Greetings from CLEVELAND $19 fare has O's fans flying high to ballgame

September 29, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

Dear Baltimore,

Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

Oh, wait, you are here. Thought we'd get away from it all by taking one of those $19 flights out here, but great minds apparently think alike -- the streets are overrun with people wearing the orange-and-black, you know, that hometown stuff that you only wear away from home.

The natives are making us feel right at home. They've pointed us in the direction of their new ballpark -- which will open next year -- and told us it was patterned after Camden Yards. They also showed us the plans for developing the North Coast Harbor of Lake Erie -- which includes an aquarium. Sound familiar? We feel like Macon Leary, Anne Tyler's "Accidental Tourist," the Baltimore travel writer who traveled in search of the familiar rather than -- shivers! -- the exotic.

There are two big differences though: One, Hopkins is the airport here, not the university, and, two, you actually can get a baseball ticket even if you're not some corporate, Washington type with a sky box. In fact, most everyone we've met from home came here to see the Orioles play the Indians (in the old Municipal Stadium, even older than our Memorial Stadium). We took over most of the third-base side around our team's dugout. Yelling "O" during the national anthem sort of startled the locals.

"If the national anthem was written there, you'd think they'd have a little more respect for it," muttered Matt Burns, who was sitting next to us.

Matt and his father, Norman, and their friend, Leo "Peewee" Farabee, were among the few Ohio natives in the section, although Norman and Peewee were decked out in Orioles gear. Turns out Peewee is a second cousin of the Orioles' Chris Hoiles, who is from Wayne, Ohio. Everyone mistook them for Baltimoreans -- who else would wear these colors unless it was Halloween?

You should have seen our plane out here (we took a Continental flight, it matched the $19 fare first offered by Southwest Airlines) -- it was like a charter to Orioles' fantasy camp. Real giddy, aging-children atmosphere. Which continued even after we all got to Cleveland.

"People were honking at us on the street," says John B., who wouldn't give his last name because he called in sick at work to take a quick, overnight trip out here to see the Orioles. "Someone came up to me . . . and asked if I was here on a $19 fare."

John was with his friend, Pat Loy, a self-employed computer consultant who didn't have to call in sick. (He did, however, bring his PowerBook, so he got some work in earlier in the day while John took a cruise of the Cuyahoga River in which, he noted with disappointment, "they didn't even point out where it caught fire.")

If Baltimore seemed guy-less last week, it's because they were all here on a pilgrimage to say farewell to both the O's pennant hopes and an old stadium. Who says men aren't sentimental?

"This is the last year the Indians are going to play in this stadium," Rich Warczynski of Perry Hall says solemnly. He and friends Vince Mazzuca, Mark Ruley and Ben Jackson also paid their respect to another sacred guy landmark, the Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton.

While they rented a car and stayed at the $115-a-night Radisson Plaza, you really could do this trip on the cheap: Softball pals Randy Weidner, Bill Oler and Mike Urbane got the $19 fares, split a $39-a-night motel room near the airport and relied on public transit and ballpark food. (Mike was hoping to catch the eye of the Home Team Sports cameras filming the game to pop a very important question to someone back home. He failed, so we offered The Sun as consolation: "Sharon Gardner, will you marry me?")

If your sport is marathon shopping, you'll want to make a Cleveland pilgrimage, too.

In fact, "We have a Barneys" is what the first local we met told us. Mary James, a volunteer at the airport's visitor information center, tipped us off to the shop-o-rama possibilities.

Barneys, the chic New York store that makes us sing the "I love you . . ." song, has an outpost here at The Avenue mall at Tower City, a former train station renovated into a rather awesome complex of stores, restaurants, movie theaters and offices. The rapid transit will take you there from the airport in about 30 minutes.

And just blocks away are the Galleria, much like our Gallery at Harborplace, and the Arcade, a stunning 103-year old building with a five-story atrium of ornamental ironwork.

Which is why, "whenever the women come along with you to Cleveland, you have to go shopping," notes the aforementioned Norman Burns.

We also tried to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum -- they've been inducting rock stars since 1986, after all.

"People call us to ask what our hours are," says a rueful Bruce Conforth, a curator. "It must be one of the best-known uncompleted projects in the world."

They did break ground in June on North Coast Harbor for the futuristic-looking building by the famed I.M. Pei, but it won't actually open until 1995.

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