The sounds of celebration The Fan: Clinching the division doesn't have quite the same ring as in '83. Except for Ripken, the ever-present.

September 26, 1997

The Fan was trolling for pennant-clinching fever the other night: Would traffic stop, horns honk and chests bare as fans throughout greater Birdland celebrated their first division title in 14 years?

The Fan had seen The Sun's photo of 5,000 fans welcoming the O's back home the night they clinched the division title Sept. 25, 1983, and the one of a pre-gray Cal Ripken Jr. swigging and being doused with champagne. Gotta be there, she thought, when they clinch this year.

But where? With the O's in Toronto and not due back home until the third game of the playoffs on Oct. 4, there was no there there, anywhere. The Fan drove through empty downtown streets Wednesday night, around the silent Camden Yards and finally settled on the next best -- or at least, nearest -- thing, Pickles Pub across from the stadium.

Packed during home games, Pickles reverts to its neighborhood-bar persona during away games. All four TVs are set on the O's game, and some 20 people are tuned in. Everyone really does know everyone's name. There's Tommy over there; that's an old picture of him with a 'fro on the wall. The three co-workers from the Marriott -- Terrence, Karla and Jason -- who like Raffy are celebrating his birthday tonight. There's Art who lives down the street from Niki, who is explaining all this to The Fan.

The Fan had taken an empty seat at the bar next to Niki George, 25, who moved into a house in the neighborhood on Opening Day this year. Originally from Dundalk, she's been an O's fan at least since third grade when her teacher wrote an Orioles song and had her students start each day by singing it. "There was something about Doug DeCinces in it," Niki says, starting to hum.

On the other side of The Fan are a nameless couple. He's married, but not to her. They both love the O's, though. "We had a meeting down near BWI, but felt obliged to be somewhere near Camden Yards for this game," he says. "We wanted to be around people like us," she says. "Cal," he predicts, will "make the last out."

By the eighth inning, he's convinced bartender Shari Valatkas to cut the music and turn up the sound on the TVs. Even Michael Reghi can't spoil this night. Randy Myers comes out for the bottom of the ninth, and throws a wicked strike that the batter swings mightily at, but about five minutes after the ball has thwacked into Lenny Webster's glove.

"Ooooh, I felt the breeze over here," Terrence Stamps says from his end of the bar.

The guy gets a hit eventually, but around the bar, we all nod knowingly: part of the plan, setting up a double play. Which is how it goes. We're all standing at this point, waiting for the last out, which Cal -- yes! -- soon snags. Hugs, hoots, high-fives all around.

Even sooner, though, it's over. The half-married couple leaves, the Marriott people leave, the neighborhood people stay. There's nothing left to do but watch TV after all.

The Fan's favorite Camden Yards beer vendor, Jeff Lang, suddenly appears with a bottle of champagne. He has been at another bar down the street and came by to offer swigs.

"I popped the cork, and the champagne just sort of dribbled out," Jeff says as the TV shows foam-drenched player after player in his new division champs T-shirt and hat. "I think it must have been sitting in that liquor store on Eutaw Street since 1983."

The Fan hangs around a bit, but eventually poops out long before last call at Pickles. The streets are even quieter and The Fan is sort of disappointed that she isn't even hoarse from the little cheering she got in for her first O's division title. She tests out a couple of celebratory toots of her car horn, but that only makes the night seem even more silent.

Maybe if the O's had clinched at home. Or they'd clinched earlier rather than later. Or if there wasn't a wild-card spot that already assured them of a postseason berth without having to win the division.

"It was sort of a foregone conclusion," Michael Goldstein tells The Fan the next day. "I was hoping I could see them clinch it in person, but it was almost as good to be able to sit home in my underwear and watch it on TV."

Michael, 22, walked over to Stadium Sports at Harborplace during lunch hour from his job at Legg Mason, hoping to pick up the same T-shirt and hat that the players were wearing in the locker room after the clinch. Just the hat was in -- the T-shirt should be in by today. Six other styles of T-shirts and one sweatshirt, all proclaiming the new division champs, were already in stock and selling briskly.

Could all those Baltimoreans be right? Was everything really better before? The Fan checked The Sun's coverage of the 1983 clinch.

There was the champagne'd Cal picture. There was Ray Miller, )) then and now the pitching coach, being quoted. There was a scouting report predicting the most dangerous hitter in the playoffs would be Harold Baines (with the opposing White Sox at that point). And there was this day-after-the-clinch story:

"No plans for Ripken to get rest," went the headline.

"Cal Ripken plans on finishing the rest of the season without taking a day off," the story began.

" 'To take time off, you'd have to be tired,' said Ripken, who is the only player in the major leagues who has played every inning of every game. 'I don't feel tired, and I don't need a rest. I'm swinging as well as I can. I don't want to take time off and risk losing that.'

"Orioles manager Joe Altobelli isn't about to take his shortstop out of the lineup, either."

How little difference 14 years make.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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