The Bronz zoo is no place for a bird

FOUL TERRITORY

September 19, 1996|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- "SHOOT HIM "

The guy on the ramp points with one hand, drinks his fourth Budweiser with the other. The shout echoes off the concrete innards of Yankee Stadium: Shoot him.

Shoot who?

He's pointing at me. Shoot me. Shoot me?

Must be my Orioles cap. Must be my Orioles T-shirt. Must be some volatile combination of the Budweiser and the air's autumn snap, a pennant chase run amok in a town not known for its reticence. It seems every newspaper in America came up with the same headline: "Rumble in the Bronx." Say the words and you picture body bags.

So this is what it's like to be an Orioles fan in Yankee Stadium when the pressure's on and the home team needs moral support from the fans. That all-important 10th man on the field giving the old Bronx cheer: Shoot him. Shoot him. Ra-Ra-Ra.

Not to worry, it's just Vinnie Mirasola, a gregarious 40-ish man from Queens with nearly four beers under his belt and a deep passion for the Yankees in his heart. Turns out he works for the post office, not necessarily a reassuring fact. Fortunately, he's unarmed.

Vinnie, tell us, what's the worst thing you ever saw happen to a fan of the visiting team in Yankee Stadium?

Vinnie smiles, recalling a night some five years ago. Right field upper deck. One Red Sox fan, five Yankee fans. Bad odds.

"Five on one," says Vinnie. "Just throwing him a beating. His Red Sox cap was really red."

And he laughs, relishing the nostalgia. It's remarkable how baseball brings out the sentimental side of us all.

"Baltimore is a rivalry, but the Red Sox are another level," says Vinnie.

Yes, with Baltimore, they only burn the Orioles T-shirt, not the guy in it. This happens outside the ball park on River Avenue before game time, where hundreds of people are lined up to buy bleacher tickets.

First there's the sound of a chant: "Baltimore sucks, Baltimore sucks." Then, in the gloom under the elevated train, a flame. They've set an Orioles shirt afire, they're waving it around, throwing it to the ground and applying more lighter fluid. Knee-high flames leap off the pavement. This attracts the attention of a couple of New York City Police officers, who in keeping with the mayor's "zero tolerance" approach, have decided to have a look-see before someone dies.

Dressed in Orioles cap and T-shirt, I approach. This sparks another chant, something to do with the medical field of proctology. Then someone shouts something about Cal Ripken Jr. and unconventional sexual practices.

"Get the (bleep) out of here," someone keeps shouting.

I'd love to. But I'm working, absorbing the ambience of the most hallowed field in all of sports. I can't help but get a lump in my throat thinking of Lou Gehrig. At the moment, however, it seems fitting to rephrase the famous quote: "Today I consider myself the unluckiest man on the face of the Earth "

Now here comes another chant: "Take his hat. Take his hat " And is that compassion I hear from one Yankee sympathizer: "You're crazy, man"? Now here comes a fellow down River Avenue, leans right into my face, hollers "ORIOLES SUCK" and walks on.

A good spirited crowd. Nothing like those yuppie stiffs at Camden Yards talking into their cell phones and reading the Wall Street Journal. These are real fans, fans like Matt Albrecht, an 18-year-old from Queens waiting in the bleacher ticket line wearing a brand-new orange-on-black "Baltimore Blows" T-shirt.

Matt, tell us, what's the worst thing you ever saw happen to a visiting team fan at Yankee Stadium?

No question, it was a Seattle fan, a kid. Maybe 10 years old. The crowd spotted his Ken Griffey Jr. T-shirt.

Also couldn't help but notice the boy was a bit overweight. Hence the chant: "You're fat, we hate you ... You're fat, we hate you" ...

He smiles at the thought. One of his buddies keeps asking me if my medical insurance is paid up. The point is this: It's a fun crowd.

Matt offers this advice for Orioles fans at Yankee Stadium: "Sit in the box seats, keep to yourself. Don't root or anything."

Donald Criss of Rising Sun says a certain amount of hazing must be expected. At the game he'll be wearing his Orioles cap and shirt, sitting in his field-level seat with three friends who drove up for the game.

"I think everything will be cool until the beer gets heavy," says Criss, who works for the Harford County school system as a bus mechanic.

He's sitting in a booth at Stan's Sports Bar & Restaurant on River Avenue, where the bar stool trembles beneath you when the No. 4 train rolls by on the elevated track.

Sitting at the bar sipping a Rolling Rock is Taylor Smelser, a 27-year-old salesman who recently moved to Brewster, N.Y., from Westminster. Unlike Criss, Smelser plans to keep his Orioles allegiance mostly under his hat. He allows that he will be "tactfully cheering," but he'll stick with his Notre Dame Fighting Irish cap.

What happened, Taylor, lost the O's hat?

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