Old stadium welcomes its fans home

April 17, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Till Strudwick had two tickets for last night's Orioles game against the California Angels at Camden Yards.

He couldn't see the game very well, however, because he was sitting five miles away in Memorial Stadium, watching the London Tigers beat the Bowie Baysox, 4-3, in their home opener.

"I had two bleacher tickets for Camden Yards that I bought back in February, but I sold them to come here," said Strudwick, 42, a longtime Orioles fan who sat with Wild Bill Hagy in the fabled Section 34 for 10 years.

"This is my home," said Strudwick. "This is a shrine."

Strudwick was one of 7,210 fans who came out to that 33rd Street shrine last night to see the first baseball played at Memorial Stadium since the Orioles left in October, 1991.

The Baysox, the Orioles Double-A affiliate, is playing one season in Memorial Stadium because construction hasn't begun on the team's new ballpark in Bowie. Club officials expected 10,000 or more people to fill the lower deck for last night's opener, but late afternoon rains gave way to clouds, fog, and a chill that kept them away.

People walked around the runways wide-eyed, pondering the field and the blue and green seats as if they were walking through the house where they grew up.

Paul M. Thompson of Parkville held up a piece of cardboard with "Welcome Back Old Friend" scrawled on it.

"When the Orioles played their last game here I held up a sign that said 'Goodbye Old Friend,' " said Thompson, 26. "I thought I'd never see baseball back in here, me and a whole lot of other people."

Said Don Buford, the graying Baysox manager and newest member of the Orioles Hall of Fame: "This is a treat for these young players to play in a major-league stadium where there were World Series."

Buford said a woman came up to him in Binghamton, N.Y., earlier this week when the Baysox were playing the Double-A Mets. A former Marylander, she told Buford her family was going to make a trip to Baltimore this summer just to watch baseball at Memorial Stadium.

"She said she wanted to show her kids where she grew up playing baseball," Buford said as fans behind the home team dugout pushed pieces of paper at him for autographs.

For some people, one year away from Memorial Stadium was one year too long.

"I had 'em asking me how to get inside the ballpark," said an exasperated Roscoe Rew, a security guard. "I had to tell them: 'You're in.' "

At 7:30 p.m. -- a half-hour after the ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by former Oriole Mike Flanagan, who threw the last major-league pitch at Memorial Stadium against Detroit on Oct. 6, 1991 -- fans were still lined up 10 deep to buy tickets.

One of them was state Del. Timothy F. Maloney, a Prince George's County Democrat who showed up for complimentary tickets from Baysox owner Peter Kirk.

Told that Baltimoreans might embrace the Baysox so warmly that the team might not want to move to Bowie after the new stadium is built, Maloney said: "Don't say that. We [the General Assembly] gave them $14 million to build that stadium."

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