It was Fan Appreciation Day at Memorial Stadium, but who would have expected the Baltimore Orioles to show their appreciation in person?
Certainly not Joe Guzinski, who stepped through Gate W2 and was greeted warmly by Cal Ripken Jr.
"I was dumbfounded," said Guzinski, of Hampstead. "That was just a terrific touch. With all the negative things you hear about big-time sports personalities, I think this was done very well."
Players and coaches both past and present manned the turnstiles to greet the arriving crowd and hand out 1992 Orioles ++ calendars. It was a surprise cooked up by the club's public relations department, the idea first proposed by administrative assistant Evelyn Ehlers. For a half-hour, the inmates were running the asylum and the fans went crazy.
Cal Ripken Sr. joined Cal Jr. and David Segui at Gate W2. Bayou-born Ben McDonald clowned with fans at W5, at one point embracing a man in a New Orleans Saints jersey. No alligator wrestling or autographs were allowed.
"I was really surprised," said Cathy Mason of Allen. "I knew it was Fan Appreciation Day, but I didn't expect this. This really says a lot. These guys aren't gods or anything, but it's nice to see them up close."
The current team members were joined by some prominent members of the All-Time Orioles Team, which was elected by fan ballot and introduced during yesterday's pre-game ceremonies. Former manager Earl Weaver manned Gate E5 and traded memories with surprised ticket-holders. Boog Powell squeezed hands at E4.
If the personal contact between the fans and team was extraordinary, it was not unprecedented.
"Dizzy and Paul Dean did it, didn't they?" said Ripken Sr. "If I remember correctly, they used to sell scorecards."
The promotion figured to create some logistical problems, but stadium security and police kept the fans moving through the turnstiles at a steady -- though not hurried -- pace.
If the experience was a memorable one for each fan who met an Orioles favorite, it was a humbling one for some of the less recognizable players. Segui seemed lost in the shuffle next to the two Cals. Right-hander Bob Milacki had to convince at least one fan that he really plays on the team.
"One lady wanted to know if we were from the Frederick team or just employees who had gotten dressed up," Milacki said.
The promotion lasted about a half hour. It was followed by the introduction of the All-Time Orioles Team, which featured Weaver, Powell, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer (not present), Bobby Grich, Ken Singleton, Paul Blair (not jTC present), Rick Dempsey (not present), Ripken and Tippy Martinez.
Brooks Robinson will be honored again today when he joins NFL Hall of Famer John Unitas for the final first-ball ceremony at Memorial Stadium.
"That's even nicer," Robinson said. "I'm throwing out the first ball with John Unitas, who I've known for a long time. That's a great honor."
The Orioles all-time third baseman can be forgiven for waxing nostalgic about the old ballpark. No one played more games here. No one is more closely identified with the club.
"I came in almost with the franchise," Robinson said. "I signed in 1955. I'm sure I'll be [emotional] tomorrow, but I'm just as sure if you didn't have a new stadium, you wouldn't have a team.
"It happened with the Colts. I'm sure there are a lot of things we need more than a new stadium, but if you want them to stay, you've got to do it. I don't want to call it blackmail. It's just a fact of life."
Much of today's post-game celebration remains unannounced, much like the surprise at the turnstiles before yesterday's game. The pre-game entertainment will include two Dixieland bands, a Caribbean calypso band and the Colts Marching Band. Pre-game ceremonies will feature the introduction of six members of the original 1954 Orioles team and a tribute to bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, who has spent more games in an Orioles uniform than anyone in club history.
The post-game celebration will feature dozens of former Orioles stars, but the club has withheld many of the particulars to keep the sellout crowd in suspense.
It is expected to be an impressive show, but the Orioles and their fans will have to say goodbye to Memorial Stadium without public address announcer Rex Barney, who fell ill on Friday night and will be hospitalized through the weekend.