Fans rise to occasion, celebrating first rally

April 04, 1992|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer Staff writer John Rivera also contributed to this article.

It happened in the bottom of the sixth.

Score tied. Bases loaded. Chris Hoiles' bat cocked. He swings, sending the ball skittering between the legs of Mets third baseman Dave Magadan and lifting thousands to their feet with their first roar of delight.

And just like that, the new stadium was more than an architectural marvel. It was a ballpark.

In a variety of ways, the fans performed their own rites to inaugurate Oriole Park at Camden Yards yesterday. They collected in an arc behind home plate to take in batting practice. They tried The Wave in deep left and failed miserably. They spilled beer and popcorn between seats, christening the new park, which, until game time yesterday, had been nearly spotless.

Of course, baseball was a secondary attraction for most of those who attended yesterday's game. Many had their cameras with them, shooting pictures not of the players but the stadium's scoreboard or the B&O warehouse. They oohed and they aahed and they otherwise behaved as though the new ballpark was actually built for their own enjoyment.

"This is truly like walking into a field of dreams," said Mitch Hugonnet, a Washington psychologist.

A few had minor complaints. Part of the view of right field was obstructed and JumboTron, the huge outfield screen, couldn't be seen from the terrace boxes in left. But most found unexpected flourishes that pleased them, like the clarity of the sound system or the curvature of the green, slatted seats.

"I've been trying to be critical, but I truly can't find anything to criticize," said Jack Fish, a retired savings and loan executive who attended the first and last games at Memorial Stadium.

As he recalled images from Memorial Stadium, the national anthem rang from the speakers for the first time and Fish stood, placing his hand over his breast. "Take off your hat," he barked to a man two rows down. The man sheepishly complied.

Out in the bleachers in nearly dead center, they were having a rollicking good time. "I love it," said Bob Heck, a writer and actor from Baltimore who was wearing a New York Giants cap. "Even sitting here in the bleachers, the worst seats in the house, you feel like you're in the action."

In front of him, though, Jay Johnson of Elkridge was not so thoroughly content. "You know what the headline should be tomorrow?" he said. "It should be 'Where's the Beer Man?' The beer man hasn't come to the bleachers once."

Friends Tom Maufer of Towson and Norman Umberger of Newington, Va., discovered that they couldn't get money from cash machines at the stadium, leaving them with $5. They shared a hot dog, a hot chocolate and a soft pretzel. "We had to load up on the mustard because that's free," Maufer said.

Some fans said the concessionaires ran out of crab cakes and crab soup. Others said some souvenir items were priced incorrectly. But the upper deck didn't fall down and the beer wasn't too flat and the field was a luxurious green.

But for all the hosannas and critical acclaim bestowed on the stadium, Bob DiSalvo, a carpenter from Arlington, Va., wasn't ready to pronounce it perfection.

"I like it," he said. "I think it looks the way a ballpark is supposed to look.

"But now, we'll just have to see how it plays."

Starting yesterday, we did.

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