When the Orioles win, so do the street vendors

October 07, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Here is the way Mike Bordick fielded the final ground out of the ninth inning Sunday and threw to first base at Oriole Park at Camden Yards: hurriedly, as though he'd waited far too many endless summers for such a moment and feared it might yet get away from him; urgently, as though the laws of baseball had been repealed and the Seattle Mariners batter had hailed a taxicab to first base and would somehow beat the throw; frantically, as though the Orioles of Baltimore had waited a ridiculous 14 years or something to finally get another chance at a World Series.

Then it was over: Bordick and Cal Ripken embraced, and then Ripken and Eric Davis, and confetti was pouring down from the upper deck and Randy Myers was pumping his fist in the air and Ge-ronimo Berroa was hugging anyone he could find and it was beautiful and thrilling to behold.

And here is the way some folks reacted on places such as Camden Street in that moment, on the sidewalk just outside the ballpark, when the Orioles defeated Seattle and won the right to open tomorrow's American League Championship Series here:


Whew, because baseball's nice, and it bonds the community and all that good stuff; and, whew, because on places such as Camden Street we see the realities of modern economics in which the dollars trickle down from professional sports.

"A victory?" said LeRoy Smith. "It means a few more days I can sell this stuff."

We take our triumphs wherever we can find them. Smith waved && a hand across a table full of Orioles souvenirs. The ballclubs play for millions, and those like LeRoy Smith are pleased by a few extra days of slight supplemental income. Full time, he has his own home improvement business.

"You need some work done?" he asked. "Some painting?"

On Sunday, LeRoy Smith arrived at 10 in the morning and left maybe an hour after the ballgame ended. In those 10 hours, he figured he would net maybe $80.

While inside the ballpark Sunday, in the celebration in the Orioles' clubhouse, here was Armando Benitez. He is 24 years old and makes six figures a year for throwing a baseball at remarkable rates of speed. At the moment, Benitez was pouring champagne over the head of Mike Mussina, the magnificent winner of Sunday's game. Mussina is 28 years old and makes seven figures a year.

Champagne and millions, it's a great country, ain't it?

On Camden Street, there was a young woman named Amber, who goes to Villa Julie College and learns about computers. This is how she works her way through school: as a nanny for $6 an hour, and then she shows up at every Orioles game and sells bottled water at $2 a pop to people hungry for playoff bleacher tickets at $20 apiece.

"The Orioles' win?" she said. "It means I've got a few extra days of business, and maybe I can make a few hundred dollars the longer they stay in."

Inside the ballpark now, on the jumbo scoreboard, there came the sight of Peter Angelos, owner of the Orioles. Along with a few friends, he paid $173 million to buy this team a few years back, and his payroll is about $55 million a year. But, at the moment, as he greeted his ballplayers, he had the look on his face of a delighted little boy who has just discovered presents under the tree.

Christmas in October. It's a great notion, ain't it?

On Russell Street on Sunday, there was Harry Garfield, selling pistachio nuts at $3 a bag and peanuts at $1 a bag. During the week, Garfield's a construction worker. On Sunday morning, he awoke and went to Memorial Stadium, where he stood on 33rd Street and sold nuts until the Baltimore Ravens kicked off. Then he quickly headed downtown, where he worked the crowd at the Orioles' game.

"Getcha peanuts," Garfield called out to customers in a bullfrog croak. In a quieter voice, he said, "How much can I make? Maybe $40 to $60 here, and the same up at the Ravens."

It's the American way. We delight in the Orioles' triumphs, and thrust our civic chests pridefully. But, it's also the American way that the economic gap grows ever wider between haves and have-nots - between the $55 million Orioles and the smaller-market second division clubs; and between all the professional athletes and those outside the park who hope for a little fallout.

On Sunday, we had the utility infielder Jeff Reboulet, 33 years old, with a lifetime total of 13 major league home runs. Suddenly, he crushes one against Randy Johnson, the most dominating pitcher of his era.

Reboulet floats around the bases, barely touches the ground he's so pumped. At that moment, he's everybody's surrogate. He's the ordinary man in his unanticipated moment of greatness, which is why the game touches so many of us.

On Camden Street, Ester Engel went Whew. She was selling T-shirts. She said, "I bleed black and orange," which are Orioles colors. She said an Orioles win gives her more opportunity to sell T-shirts. The longer they stay alive, the longer she has this second job.

If the Orioles need a victory cry, there it is: Win it for all the vendors. They also win, who stand and sell.

Pub Date: 10/07/97

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