Old O's back for last out O! say can you see veterans amid tears

October 06, 1991|By Mark Hyman

If you are among the 53,371 baseball fans who expect to spend this afternoon at Memorial Stadium, look out for Boog Powell.

Boog should be easy to spot. He has orange hair. He is larger than Cal Ripken Jr. He probably will be surrounded six-deep by autograph seekers.

Possibly, there will be one other way to identify Powell, the slugging first baseman who played with the Baltimore Orioles from 1961 to 1974. He might be the grown man who is crying.

It's difficult for some Orioles fans to imagine a weeping Boog Powell. But it's not for him.

Powell says he isn't certain what feelings will bubble to the surface when the Orioles bid farewell to Memorial Stadium this afternoon. But he is prepared for the sloppiest.

"It's hard to say exactly what your emotions will be," said Powell, for 14 years a towering presence at the plate and in the Orioles batting order. "You say you're hard, calloused and tough. But on an occasion like this, who knows?"

Powell paused a long moment.

Finally, he said, "I've thought about whether I'll cry. I'm hoping I don't because I don't guess that would be too macho. But if it happens, by God, it happens. I wouldn't try to stop it."

Powell will not be alone with his emotions and handkerchief. He will be joined today at the ballpark by others who also will be thinking wistful thoughts about the only home field the Orioles have known since Baltimore returned to the major leagues in 1954.

Among them will be former manager Earl Weaver.

Weaver is here because he managed the Orioles for parts of 17 seasons, because he guided the team to four World Series appearances and because he had no choice.

"I have to be here," Weaver said.

He meant for his own peace of mind.

"I want to walk on that field," he said. "I just can't imagine not being here for the last day."

The game is a virtual sellout and has been for months. The majority of the seats were gobbled up quickly by Orioles season-ticket customers. When the team offered a few thousand for sale at the box office, the line started forming 24 hours early.

If they are not too choked up, maybe some of the lucky fans who have tickets will notice a few subtle changes at the ballpark.

Here is one: For today, gates open at 12:05, two hours before the scheduled first pitch. On most game dates, the Orioles allow fans into the ballpark only 90 minutes before game time. The early opening allows fans a little more time to commit the ballpark to memory. The Orioles hope it also will relieve traffic congestion on 33rd Street.

Here is another: Memorabilia Madness is now in full bloom. For a price, you can immortalize the stadium in everything from plastic to crystal. But for the final weekend, that's just a start.

The Orioles are selling a special final-day program. Appropriately, the cover is stamped with the words "The Final Game." It is $4. The team expects the souvenir books to be hot sellers, so it ordered plenty. Normally, the Orioles need two months to sell 60,000. For the final three-game series, they ordered 62,000.

Program buyer beware. Today's program has a different cover from ones sold over the weekend stamped "The Final Weekend," but the pages inside are the same as in editions sold Friday and Saturday.

Care for a cola drink? Has ARA-Martin's got a plastic cup for you. Throughout the final weekend, the stadium caterer has been dispensing soda and beer in 22-ounce commemorative cups. The beer cup is black. The soda cup is white. Both are imprinted ZTC with the dates of the final games and a drawing of the stadium in a sparkle finish. ARA ordered 250,000.

(Memo to beer drinkers: Don't say you weren't warned. For the final game, the Orioles and ARA-Martin's have changed the rules. Vendors will stop selling beer after the sixth inning. Beer sales at stands will shut down at the end of the seventh inning. In each case, that is an inning earlier than usual).

When they have completed their shopping and noshing, some fans may notice that there is a game in progress. The American League schedule says that the Orioles and the Detroit Tigers will finish the 1991 regular season this afternoon. But what comes after the last pitch is less clear.

Some details are out. The Orioles have acknowledged that 50 to 75 of 512 players who've worn Orioles uniforms have come back for the final game and that they will be the key performers in the post-game program.

The team also has announced that following the game, home plate will be lifted from its resting place at Memorial Stadium and transported to the team's new home field with the 4-day-old name -- Oriole Park at Camden Yards. There it will be ceremonially planted as Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Orioles president Larry Lucchino and Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad look on, or, perhaps, call balls and strikes.

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