Orioles' fans warm up for season by watching Grapefruit League game

March 03, 1996|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. -- The hometown fans -- the Baltimore fans -- were unmistakable yesterday, from the "O" of the anthem to the final big hit as the Orioles played their first game of a promising 1996 season.

In their black and orange hats and T-shirts -- and even their Orioles' team jackets, on what began as a cool, damp day -- they were spread out in the stands of the 7,200-seat Space Coast Stadium in this unincorporated "new town" between Cape Canaveral and Melbourne.

"We'd rather come to spring training than a regular game," said 66-year-old Jack Hild of Hampstead. "You can't get in."

The game was a family outing for the retired salesman, who was accompanied by his wife, Joy, cousins Delores McDonough and Debbie Autonomow and Delores' Baltimore-born husband, Jack, a retired NASA engineer who has lived in Florida for 35 years.

Mr. Hild's sister, Rose Marie Cowan of Linthicum, was there, celebrating her 65th birthday and proud to say, "I caught a foul ball."

All save Mr. McDonough rooted for the Birds. "They're my American League team, not my National League," he said of his cheering for the closer-to-home Florida Marlins.

It was not a perfect day for baseball -- overcast skies after overnight downpours and morning rain meant many no-shows for what had been a sold-out game. But for Orioles fans among the announced crowd of 6,121, it hardly could have been better.

"We're having the thrill of a lifetime," said Don Kraus, 64, a retired state employee who with his wife, Birdie, 59, was visiting her "baby brother," Rodney Berwanger, 44, an auditor for NASA.

"Being Florida, we're seeing them before everyone else," Mr. Kraus said, sitting in the second row near the end of the $12 left-field box seats. "This will start my enthusiasm when the season starts."

On the right-field side, Clifton Broumand, 38, the owner of a computer business in Hyattsville, wearing an ornithologically correct Orioles hat, was making his voice heard. "This is my third year in a row," he said of preseason baseball fever.

He turned his attention back to the game. The sun had just broken through the clouds. It was the top of the ninth, the Orioles leading 9-1. "We want 10!" he screamed in a marvelously big voice. "We want 10!"

Sherman Obando obliged on the next swing, sending a fast ball far over the left-field fence for the Orioles' first home run of the Grapefruit League season.

G; Mr. Broumand got his 10, and the game was a perfect 10.

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