Advocating for the home team Booster: Blaine Baer heads a mostly-male organization that works for the community as well as for the O's.

Catching Up With...

April 13, 1997|By Janice D'Arcy | Janice D'Arcy,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The new president of the Oriole Advocates has all the credentials for the post: a decade of volunteer service, an earnest appreciation of baseball, an undying devotion to the hometown team, even the commanding stance peculiar to coaches and avid fans -- chest out, legs apart, arms crossed.

But there's no question that this Advocates leader is different from the rest. Just check out those dangling Oriole-logo earrings.

For the first time in the 36-year-old history of this mostly-male, baseball-wild, community service group, a woman is at the helm.

"Get yer baseballs, get yer pennants," calls Blaine Baer, a 46-year-old native Baltimorean, as fans stream into Camden Yards for the first game of the season.

Baer is as much an Opening Day fixture as the Oriole Bird. She's always posted at Gate H, the busiest entrance to the park, passing out the freebies. She's pumped up. Opening Day is her favorite day of the baseball season -- which for Baer means her favorite day of the year.

"It's electric, everybody's still on top," she says. "Everybody thinks the Orioles will win it all."

This will be an especially memorable Opening Day for Baer: It's her first as president of the Advocates. She was elected in November and, in keeping with tradition, will step down this November, but not before leaving an indelible mark on the history of an organization that all but worships its past.

The Advocates formed in 1960 to promote the 2-year-old Orioles. The founding handful of businessmen billed themselves as a booster club. They started the Junior Orioles club, had a float in every city parade and generally tried to spread Oriole spirit. The first women joined in 1962, but have always been a small minority in the Advocates. And, until recently, they seldom held leadership positions.

Through the years, the group's role changed from booster club to community-service group. Today, the 65 members, 12 of whom are women, raise about $12,000 a year, donating it to local little leagues and two "Champion" leagues for handicapped children. They collect used equipment and send it to impoverished children. They coordinate charity events like a family fun run and golf tournament. They still spread Oriole spirit through their most visible duty, handing out freebies at the Orioles "give-away" games.

Cut from the club

They even abide by a point system to determine who is or isn't pulling his (or her) weight. Anyone who's found to have missed too many meetings or shied away from work is asked to leave.

"Sometimes people want to join because they think all we do is come and enjoy the games. They think we buddy up with the players. They think they'll get lots of autographs. They're wrong. We're not a fan club. It's a commitment, it's hard work," Baer says.

Every advocate is expected to spend four hours at the entrances of Camden Yards on giveaway days. They are thanked by only a few of the thousands of fans who push past them, grabbing free hats or balls or pennants. The Advocates invariably miss the first inning of the game, sometimes more. Baer misses almost all of the first game, passing out pennants to latecomers long after Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright throws out the first pitch.

Members do get some perks. The Advocates have a spacious memorabilia-lined office on the fourth floor of the warehouse next to Camden Yards. Windows overlook the stadium, and two televisions offer the close-ups and replays fans in the stands miss. They have reserved bleacher seating on giveaway days. The Advocates also have a reserved parking area, which is no small bonus as parking becomes increasingly scarce with the building of the Ravens stadium next door.

And Baer says those extras, combined with the friends she's made, make her Advocates membership "priceless."

As president, she devotes about 25 hours a month to the group with phone calls, preparations and meetings. That doesn't include working giveaway days, or attending Advocate social events.

"It's a tough position. The organization wants to do a lot of different things," says Ray Weinstein, a former Advocates president.

When Baer's not coordinating Advocate events or attending to her day job as the director of the Early Childhood Learning Center at Essex Community College, she's relaxing with her favorite hobby -- baseball.

Baer vacations in Florida every year for spring training. She spends summer weekends when the Orioles are out of town following them or driving down to Salisbury to watch the single-A minor league.

"I've loved baseball since as far back as I can remember. I don't know why I started to watch it, but I got hooked." Baer grew up in the Stoneleigh section of Baltimore County watching the O's.

She tried to love the Colts the way her father did, but she couldn't connect to football. She knew she'd rather be watching Brooks Robinson field a grounder.

"I understood the game. It's less violent than football. The emphasis is on teamwork and cooperation, more so than, say, basketball."

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