Bundled-up fans warm to start of new season Strike is distant memory for Opening Day crowd

April 03, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko and Kent Baker | Roch Eric Kubatko and Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

They came dressed in heavy coats with hoods, thick gloves and earmuffs. They brought wool blankets, long sweaters and short memories.

The anger from last year's strike-related delay to the opening of baseball season was mostly forgotten yesterday, as fans streamed into Camden Yards to cheer the Orioles.

Cold, windy conditions had replaced the warm, fuzzy feeling that enveloped them during Cal Ripken's chase of Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record, but they braved the elements. Baseball in early April isn't supposed to be a picnic.

Some arrived early, hoping to grab a batting practice souvenir or just avoid a traffic jam. Others scoured for tickets until the last minute, holding up signs or barking out their requests.

Baseball was back. Except for the chilled air, it felt as though it had never left.

Making a grab

Billy Dove was among the early arrivals. Though this was his first Opening Day, he treated it as any other visit to Camden Yards, donning a glove and positioning himself in the right field pavilion during batting practice, waiting for a ball to come his way.

The Mount Airy resident got his wish when Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro launched one over the scoreboard. Dove backpedaled, reached up and made the catch, then flipped the ball to his children, who hustled down to the lower level in hopes of getting it autographed.

"This is the best part of the game, shagging flies," he said.

Like any good fielder, Dove, 32, knows how to play the hitters. Be ready when the left-handers stroll into the cage, but don't relax when right-handed Ripken takes his turn, because he has been known to go deep the opposite way.

Dove, a former pitcher at DeMatha, said he caught "at least a hundred" balls last year. And he was off to a good start yesterday.

"It's a good day," he said. "There aren't too many gloves up here. You've really got to have a glove to catch."

And you need a break in the weather. "I was glad they canceled the game [Monday] because of the rain," he said. "I knew there wouldn't be any BP."

In the upper reaches

Steve Behrens, 36, has a partial season-ticket plan that puts him in the lower-level seats in the right field corner. But yesterday was different. The best he could do for Opening Day was Section 356 of the upper deck, five rows from the top, beneath the overhang.

Sitting in the shade, he wore a heavy Baltimore Stallions jacket with a hood that partially covered his baseball cap. Football attire for football weather.

Behrens, who made the two-hour drive from Lusby in Calvert County, said he wasn't bothered by the strike that prematurely ended the 1994 season and carried over into the next. "That's just a part of business," he said. "It would be different if a college team was going on strike."

As Behrens watched batting practice more than two hours before the first pitch, he gazed at the section where he will sit for 13 games this year. "It's down there," he said, pointing. "In the sun."

Need tickets

Steve DeGrasse wore his emotions on his sign.

DeGrasse, 41, president of an advertising agency in Federal Hill, stood in the scalp-free ticket zone on Russell Street, holding a piece of cardboard with the words: "Desperate Cranky Client Demands Opening Day Payola. Need 3 or 4 Tickets Big-Time."

"I have a client hanging out in Annapolis waiting for me to call saying I got the tickets," he said, "but I don't think it's going to happen."

He had come to Camden Yards that morning, only to learn the game was sold out. He returned at 1 p.m. with a new, equally ineffective strategy. "I've been striking out all over the place," he said.

That didn't bode well for someone with an added incentive to purchase the tickets. "The client was going to force me to go to a trade show in Washington this afternoon if I didn't come through," he said, laughing.

As for the atmosphere, DeGrasse said, "People are a lot more subdued this year. There was a lot of energy last year. Then again, I'm not in the thick of things this time."

The single guy

Scott Gottlieb was in the scalp-free area, and he needed only one ticket. But "no one wants to sell singles. Everybody's got two, three and four seats," he said.

Gottlieb, 26, found out Monday that he would be off work yesterday, and the rainout gave him the chance to "come down to see Cal."

He had paid $10 to park and was in danger of wasting that. He had not missed an Opening Day in the past six years.

"You can always find scalpers to charge you an arm and a leg. But I won't do that," he said. "I found out about this area and thought I'd try. At least they're controlling the scalping here."

Be of good cheer

A National Cheerleaders Association squad from Howard and Montgomery counties welcomed the Orioles along the red carpet before the game.

Children from kindergarten through the fifth grade, the girls "were really excited about Opening Day, especially after missing Monday," said Ron Curley, whose wife, Terri, is a supervisor of the group.

"There was a lot of screaming and yelling on the bus coming here. They couldn't wait."

The squad has performed at Maryland football games and various high school events.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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