First warehouse call is a bounce short

JOHN EISENBERG

April 21, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

John Tate pointed to the wet spot on the concrete terrace behind the right-field bleachers, a dozen steps from the B&O warehouse.

"That's where the ball hit, right there," he said. "You can tell because everyone was grabbing for it and somebody spilled a beer. Spilled it right on a cop, in fact."

Tate works the parking lots at the new ballpark. He was on a break, sitting at a picnic table on the terrace, when Mickey Tettleton hit the first Almost last night in the third inning.

That was Almost as in: the first home run to come close to hitting the warehouse.

Tettleton's did hit it, actually -- on one bounce.

It needed 26 more feet, according to the official tape measurement.

"Mickey, he came close," said Tate, the eyewitness, who drives a truck for a distributing company during the day. "Someone's gonna hit that thing. You can see that from here."

People have only been talking about it since the day it was decided not to knock down the warehouse, but include it in the ballpark. It created instant lore, active long before Opening Day. Who would be the first to hit the bricks? Would it take days? Months? Years? Would the ball break the shatterproof glass?

It was an irresistible hook. Even the players wanted to know.

Tettleton himself was talking about it before the game last night. On Sunday, he had hit the first home run to right. He had also witnessed the ongoing temptation of Sam Horn, who hit two monster fouls that had everyone in the park thinking "warehouse job."

"So, what about the warehouse?" someone asked Tettleton, the former cereal killer.

"It looks fairly close," he said. "Looks hittable."

Then Mick handicapped the race: "I'd say Sam Horn is a legitimate candidate to hit it. Mo Vaughn, too. Phil Plantier. That's two from Boston. Fred McGriff would be a candidate if he were still in the league."

He didn't mention himself. But then Ben McDonald fed him a fat fastball with two out in the third.

Big Ben was getting clocked. The previous two hitters, Alan Trammell and Cecil Fielder, also had hit homers. Tettleton's was the biggest.

The Orioles had said it would take a 460-footer to hit the bricks, but that involved a trajectory estimation. It actually is 432 feet down the line. Tettleton's traveled 406.

John Tate saw it coming. He was sitting with a group of parking attendants. They were wearing their orange caps and vests.

"We weren't watching the game," he said. "The right-field stands blocked our view. But we knew Mickey was up. And then all the people started yelling. I looked up right away and I could see it. You could see the ball against the dark sky. Going up and coming down. Right by the foul pole. Everyone was yelling: 'Here it comes, look out! It's heading for the warehouse!' "

Twenty-six feet shy. The first Almost.

"It landed with a big splat on the concrete, like something smacking into a tree stump," said Wayne Carter, another parking attendant who was sitting there. "Then it kicked up high and smacked into the warehouse. Up above the awning. It was spinning around up there. Then it bounced right back down where it'd landed."

He was standing on the wet spot on the concrete, pointing at the green awning that runs 15 feet above the entrance to the ground-floor shops and restaurants on the terrace.

"Then everyone was grabbing for it," Carter said. "The poor cop was just walking along. He got his cap knocked off and beer spilled on him."

Within minutes a couple of dozen people were milling around the spot on the terrace, pointing and shaking their heads.

"Is this it here?" they said. "Was this where it landed?"

John Tate and Wayne Carter were the sudden experts.

"Right over there," Tate said, pointing. "Where the beer got spilled, see there?"

Orioles publicist Rick Vaughn was on the scene soon with a tape measure. The group stood with respectful silence as he checked the distance from the beer spot to the warehouse.

"Twenty-six feet," he announced after looking at the tape.

The people turned and nodded to each other. "Twenty-six," they said.

Almost.

Sam Horn was given the news after the Orioles' 12-4 win.

"Almost got it stolen away from you," someone said.

Big Sam shook his head. "I'm not worried about being the first," he said. "But I will say this: When I hit one good, I'm going to hit that warehouse. I know that sounds bad. But I'm just telling you the truth. I'm going to hit that thing."

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