Staying tuned to late, late O's Seeing more baseball is fine with most fans

June 19, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Given the choice, Bruce Auerbach would rather watch a baseball game that doesn't last up to four hours and includes more runs than a cheap pair of nylons. But try telling that to his 10-year-old daughter.

She's the one wearing the Cal Ripken jersey and Orioles cap decorated with assorted pins bearing the numbers of her favorite players. The one who squealed with excitement during Monday's rain delay at Camden Yards because Roberto Alomar waved to her as she stood in the first row behind home plate.

The one who delights in late nights at the ballpark.

Bad pitching? Juiced baseballs? Marathon innings? Claire Auerbach couldn't care less about such things. And the same holds true for many of the younger spectators who don't understand the fuss being made over the length of a typical game at Camden Yards this season.

Then again, many of them aren't around for the duration, not with the average nine-inning home game lasting 3 hours, 6 minutes, the highest in the major leagues. The average of all Orioles nine-inning games, home and away, is 3: 02, also the most in the majors and exceeding the American League average of 2: 50.

Here are some more numbers to digest along with the hot dogs and popcorn: Including extra-inning games, the Orioles' home average jumps to 3: 16, compared with 3: 04 last season, which tied for seventh in the American League. They already have set a major-league record for the longest nine-inning game, 4: 21, on April 30 against the New York Yankees, and missed tying it by one minute May 17 against the Seattle Mariners.

Add in scores better suited for the NFL, and it's more than the baseball purists can stomach. They're not staying away from the park in protest, but they're not staying until the end of every game, either.

"It's trying at times," said Robert Jamison, 68, of Glen Burnie, who used to visit old Oriole Park. "I'm a die-hard fan, and I'm used to real good pitching by the Orioles, dating all the way back before we traded [Bob] Turley and [Don] Larsen. This year is the worst, by far. I've never seen scores like this."

It's enough to blur anyone's vision. A few samplings: 26-7, 14-13, 13-10, 12-9. The Ravens will be lucky to produce this much offense.

"I'd prefer to have quicker games," said Steve Morlock, 43, of Bel Air. "The talent's watered down now. I still love the game, but I miss the old days."

His wife, Barbara, likes the new ways. "I prefer more scoring. It's more fun cheering a lot of home runs, a lot of hits, a lot of base runners," she said.

This is baseball, 1996 style, which Dennis Murphy, 43, of Pasadena, described as "hit the ball and catch it if you can."

Try catching a full game and still getting home at a decent hour -- one that isn't occupied by Jay Leno.

"We always plan on staying until the last out; we won't leave until the game's over," said Bruce Auerbach, of Jacksonville, whose most recent family vacation was a trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for spring training. "My daughter goes to school sometimes real tired. What's nice, though, is that as the fans leave, we keep moving to better and better seats."

The ones who remain home often end up going to bed.

"I've tried to stay up a few nights and watch them on TV, but they're taking a lot longer," said Kit Tilghman, 38, of Bel Air, who plans to attend 20 games this year. "When they're playing past 11, 11: 30, I'm not going to be there."

Maybe Tilghman can find comfort in knowing he's not the only one whose endurance is being tested. "I don't watch a whole game as much as I used to," said Bob Johnson, 42, of Millersville. "I'd like a game that's more like 2 1/2 or three hours, but once you have 10 or 12 runs being scored, you're getting up on four hours. But I'm the type who doesn't like to change the rules, so if that's the way they play this year, that's the way they play."

It's the fans who come the farthest who don't seem bothered by the late departure times.

Ted Poindexter, 51, makes the drive from Manassas, Va. Bob Devore, 38, lives in Harrisburg, Pa. Kevin Armstrong, 45, resides in Williamsport, Pa. They maintain their allegiance to the Orioles, and to the sport in general.

"I'm a baseball nut," said Poindexter, who estimates that he has attended 10 to 15 games this season. "It doesn't make any difference to me if it's two hours or three hours. If that's what it takes, I like it. Whatever happens, happens. You can't have 2-1 every game. Sometimes, the hitters are going to beat those pitchers, and they're going to score a lot of runs. And if it's 16 innings, we're going to stay."

"The longer the games last," said Devore, "the more enjoyment I get out of it."

Armstrong recently left a game after the fourth inning and made the 3 1/2 -hour drive back home. "I still caught three more innings on TV," he said. "It was just one of those nights."

They fast have become the norm. Better get used to it.

"I like the low-scoring games better, because it's more interesting to watch a pitching duel, but I'll go to Orioles games either way," said Dave Gratz, 18, of Pikesville, as he stuffed his All-Star ballot into one of the bins. "I'm more apt to fall asleep with the radio on nowadays, though."

So, what's the best advice for people heading to Camden Yards this season? Come early, be prepared to stay late and take along the essentials.

Mike and Laurie Burke of Northern Virginia brought their 6-year-old son, Kevin, and a pillow to Monday's game.

"It's in the back seat," Laurie said, "for the ride home."

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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