Iron Horse Of Openers Opening Day '94

April 05, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

The woman from the Legg Mason municipal bond department spots Robert S. Fisher stepping out of the elevator into the lobby and cannot resist a silly question:

"Where might you be going?" she asks, as if she doesn't know. As if half the people at Legg Mason don't know that Fisher is going to the same event he's attended for 40 years when the Orioles open the season. Fisher, the Iron Horse of Opening Day, has not missed one yet.

"It's almost like you're going someplace where you know everybody, like a club or a bar," says Fisher, a 74-year-old senior vice president at Legg Mason. "Like a home away from home, sort of. That sounds sort of corny."

Yes, but what is Opening Day but a time for schmaltz, a moment to note that the spring sun rises eternal over the ballpark and there once again is the game, binding us to family, friends, marking the passage of time. Fisher went to Opening Day in 1954 with his father and his brother-in-law; this time he is joined by his wife Shirley, granddaughter Holly Hensley and a friend.

Fisher's son, Sam, calls from his office in Birmingham, Ala., to check in with Dad before the game, make sure Dad got a sheet of sports statistics he faxed up.

Sam, who is 47, attended Opening Day with Fisher when Camden Yards opened in 1992, but couldn't make it this year. Sam's a baseball nut, says Fisher, handing over the telephone receiver.

"You grow up with baseball," Sam Fisher says, "and it weaves through everything."

Fisher removes his black wingtip shoes and places each in a desk drawer and slips on the scuffed white tennis shoes to go with the gray suit, white shirt and red tie. The veteran suiting up for still one more day at the ballpark.

Before leaving the office he quickly checks his computer terminal. The Dow Jones is down 35 points. No matter. It's Opening Day, the sky is cloudless, the temperature near 60 and the seats situated nicely in the third row on the third-base side of home plate, close enough to hear the slap of wood on leather when the batter knocks dirt from his cleats.

Fisher rides the elevator 18 floors down into the lobby and out into the sunshine. Before 1992, he'd take a bus or car to Memorial Stadium. Now it's a 15-minute walk past the sports bars and through the crowd along Pratt Street. The mob is dotted with signs held aloft by people looking for tickets. One says: "Got a job, got a home, got food, need two tickets."

Nothing like the old days, says Fisher, when you could get a seat with no problem. The Baltimore native and his wife have been season-ticket holders since about 1960, but even before that they had no trouble getting an Opening Day seat. All the hoopla over Camden Yards has changed that.

When he first heard about plans for the new park, Fisher says "I felt it was the dumbest thing. I'm so glad it happened."

He loves the new park, although he says he could do without the music between innings. And he preferred "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch to John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."

But then, his favorite music comes from the 1920s, '30s and '40s, a man who says, "When Elvis played 'You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog' in the 1950s it ruined music as far as I'm concerned."

So there is comfort for Fisher in the new/old ballyard, in the sight of Ernie Tyler, the ball-chaser behind home plate who is making his 35th Opening Day start. Almost as impressive a record as Fisher's.

"Hey Ernie, ERNIE," yells Fisher as Tyler steps over to his seat by the railing. Tyler looks up and sees the familiar face. "You're back," says Tyler, who has worked 2,814 consecutive games.

"You get to know all the people around you," says Shirley Fisher. "It's like a fraternity."

Fisher introduces his guest to a man in the seat behind him and to former Orioles owner Jerold C. Hoffberger, who has ambled over from his seat down the row to say hello to some officials of the Kansas City Royals. Then there are the old familiar faces on the field: Bob Turley, who pitched the Opening Day victory over the Chicago White Sox in 1954; and Brooks Robinson, whose career in Baltimore began in 1955.

Shirley Fisher looks out at the field, at Robinson and Turley standing in the shadow of the grandstand. Both tanned, both graying.

"It's when you look at all these older people that you saw starting that you realize how much time has passed," she says. "Forty years."

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