Silence is deafening at stadium

August 14, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

Camden Yards, two hours before game time. Somebody send over the Prozac vendor.

A few would-be customers are hanging around the gates in the Eutaw Street concourse, looking in at the field. Some have tickets, and they're right on time to watch Orioles batting practice. Unfortunately, the field is populated only by several sandbags, which are holding down the white tarpaulins covering the pitcher's mound and batter's box.

"I'm very bummed about it," says Chris Paxson, who arrived from Chicago on Thursday night with Gillian Barr, whose friend in Baltimore had lined up tickets for Friday's game.

His voice breaks the sound of one hand clapping. Or is that the grass growing? He's staring at the field as if expecting a vision. This must be the part where ghosts in antique baseball uniforms step out of the cornfield and play the game.

Forget it. Cue the tumbleweeds.

Paxson and Barr hand a little camera to a passer-by, who obliges by photographing them at the wrought-iron gate, smiling faintly. I Went To Camden Yards and All I Got Was This Lousy Snapshot.

Ballpark as photo backdrop, nothing more. Empty ballfield as black hole, sucking in jobs, money, vacation plans, the sounds of cheers and batted balls.

Listen -- that's the hum of the giant air conditioner in Parking Lot A. Or is it the sound of big money vaporizing?

"Can't we go in?" says Kenny Morgan Jr., who is 4 years old, sitting in a stroller facing the expanse of green beyond the gates.

"No, it's all locked up," says his father, Ken Morgan, who arrived at 2 a.m. from Pittsburgh with his wife, Denise, son and 2-year-old daughter, Melissa. They had tickets for Friday night's game. They planned to spend the evening by the pool at the downtown Holiday Inn before continuing on to Ocean City.

Morgan knew it, he says. Once the strike talk got serious early this month, his gut told him the date even before he heard it on a radio news report. Aug. 12, the same date that appears on his four club-level tickets.

"You didn't even have to say it, I knew what it was," says Morgan. "I couldn't believe it. . . . With my luck it'll be over tomorrow."

Not to worry. All parties in this deadlock need more time to listen to the sound money makes when it vanishes. The closest thing to major league action this weekend is the call for a federal mediator in the strike talks. Such excitement, one can almost hear the crowd roar.

"WATCH OUT FOR BATTED BALLS" says the sign over the picnic tables on the concourse. Not to worry.

Darryl and Eric Anderson, brothers from Syracuse, N.Y., and Pittsfield, Maine, who are sitting under the sign, would gladly duck a few flying baseballs.

"I'm depressed because we're so close, and yet . . ." says Darryl, raising his arms, shaking his fists toward the field in frustration.

The brothers started their baseball trek two weeks ago at Fenway Park, then drove on to Yankee Stadium, to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, then Baltimore. They have tickets for the Friday and Saturday games. They've been planning this trip since the winter.

How much do these guys love baseball? Consider that they sat through 11 innings of a 15-inning, 2-1 thriller between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday night. Now they're sitting and sitting and staring at the field.

"We're a little upset," says Darryl. "We're going to sit here until the game starts."

He's joking. But across the street at Pickles Pub, graduate student and bartender Eric Cotton is earnest. You won't find Cotton in the bar but atop it, camped on the dusty black tar roof three stories up with a nice view of the silent ballpark.

Usually at 7:10 on a Friday game night he'd be down in the packed bar hustling like a madman, collecting tips and wages that would total $250, $300 by night's end. Tonight the bar is less than half full, and Cotton is beginning a vigil.

He's sitting in a yellow nylon tent furnished with a mattress, a portable compact disc player, portable phone, a couple of lawn chairs. As long as the strike goes on, he says, this is where you'll find him. Except for bathroom breaks, he says he will not leave the roof until the end of the strike or the baseball season, whichever comes first.

"My shifts are going to be cut," says Cotton, 23, who lives a few blocks away and is studying for a master's degree in education at Loyola College, which he's paying for with his barroom income. "I'll be lucky to get two nights a week."

He was joking with one of the bar owners earlier in the week about doing a rooftop vigil, a nice publicity stunt for the bar. Funny joke. Now he's living it. If the strike wipes out the entire season, Cotton will miss a couple of classes at Loyola. He's more worried about lightning.

"My dad's not too excited about my missing school. My mom thinks I'm an idiot," says Cotton. He says he's taking pledges for the RP Foundation, an eye disease research fund, which normally would be raising money by raffling Oriole tickets.

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