Section 34 now just a roar of yore


May 12, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

The people from the raucous old neighborhood have scattered to new quarters, settling among more reserved strangers in one alien address or another: Section 386 or 318, Section 85, Section 12. Wherever.

The numbers run together. There's no reason to believe that any will ever suggest more than a spot on the seating chart. Baseball team histories are crammed with numbers, but ballpark sections are not usually noted in the history.

Memorial Stadium's Section 34 is so noted in Orioles history, if only footnoted. The mystique of the number is such that it is clear what Chris Lamka, a former section regular from Bel Air, means when he says: "I don't think you're ever going to have a Section 34 again."

That is, things change.

There is a Section 34 at Camden Yards, a class address right behind home plate in the lower box. And the old section remains at Memorial Stadium, of course: 950 metal bench seats in the upper deck by the right-field line. But to say that Section 34 denotes a group of seats is to say "Woodstock" denotes a town in upstate New York.

Residents of the old neighborhood are still around, although their collective roar has not been heard in years. They still get tickets where and when they can at Camden Yards, cheer in the appropriate moments and leave anonymously with the multitudes. Often they wonder what's happened to the crowd.

"It's certainly more quiet," says Mike Foudos of Perry Hall, a former 34 resident who now holds a 13-game ticket plan in the stands under the upper deck beyond left-center field.

"They don't seem like they're really into the game," says Section 34 veteran Neill Barber, 39, of Dundalk, who sits with Foudos in Section 85. "We used to hang on every pitch."

Both men became Section 34 regulars in 1979, two years after Wild Bill Hagy is said to have led the first O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheer. Foudos says he shifted over from other seats in Memorial Stadium to find out what all the noise was about.

Yes, it was about large quantities of beer, Jack Daniels in the Coleman cooler, peanut fights and Wild Bill. Something else, too, says Linda Geeson, who became a 34 resident in 1979 with her sister, Barbara Watson.

There was "a lot of interaction between the fans and the players," says Geeson, who now attends about 20 games a year.

During the section's heyday, the stands were often sparsely populated. When the whole neighborhood rose to cheer, people noticed. The players noticed.

Catcher Rick Dempsey rocked the crowd the day he displayed a flag in the bullpen with the number 34 on it. He and Doug DeCinces often stood in the dugout waving towels in the general direction of Section 34, trying to stir up a cheer.

It was a time when some players behaved a bit like fans and fans believed that by the force of their will they might influence the outcome of the game.

"I think we spurred them sometimes," says Barber, who recalls that Frank Robinson gave "special thanks to Section 34" in his Hall of Fame induction remarks in 1982.

Regulars in the section, Watson says, "were very idealistic about their baseball team and their city."

From 1980 to 1985, residents of 34 gathered for pre-Opening Day parties at the Community Democratic Club in Dundalk. They formed a softball team and played charity games around the city. At Christmas one year, they visited Johns Hopkins Children's Center and gave out gifts.

"That's the thing that people get wrong. We were not just a bunch of drunks," says Michelle Moore, who became a resident in 1979 with the man to whom she is now married, Rick Moore.

The section did get a nasty reputation. It became known for drunkenness, abusive language and occasional pot smoking. But three ushers who worked in and around Section 34 for years say the troublemakers were usually not among the regulars, the hard-core who put the section in the books of Orioles lore.

"The high school kids, they were the ones who created more problems with drinking," says Howard Schwarz, who was an usher and usher's supervisor for Section 34 from 1979 to 1989.

Of course, Schwarz had Hagy arrested in 1985 for tossing his cooler off the upper deck onto the field, protesting the team's plans to strictly enforce the rule against bringing alcohol into the park. That served as the symbolic end of an era.

But the high times were already over. After letting the gang buy hundreds of seats together for the 1979 playoffs and World Series, the Orioles did not extend the courtesy for the 1983 postseason. And ticket prices went up, and Edward Bennett Williams' ownership team was generally making the group feel unwelcome, they say.

The team did set aside dozens of tickets in Section 34 for the last game at Memorial Stadium in 1991. Section veteran Danny DiMarino celebrated the occasion by getting tossed out of the park for throwing peanuts. He sneaked back in, though, and missed only a couple of innings.

At home in Glen Burnie, DiMarino, 46, has the Memorial Stadium commemorative cup the team gave away at the last game. In the cup he keeps a peanut, the last peanut anyone ever threw at him in Section 34.

Like the other members of the gang, DiMarino was pleased to see Wild Bill at the park leading a cheer last month in Section 12, but has no illusions about any return to the old days. Too much has changed in baseball, in the team, the ballpark, their lives.

"I miss those days," Barber says. "Everybody's got a lot more responsibilities. Families, careers."

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