The moment that Baltimore Orioles fans have been waiting for arrives April 6, at 3:05 p.m. Barring the unthinkable -- rain, snow, an unfinished ballpark -- the first regular-season pitch at the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards will be tossed just then.
Thrilling as that opening pitch may be, it's not the only baseball-flavored event scheduled for the month of April. Wednesday, Orioles and city and state officials led by Gov. William Donald Schaefer are expected to formally announce a full plate of "Opening Week" activities for the days leading up to the opening game.
The special events range from a 8-kilometer road race to begin at Memorial Stadium and end inside the new ballpark to an open house for residents of neighborhoods surrounding the downtown ballpark to a Friday afternoon exhibition game matching the Orioles against the New York Mets.
With few exceptions, the intent will be to acquaint fans with the new ballpark and perhaps to avoid the mass confusion that has marred the opening of other new stadiums.
"Part of what we're trying to achieve is to get the wrinkles out," said Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad, who witnessed the ultimate in chaotic opening days last year, when he attended the first game at the new Comiskey Park in Chicago.
"People were waiting at least an hour at the concession stands," Belgrad said. "We want things to operate more smoothly."
Orioles spokesman Rick Vaughn said team officials agree that keeping the ballpark locked up until Opening Day would contribute to first-day mix-ups. Comiskey Park, for example, was off-limits to White Sox fans until the first regular-season game.
"We've learned from other openings," Vaughn said, adding, "Our fans have been involved in the planning of the ballpark from the beginning. We'll continue to seek their help."
The tentative schedule of Opening Week events includes:
* Special previews for business people and neighborhood residents. A lunch-hour open house is planned for one day of Opening Week, primarily so that downtown office workers can visit the ballpark and scout out travel routes. Another open house will be limited to people who live around the ballpark and will feel the brunt of increased traffic and noise.
* An Orioles-Mets preseason game on Friday, April 3. The game is expected to be a 3:05 p.m. start, and most tickets will be distributed by a lottery soon to be announced by the team. A final decision hasn't been made, but tentative plans are to limit ticket sales below the new ballpark's 48,000-seat capacity. The idea is to simulate conditions on Opening Day while keeping the ballpark less than filled.
* A "Base Ball" gala on Friday at 7 p.m. Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will be co-hosts of the event, which will be held in the new ballpark's climate-controlled club lounge. Tickets for the event are $125 per person, with proceeds benefitting the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation and Orioles Charities. Call the Babe Ruth Museum for more information at 727-1539.
* An 8K "Home Run" road race sponsored by the Oriole Advocates. The race will be held Sunday, April 5 at 8:30 a.m., and limited to 2,000 runners. The course starts in front of Memorial Stadium, bends south onto Charles Street, then Maryland Avenue, then Cathedral Street The race will finish inside the new ballpark in center field.
For more information about the race, call 882-5455. For a race entry form, send a stamped, self-addressed business envelope to 8K Home Run, P.O. Box 11394, Baltimore, Md., 21239.
The festivities apparently will also include an Orioles parade through downtown streets and an Orioles workout at the new ballpark, both on Sunday.