Ballpark's foes sharing in glory tonight

April 08, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- He called the new ballpark a temple to false gods, but he'll be worshiping there tonight with the rest of the faithful.

Baltimore Sen. Julian L. Lapides says he'll join his colleagues for something called Legislative Appreciation Night, another lavish coming-out party for Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The legislators get four free tickets to tonight's game. They'll be wined. They'll be dined. They'll be thanked for all they did -- most notably for voting in favor of the project.

So why is Senator Lapides going to be there?

All he did was try to kill the project, not just by voting against it, but by organizing a petition drive to stop it. He would have kept these instantly hallowed precincts in thrall to empty warehouses and pigeon-spattered, out-of-use train stations.

Nevertheless, the fete is not entirely unwarranted, Mr. Lapides contends. "They owe me thanks for watching them," he said.

"It would be a lot worse if I hadn't been watching. That's self-serving, but I'm not above being self-serving."

Mr. Lapides is not the only legislator to line up for dubious appreciation. Almost all of the 188 General Assembly members accepted their tickets and their special night, including most of those whose opposition once threatened the project.

Opponents found the stadium-building frenzy an affront to good government, an inappropriate use of government money that seems even more inappropriate now.

"Here's a state very strapped for money. That money could have been used for other necessary and needed facilities," Mr. Lapides said.

The thought had even more poignancy today with the legislature in disarray, unable to settle on a way to keep government operating this year.

In Baltimore, the people reveled in the glory of a diverting pastime -- while in Annapolis their legislature was unable to pass a budget.

Several legislators suggested that the General Assembly should hold a ballpark appreciation night -- since media preoccupation with Opening Day overshadowed their embarrassing legislative failure.

Asked if he expected to find much appreciation at the park tonight, Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, said, "No. We don't deserve any."

Nevertheless, Mr. Lapides said, it has been built and he will be there.

"I wish it were ugly," he said. "But I think they've done a very good job. To thumb your nose at it is wrong. It's a time for graciousness."

Other legislative opponents of the project agree:

"Philosophically, I don't think public funds should be used to build private facilities," said Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County, one of the legislature's most ardent fiscal conservatives.

She, too, plans to be on hand tonight, if she can persuade her husband to join her. "Boycotting it doesn't make any sense," she said.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Howard, said he would not have supported the stadium had he been a member of the Senate when the vote was taken.

"People feel good about it now," he said, "It may cause them to forget how we got there." Whatever the lessons, Senator Haines will get there tonight.

"Sounds hypocritical, doesn't it?" he said a bit sheepishly. "Now that it's part of the fabric, I want to go and enjoy like any other Marylander."

Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, will also be there. Mr. Rosenberg, too, opposed the stadium -- though he loves baseball and holds three 81-game season tickets.

He opposed the stadium because the move for it was driven by an unfounded fear the team would leave Baltimore the way the football Colts did.

Mr. Rosenberg will use his own tickets tonight -- and pass along the freebies to his staff.

The lone hold-out, the final protester, appears to be Sen. Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery.

"It's like the Taj Mahal," he said of the stadium that even he admires. "It's beautiful -- but would you like to pay for it?"

"I don't intend ever to set foot in it," he said. It's a such a symbol of incorrect priorities."

Could that really be his final position? Never, ever go to Oriole Park at Camden Yards? Would the senator really go that far in pursuit of principle?

He seemed to weaken.

"Maybe one of these days I'll put on a Groucho disguise and try it," he said.

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