Schaefer's vision rewarded with cheers


April 07, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

For Gov. William Donald Schaefer, it was a day of vindication. For at least the afternoon, he was once again an admired urban champion, builder of civic monuments, not the beleaguered leader of a state struggling to balance a budget.

"Governor," shouted a man in a blue windbreaker as he spotted Schaefer on the club level of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. "Thank you. Thank you for the stadium."

"Congratulations, Governor," a fan shouted.

"Excellent job, Governor," called another. "Glad you're here."

After months of listening to damning voices on radio call-in shows, voices that accused him of spending big and wasting money on a monument to baseball millionaires, Schaefer was hearing only praise.

His aides were elated. Schaefer, wearing his orange-and-black Orioles tie, seemed quietly pleased as he signed autographs and posed for photos with fans.

On the bright, new sound system, as fans pushed their way into the ballpark, Eddie Money was singing, "Two Tickets to Paradise."

"Everybody's happy," Schaefer said. "There isn't a grouchy person in the stadium today." But he couldn't forget the people who had criticized his support for a Camden Yards stadium. "My self-satisfaction is they know I was right."

Two hours before the first pitch, Schaefer was standing in the private suite reserved for the governor's use on the luxury club level. The guests had not yet arrived. Except for a couple of aides and state police officers, Schaefer was alone to survey the downtown ballpark he had wanted for almost 20 years.

"Can you imagine this?" the governor asked, leaning over the rail to take in the view. "In the wildest imagination that people have they will not believe it. They will not believe it until they come in."

But already, as Baltimore and major league baseball were basking in Opening Day, Schaefer was thinking about other projects.

"We got it done," he said. "That's enough for me." He instantly contradicted himself. "Well, it's not enough. If we could get the Convention Center [expansion], that would be enough," he said. "And if we could get the Convention Center and the Christopher Columbus Center starting to move, and if we could get the east part of the Inner Harbor moving. And they're achievable. They can be done. it just takes a little bit of guts, a little bit of vision."

Later, just before President Bush took the mound, Schaefer stood in the Orioles dugout, near Frank Robinson and Rick Dempsey, near R. Sargent Shriver and President Bush. He asked a photographer to take his picture with "my friend," Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks. And he searched for his own camera, the one he uses to take snapshots for his own photo albums.

He had considered not going onto the field, for fear of the crowd reaction. Last summer, during a tribute for Desert Storm veterans at Memorial Stadium, the fans had booed. The event came during the depths of his estrangement from the public, when he was complaining about getting only 60 percent of the vote in the 1990 election.

"I don't mind being booed," he said yesterday, "but this wasn't a joke. I was hurt bad. Everybody got cheered and I got booed. We were doing something right for the veterans. And that hurt. And I vowed, no more."

But yesterday, when Chuck Thompson introduced him as the man who helped create the stadium with his "vision, determination, support and sheer willpower," the crowd cheered as Schaefer walked onto the field to help cut a giant orange banner, and officially open the park.

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