In World Series weather (very cold) and with World Class emotions, hundreds of baseball fans cheered the homecoming of their beloved Baltimore Orioles last night outside the new downtown ballpark.
Veteran catcher Rick Dempsey, who has not yet learned whether he will make the team, was the cheerleader spelling out the team name, then climbing over a barrier fence to join the fans as the brief celebration ended.
Wearing a jacket and tie and looking more like a businessman than a scrappy, head-first-diving base runner, Mr. Dempsey stood in the cold next to Patricia Williams, watching as the 109-member Mighty Eastside Rockers drum-and-bugle marching team she directs performed an Oriole cheer they had been practicing for three days.
The popular player, hoping to end his career with at least one more season in an Oriole uniform, said he could not find the words to express his excitement if his dream comes true. But he seemed overwhelmed just at the sight of the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"Everything is so first-class," he said. "It's breathtaking, it's so exciting."
And if Mr. Dempsey does not make the final cut? "We'll still love him," Ms. Williams said. "We're behind him 100 percent."
The rally was a season opener of sorts for Alan Gimbel, a 21-year-old philosophy major at the University of Maryland Baltimore County who was donning the feathers for the first time in public as the team's costumed Oriole Bird mascot -- and a bittersweet moment for his partner in the role, Eric J. Rommal, 23, a University of Maryland physical science senior.
Mr. Rommal -- whose former partner, James Patrick "Jamie"Parker, was killed in an automobile accident in November after a costumed visit to a child battling leukemia -- was in street clothes last night, accompanying the Bird on a stroll through a ballpark tunnel following the rally.
He said he had been wandering through the stadium for the past week, getting used to the new nest.
The Orioles arrived an hour earlier than expected after their Florida exhibition season finale, and took advantage of the time to peek at the new and improved clubhouse and see the green virgin field of dreams bathed in the stadium lights.
An awesome moment? Maybe. But there are some practical aspects to consider -- and outfielder Mike Devereaux, for one, wanted to hear the sound system and asked if the jumbo video playback screen could be turned on for him to see.
Sheridan Smith, a 43-year-old Maryland National Bank executive, drove his three sons to the rally from their home in Baldwin. "It was all right -- cold, though," he said, wondering whether the players, more accustomed to 80-degree Florida weather, wanted keep it short and merciful.
Star shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., the 1991 American League Most Valuable Player, made an unplanned and very brief speech to the crowd. Although a far more dynamic player than public speaker, Mr. Ripken elicited a big cheer in saying the team is hoping to re-create some of the history and magic of what went on at Memorial Stadium.
He had steam in his breath from the 38-degree chill, and shook the podium with his hands in mock shivering that brought an appreciative laugh from the crowd.
And then it was over, a rally of perhaps 15 or 20 minutes.
"They brought them in and brought them out," said Nicole Bradley, 20, of Pasadena. "But it wasn't disappointing. I got Randy Milligan's autograph for my brother."
The signature was on an Oriole pennant -- a souvenir handed out along with baseballs by a costumed Tony the Tiger, taking part in the rally as a Frosted Flakes cereal promotion with a team that had lionized Froot Loops when Mickey Tettleton was the starting catcher.
(For the record, Mr. Tettleton is a Tiger these days. A Detroit
Tiger, with present cereal tastes unknown.)
Ms. Bradley's companion, Stephanie Clark, also a 20-year-old Pasadenan, said she got "a handshake, and a 'hi, howya doin '" from Mr. Milligan, and both young women were thrilled at having stood at the edge of the temporary stage -- so close they could reach out and touch the Oriole players.
But everyone at the rally was touched by the players. And by the stadium. And, on a very cold evening, by the warm thoughts of baseball in the spring.