The long, cold winter officially ended two weeks ago, but the spring did not truly begin in Baltimore until 3:17 p.m. yesterday, when Mike Mussina threw a strike past Kansas City Royals outfielder Vince Coleman to open the 1994 baseball season.
The downtown area had come to life hours earlier, as if the ice had just melted and the sun had come out for the first time. The Orioles were soon to follow, unveiling their new-look lineup to defeat the Royals, 6-3, in front of a festive sellout crowd of 47,549 at Camden Yards.
It couldn't have gone much better. Mussina came back from an injury-riddled 1993 season to win his first start. Newcomers Rafael Palmeiro and Lee Smith welcomed themselves to town with big performances. New owner Peter G. Angelos got a quick return on his $173 million investment.
The crowd did not have to wait long for the excitement to begin. Orioles center fielder Mike Devereaux, who was the subject of trade speculation all winter, hit a home run in the first inning.
Palmeiro got a standing ovation during the pregame introductions, then was called back onto the field for another after hitting a home run in the seventh inning.
"That was probably the most special moment in my career," he said.
Everywhere a celebration. There were three guys in gorilla suits on the flag court. There was one fan clad in a tuxedo from the waist up and only Orioles boxer shorts from the waist down.
"Today is kind of like a holiday for us," said Barry Schellenshlager of Glen Burnie, who came dressed as himself. "We've got a whole lot of friends who couldn't get tickets, but took the day off anyway and are having a huge party. I'm sorry I'm missing it, but how can you not be here on a day like this? Beautiful."
The line for Boog's Barbeque stretched down the Eutaw Street corridor, vindicating the big man's decision to stock an extra 300 pounds of beef for the occasion.
"Opening Day has become a happening," Boog Powell said. "It was always special, but it's more so now -- maybe because more people feel like they are part of this ballpark. The Orioles mean a lot to people, but of course, they're all we've got."
The new ownership group was out in force. Angelos and the 20-or-so minority owners were hosts to a large, pre-game party at the Camden Club that attracted dozens of local celebrities and politicians, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin L. Powell and Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes.
"I think a lot of people are excited because of the local ownership and the steps [Angelos] has taken already to improve the team," said Schmoke. "There is a great sense of optimism about the season."
Angelos managed to be high-profile and low-key at the same time. He greeted every guest at the posh Camden Club party and took part in pregame ceremonies, but tried to distance himself from the team that he paid for so dearly to put on the field.
"This is the end of our heavy involvement," he said. "This is not the beginning. We have tried to make the team more competitive. Now, it's time to back off and watch like everybody else. We intend to do that.
"Everybody is way up," he said. "Expectations are great, and I hope we deliver. On the other hand, if we don't win a championship this year, we'll just look ahead to next year."
If only every day could be like yesterday. Angelos sat in the owners box and enjoyed the fruits of his off-season shopping spree. He paid a record price to acquire the franchise, and then spent $43 million on free agents to put the club in position to compete with the two-time defending world champion Toronto Blue Jays. Everything went as planned on Day One.