It ain't begun 'til it's begun Opening Day: Orioles keep fans in mind as they take another swing at starting '97 season.

April 02, 1997

IN AN ERA of rising ticket prices, player salaries streaking past Hale-Bopp and revolving-door rosters, it's easy for fans to feel that they're not valued customers of professional sport, just replaceable props in the stands. But Tuesday's decision by the Baltimore Orioles to postpone the 1997 opener until today due to frigid, gusting winds was a gesture in a brighter vein. No doubt the 24-hour postponement inconvenienced some and disappointed others who planned to attend, but now can't make it to the ballpark. But on its face, the decision was a simple declaration that the team was concerned about cold spectators, not just their cold cash.

The delay aside, everything else was due to go on as planned: The players will be introduced in a pageantry reserved for Opening Day, the All-Star Game and -- hint, hint -- the post-season. (Orioles fans don't mind sitting in the cold -- so long as it's in October.) Madeleine Albright is still slated to throw out the first ball (She might be comforted to know that several past honorees have had no more luck finding the catcher's mitt than secretaries of state have had finding peace in the Middle East.) And, in a case of art imitating life, the "iron man" statue of Cal Ripken Jr. will be unveiled as scheduled tonight in the player's hometown of Aberdeen.

Unfortunately, Opening Day, and the season it commences, won't be without some distractions: Roberto Alomar's suspension for spitting and the take-no-prisoners stance it has evoked among umpires. Contract brinkmanship between the team and stars Ripken, Mike Mussina and Brady Anderson. Frustrations over parking spaces lost to the Ravens new football stadium rising south of Oriole Park. But there will be at least one side issue that is worth the focus it will receive -- the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's shattering professional baseball's color barrier.

Robinson's example of dignity and bravery should be required reading of school children everywhere this season. We can make an exception if that assignment is delayed a day since many kids, of all ages, will be "out sick" with a bad case of baseball fever today.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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