home.

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