No fretting, Cito, we hardly remember


October 01, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

Back when the Orioles visited Toronto in July, a fortnight after the All-Star brouhaha of which he was a centerpiece, Cito Gaston admitted that he was a little concerned about returning to Baltimore as the official enemy of the citizenry.

"There are a lot of crazy people out there," he said one night in the dugout, not referring specifically to Baltimore so much as the world at large, but, well, you get the idea.

It was kind of flattering in a way, his lumping our precious little burg in with the big-shouldered places where a man can find a peck of trouble just about anywhere, and, of course, Cito was not incorrect: Around here there are all sorts of people you need to watch with both eyes.

The governor, for instance. Remember when he was firing off spiteful letters and driving around on weekends to argue with dissenting taxpayers in their kitchens? Hopefully, someone warned Cito about him.

And what about the members of the Baltimore Colts' Band? Yes, they're good, well-intentioned people, but, let's face it, the team has been gone for almost a decade and the earth is not flat. Hopefully, someone briefed Cito.

Any unwitting visitor to these ZIP codes could stumble across John Waters and wind up wearing big hair and a grass skirt in some movie. Or, say, accidentally get within 50 yards of Glenn Davis and get flattened by a meteor. Cito was right to fret. There's plenty of danger here, sheriff. John Lowenstein is loose on TV, and need we say more?

But then, the funniest thing happened when the Blue Jays' manager made his long-awaited, black-hatted return to Camden Yards last night.

No one cared.

Yes, there were boos when his name was announced before the game, and a brief, insulting chant in the late innings. But there were no signs or banners. No nothing, really. The people weren't into it at all. Just a guess, but they seemed a lot more disgusted that they'd forked out for tickets for what was supposed to be a huge, killer series and instead was one with no pulse whatsoever. A dead zone. About as electric as Al Lang Stadium in mid-March.

This was going to be The Big One, remember? But then the Jays won 26 games in a row while the Orioles were standing around taking extra BP, and suddenly there were thousands of empty seats sprayed around the ballpark last night and, frankly, more than a few people miffed about having to miss "Seinfeld" to sit in the cold.

The All-Star thing? What was that about, Lenn Sakata? "I'm not even gonna talk about it," Cito said as he settled into a seat in the dugout to talk to reporters before the game. "That's over with. You're going to have to get another story."

He talked about other things. The way the Jays' pitching came together in September. The way Paul Molitor kept hitting and hitting all season.

"Are you expecting the fans to be nice to you tonight?" someone asked.

Cito smiled. Made a sort of snorting noise. Didn't answer.

He talked about how most of the Jays' off-season changes had worked out.

"Were you worried about coming back here?" someone asked.

He paused. "I'm going to say this one time," he said. "We've had rivalries with Detroit and the Yankees. They've been pretty clean. It doesn't have to be a nasty thing . . . ."

. . . and . . .

" . . . and as long as they don't throw stuff, that's fine. They paid their money. They can do what they want."

He talked about the series maybe being a letdown for the Orioles.

"Can you come do an interview?" asked Tom Davis of Home Team Sports.

"Uh, OK," Cito said, "as long as you don't ask about Mussina."

And why should he bring it all up again? He's going to the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. He won. Jays insiders said that the All-Star incident bugged him for a while, getting shown up on TV like that, but that he pretty much dismissed it after a while, and now, truth be told, he wouldn't mind one of "those" T-shirts.

He'll never get the elemental point, of course. He'll never understand why people here got so mad when he played six of the seven All-Star Blue Jays and couldn't find a place for one of the two hometowners. He was just following his plan, he said, and thought he was wronged, not wrong.

Ah, well. These things run their course. He'll probably get booed here forever, but after a while people won't remember why they're booing, just that they're supposed to. And he won't worry about the dangers of coming to Charm City. Not that he shouldn't.

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