O's 'blowout' is a sudden gust for many Decision to call game catches concessions, fans, workers off guard

1,000 pounds of beef saved

'We went to a lot of trouble to get here'

April 02, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Kate Gabriele woke up before sunrise yesterday in her Pennsylvania home, scraped about a foot of snow off her car, plotted a circuitous route around the weather-related road closings and headed off at 5 a.m. for her first day of work at Oriole Park.

"It was pretty awful," said the 29-year-old sky box attendant.

Shortly after 9 a.m., as she passed Timonium, her already stressful day took a turn for the worse: The radio reported that the game was postponed. Like many of the others heading for the sold-out game, Gabriele at first thought it was an April Fools' Day joke.

But it was no prank. The decision, made about 8: 30 a.m., came just as the stadium was coming to life in its seasonal awakening.

Groundskeepers were out mowing the infield. Last-minute touch-ups were being administered to sky boxes and concourses. In the bowels of the park, 1,000 pounds of beef was being prepped for Boog's Barbecue stand.

All of that activity halted when word went out that team officials, worried about forecasts of high winds and chilly temperatures, had decided to delay Opening Day by a day for the second year in a row. In doing so, they took advantage of an oddity in baseball scheduling: Home openers often are followed by days off, just in case games have to be called for weather.

Opposing players yesterday accused the Orioles of giving their battered lineup an extra day of rest. But the team said the only issue was fan safety and comfort.

Postponing a game is up to the home team before the first pitch; after that, the umpires have the authority.

Last year, the opener was postponed because of rain. The only other Opening Day to be delayed since the Orioles moved to town in 1954 was in 1972.

Orioles head groundskeeper and de facto meteorologist Paul Zwaska said he had been tracking an unusual movement of weather fronts since Sunday and suspected trouble could be on its way. A surface low pressure zone moved through the area Sunday night, bringing a rainy and then snowy end to the glorious Easter weather.

From his office under the right-field bleachers, Zwaska had been monitoring the front via National Weather Service reports.

Zwaska arrived at the park yesterday at 6 a.m., thinking he would have to clear snow off the field as he had off his car. But the turf was relatively clear, and his crews were preparing the field when John Angelos, Orioles chairman's representative and son of team owner Peter Angelos, called for the forecast at about 7 a.m.

Zwaska predicted mild enough temperatures of 52 degrees at game time. But the winds would be about 20 mph with gusts up to 40, he figured. The humidity was low -- 16 percent -- meaning the mercury could be expected to fall rapidly after sunset.

He told John Angelos that the wind chill by the end of the game could be in the 20s. Tomorrow's weather, however, should be sunny and in the 60s, he predicted.

That got the team's upper management thinking. Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss got a call on his car phone from Peter Angelos just as Foss was pulling into the stadium lot at 8: 15 a.m. The owner was leaning toward postponement. Foss, Angelos and general manager Pat Gillick discussed their options and decided to call it off.

An announcement went out shortly before 9 a.m., early enough, the team hoped, to reach fans driving to work. It wasn't entirely successful.

Ed Ester was roaming the uncharacteristically uncrowded Eutaw Street pavilion about 2: 30 p.m. yesterday with his 8-year-old son, George, wondering where everyone else was. It was going to be their first visit to the park and George's first major-league baseball game. He took a day off from school.

The two were running late, so the elder Ester, a linguist and Air Force technical sergeant at Fort Meade, figured they'd simply missed the shuttle bus they had planned to take to the game. They drove up from Odenton when the bus failed to show.

"We went to a lot of trouble to get up here. I'm not sure what we're going to do now," he said. "It's going to be up to his mother."

Inside the park, officials with the team's concessionaire, Aramark, were happy the notice came as early as it did. Traditional rainouts come after food is already in preparation, meaning much of it has to be thrown out or given to charities.

"The good thing about today is we called the game early and we were able to stop production in the kitchen," said Robert Adolfson, Aramark's general manager at Oriole Park.

If the decision had come another 90 minutes later, 1,000 pounds of beef destined for Boog's would have been in the ovens. The pit beef is roasted indoors and finished on the outdoor grills. It can't be reheated for pit beef.

"A lot of that meat would have been stew meat," Adolfson said.

About 1,000 employees were due to arrive in shifts beginning at 9 a.m., and many didn't receive the advance word. Because the gates never opened, they won't get paid for the day.

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