"Game called by darkness -- let the curtain fall." That's the first line of a poem written by sportswriter Grantland Rice the day that Babe Ruth died.
Last night the fans came to Camden Yards, where Ruth's father's tavern once stood, to see what might be the Orioles' last game of the 1994 baseball season.
The game was called because of rain. The season was called because of a strike. The fans paid their last respects.
Dundalk's Ron Kropkowski did not have tickets to the game. And he didn't plan on getting any.
Instead he showed up several hours before game time with a sign: "Ex-Oriole Will Work for $1,000,000 Per Game."
In case you've checked your Orioles media guide, Kropkowski is not an ex-player. During the 1981 strike, he tried out for the team at Dundalk Community College as a first baseman. He never made it.
But that didn't stop him from making the sign.
"No, I'm not [an ex-Oriole]," said Kropkowski, who works for United Parcel Service. "But there's not going to be no real Orioles after today. Everybody's going to be an ex-Oriole."
Kropkowski's sign made people waiting in line for tickets laugh. The humor of the sign belied the seriousness of his intentions.
"I'm a big Orioles fan, and it's going to ruin my whole summer. I watch the games every single night," Kropkowski said. "It's going to be the last game, so I thought I'd come by and say goodbye to everybody."
Susan O'Connell of Pikesville was the first person in the line that was so amused by Kropkowski's sign. She had arrived at Camden Yards at 9:45 a.m. to make sure that her 8-year-old son, Brendan, would get into the game.
"I promised him that he would see this one," said O'Connell, who was reading Tom Clancy's "Clear and Present Danger" while she waited to purchase four of the 183 bleacher seats on sale. She got tickets for the front row.
"My mom said we would go to a lot of games," Brendan said, "but since there aren't any more, I don't think we're going to go to any until next year."
Most of the fans had mixed emotions about the strike, blaming both the players and the owners.
Mo Battino of Washington had been waiting in line for tickets since 3 p.m. He bought a T-shirt that read, "No Baseball Strike" on the front, and "Play Ball and Shut Up" on the back.
Battino said he could not pass up the opportunity to see one more game this season. "I've got Camden Club tickets for Friday and Sunday," he said. "They're not going to do me any good if there's a strike."
"I think it's both their faults," North Beach's Bob Collins said. "I think they should have an arbitration hearing." That's how it works at Collins' electrician's union, which operates under a no-strike clause.
"It's always worked, even though sometimes we don't like the decision," Collins said. "And everybody keeps on working."
Collins held up a sign that read "Kids Love Baseball, No Strike" while the Red Sox took batting practice. Collins had won the tickets to the game at a Babe Ruth League raffle. It was the first game of the season for his 12-year-old son, David.
"First and last," Collins said.
Nick and Dom Brea, 8-year-old fraternal twins from San Francisco, also saw their first game at Camden Yards last night. Not even they could agree on whom to blame for the impending strike.
"The players," Dom said, wearing an Orioles hat backward.
"The owners," Nick said, wearing the same hat the traditional way.
The did agree to collaborate on a black and orange sign that read, "Don't Strike." "We're also going to make one that says, 'Thanks a lot you creeps,' " Nick said.
Karen Curtis, a school teacher from Princess Anne, blames the players.
"We don't make a lot of money, but we put up with some things that we don't think is fair," said Curtis, whose 10-year-old daughter, Megan, held up a sign that read, "Let the Umpires Call The Strikes." "I think they [the players] should just bite the bullet and do the same thing."
Scott Wilson, a lifelong Orioles fan who lives in Worcester, Mass., also made his first visit to Camden Yards last night with his family. He blames the owners.
"The owners can pay people what they want to pay. They hold the purse strings," Wilson said. "I find it hard to believe with the exception of five cities in the league that there are real problems."
Most people agreed that the strike hurts the people who work at the park the most.
Head usher John Sansone has worked at Orioles games for 41 years. He does not depend on the money, but he will miss going to the ballpark.
"It's just one of those things that you just have to live through," Sansone said.
Baseball will survive. It survived the death of Babe Ruth on Aug. 14, 1948.
"Game called -- and silence settles on the plain," Rice wrote in the second stanza of his poem about Ruth. Almost 46 years later, the strike will settle that silence on Camden Yards.
The Orioles have not yet set a policy on tickets for games canceled at Camden Yards by a strike. The club says it will announce a policy today at 11 a.m.