Delayed debut still hit Baseball: From Clinton to Mussina to Ripken, things are on target at Camden Yards.

April 03, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The waiting was the hardest part. The Orioles' regular-season opener was pushed back 24 hours by the persistent rain that drenched Baltimore on Monday, but the decision to postpone Opening Day was rewarded with a beautiful, if somewhat chilly, spring afternoon at Camden Yards.

It was a perfect day for baseball and, as it turned out, a near-perfect day for the Orioles, who entertained the sellout crowd of 46,818 with a 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Cal Ripken, still aglow from his historic 1995 season, drove in the first three Orioles runs.

Mike Mussina pitched seven strong innings to get the victory, and newly acquired closer Randy Myers got the save.

And President Clinton, who couldn't afford to miss this all-American photo opportunity, even threw the ball over the plate.

"It's always great to get off to a good start," said Ripken, who played in his 2,154th consecutive game, "and it's always exciting opening up here in Baltimore."

It was so right that even rival American League owner and interim commissioner Bud Selig could not contain his enthusiasm, though that probably had more to do with the prospects for an uninterrupted 1996 schedule than the excitement generated by the new-look Orioles lineup.

"I'm just grateful," said Selig, who watched the game with Clin- ton, Major League Baseball Players Association director Donald Fehr and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos. "I was thinking about that on the way over here. I was thinking about where we were a year ago. It was so dismal."

A year ago, the players still were on strike, and the start of the regular season was 3 1/2 weeks away. The sport was in such turmoil that Clinton declined an invitation to throw out the first ball after the players returned, because, by that time, the umpires were walking the picket lines.

"We've still got a lot of work to do," Selig said, "but we've come a long way. This season is going the distance."

How symbolic can you get? Selig and Fehr, who have been staring each other down for the past three years, appeared together at an impromptu, pre-game news conference yesterday and actually agreed on something -- a stand against the use of smokeless tobacco. It wasn't a new labor contract, but maybe it was another sign that some kind of brokered peace is on the horizon.

The long, cold winter apparently is over in Baltimore. Perhaps it will be over for all of baseball soon.

Manager Davey Johnson enjoyed the new beginning as much as anyone. He spent most of his playing career in Baltimore and was bitterly disappointed to be passed over for the Orioles managerial opening a year ago, so it was particularly sweet for him to jog down the red carpet during pre-game introductions.

"This is the Opening Day I'll remember," he said. "I've had capacity crowds in New York and big crowds in Cincinnati, but this was definitely special. It gave me chills. I'm not one to show much expression, but I could hardly hold it in."

The excitement has been building ever since Angelos convinced highly respected general manager Pat Gillick to come out of retirement and accept the challenge of building the Orioles back into the powerhouse that dominated the American League in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Gillick wasted little time upgrading the major-league roster with the acquisition of Myers, All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar and a long list of proven veterans. Alomar got an enthusiastic ovation when he was introduced, one that rivaled the predictably warm welcome that awaited Ripken and the loud welcome back that greeted Johnson.

Clinton got a more mixed reaction. The president also got a little ribbing from Ripken, who reminded him that he had come up short of home plate the last time he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Oriole Park.

"I kidded him a little bit about the last time he threw out the first ball here, how he didn't go all the way up the mound and didn't get it there," Ripken said, "so he went up there and made it all the way this time, which I thought was a pretty good sign."

The sellout crowd, diminished some by the inconvenience of the 24-hour postponement, spread the praise around, to Ripken for his two run-scoring hits, to Mussina for his five-hit performance, to B. J. Surhoff for an important RBI double off former Oriole Terry Clark and to left fielder Jeffrey Hammonds, who quickly relieved doubts about his uncertain physical status with two hits in three at-bats.

"It was a great win for the Orioles and a great win for the city," Johnson said. "Hopefully, there will be a lot more to come."

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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