The line of well-wishers started almost two hours before the Orioles played the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday.
One by one, they made their way through the still-empty seats at Camden Yards, up the concrete steps at the terrace-box level, to Rex Barney's seat in the front of the press box.
Some carried special greetings. One presented Barney with a book on baseball. Two others unfurled a banner that read, "Welcome Home Rex." All offered words of encouragement.
"It makes me feel about 20 feet high," Barney said, sitting in his customary spot behind the public-address mike.
Barney was inundated with well-wishers and media-types well into yesterday's game, which marked his return to the job after a month-and-a-half absence.
"I can't tell you how happy I am to be here," said the man whose trademark calls are an elongated "Thank you," and "Give that fan a contract."
Fans greeted Barney's first announcement with an ovation.
On May 26, Barney, a diabetic, had his right leg amputated below the knee at Sinai Hospital. A former pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Barney had a difficult time dealing with his situation in the beginning.
"The first three or four days, I was destroyed," he said. "I didn't want to talk to anybody. After the fourth day, I wanted to go to therapy and do everything."
The original timetable for Barney to return to work was Aug. 1. But as he responded to therapy, he moved the timetable up. "I wanted to prove 'em wrong," he said.
Although Barney said he would try to man the public-address mike full time now that he is back to work, his schedule will be set by his physician, Dr. Sheldon Goldgeier.
Barney left the hospital Saturday, and expects to have a "permanent leg" by the end of summer. "They say that in a month or two, when I walk down the street, you won't know I have an artificial leg," he said.
In the meantime, Barney makes the adjustment to getting
around in a wheelchair. He has a temporary prosthesis and can walk with the aid of crutches.
When Barney arrived at Camden Yards at 9 a.m. yesterday, he was accompanied by his physical therapist, Robin Korotki; his brother-in-law, John Szczecinski; and Norman Macht, who has nearly finished work on a book about Barney's 50 years in baseball.
"He was a kid looking at Christmas," Korotki said of Barney's return. "Last night, he was bubbling on the phone."
Korotki said Barney never expected the type of response he received when word of his surgery got out.
Among those from the Dodgers who called were Duke Snider, Ralph Branca, Carl Erskine, Peter O'Malley and Sandy Koufax. "Talk about Dodger blue," Barney said. "They mean it. They are family."
When one well-wisher welcomed him home, Barney allowed himself a moment of triumph. "We made it," he said, sticking a thumb into the air, "and I am home."