Anticipation: A series of vignettes from a day of waiting, at a fevered pitch, for the O's and the ball to get rolling.

ALONG FOR THE RIDE

October 09, 1997

The Fan woke up with a start yesterday. What time was it? What game, what series? Had she slept through her alarm? Was she late or early, home or away, pre- or post-?

It was only 8 a.m., and yet, The Fan couldn't fall back asleep.

The first game of the American League Championship Series was still 12 hours away. But who can tell anymore? Time seems to both contract and expand during the postseason: At any point in time, The Fan is getting ready for or recovering from a game. Anticipation bumps into reality and just as suddenly turns into memories.

The Fan made coffee, looked at her watch, read the paper, looked at her watch, showered, looked at her watch and finally decided to leave for the ballpark already. If she walked slowly, and stopped along the way, maybe 8 p.m. would get here sooner.

So here is The Fan's diary of a day of waiting. Of wishing, and watching, and hoping, and enjoying every deliciously agonizing moment before the first pitch of the rest of her life.

Noon: The Fan gets to Harborplace where everything is as it should be: Orange and black everywhere, and an inflatable Phillips crab mascot and a puffy Old Bay can on legs are warily keeping their distance. There's a crab soup competition going on.

Every other person is a journalist. The Fan wrestles some Cleveland Plain Dealer reporters for an exclusive interview with the one man in an Indians hat in this sea of orange and black. A TV crew from Cleveland interviews The Fan. "What," they ask, "will it take to make Baltimore love the Ravens?" The Fan can answer that: "How 'bout a couple of wins?"

Up in the food court, Ed and Doris Hunt and their friend Doris Stein are thinking of getting some of that free crab soup. But they have to hurry.

"I want to get home and get everything ready to watch the game," says Ed, 75.

"All we do is sit on the sofa," his wife, 70, says. "Used to be, we could drink some booze."

"But if we do that now, we fall asleep," Ed says.

This has been a remarkable season, and not just for the Orioles' winning ways: Ed, a lifelong fan who dates back to when the O's played on Greenmount Avenue, has finally, after 48 years of marriage, made an O's fan out of his wife. "I just started watching this year," she says, "and now I know what's what and who's who. I like Cal and, who is that other one I like?"

"Alomar," says Doris Stein, 76, who, it turns out, was the other Doris' babysitter some years back. "Personally, I like Palmeiro."

1 p.m.: Lisa Foster, 17, skipped her last class at Catonsville Community College. "I had to get posterboard for signs, I had to get face paint, I had to get Halloween hairspray," she explains.

She, Alison Jones, 12, and Alison's brother Ross, 10, had it all planned: Ross would have one half of his face orange, the other black. Alison would have No. 12 painted on her right cheek and O's on the left. Lisa went with the classic No. 8 on her right cheek. Everyone would have orange hair. It was worth it.

"We've been on three TV stations already.

2: 11 p.m.: JoAnne Hunsicker and her coworkers at the Baltimore Convention and Visitors Bureau finished lunch at Strapazza on Pratt Street and strolled across to the ballpark to see if "anyone was practicing." Just the grounds crew.

Still, it wasn't an entirely futile trip: She picked up a black T-shirt and white tank top from a vendor on Eutaw Street. She could even be considered "working."

"It can only help sell the city," the bureau's national sales manager says, "when we go to trade shows and they've heard about the Orioles."

2: 36 p.m.: "Here comes Armando!"

The autograph seekers see their first quarry. Relief pitcher Benitez, though, is intensely talking into a cell phone and ignoring their polite pleas.

"It's like fishing," explains Hobie Steele, "you never know what you'll pull up."

Steele, who collects autographs -- and stresses he's never sold or even traded a signature -- has driven from his home in Cambridge on the Eastern Shore with his wife Susan, who is napping in the car. Players come and players go -- Bordick, Reboulet, Hoiles -- without stopping to sign. At 3: 26, Alan Mills finaly breaks the shutout. Driving up in a vintage truck, a baseball hat on backward, he signs the balls and cards with his name and the biblical citation 3: 16.

At 3: 39, a hot black Mercedes swings in. "It's Eric!" a breathless Greg Meseke, 19, says gleefully. Davis is his favorite player, a reminder of the city they both lived in some years ago, Cincinnati. Today, though, Davis declines, pointing to his gym bag and then the park. Something about having to get in there quickly.

More players arrive and quickly duck into the park -- Hammonds, Krivda, Orosco, Alomar, Palmeiro and Cal -- but no autographs. "Maybe they're tense about the game," Meseke allows.

Patrick Richardson, 5, and his father -- "he's Michael Charles Richardson" -- arrive with their friend Charlie Fretwell. Patrick got several autographs after Sunday's game, but is striking out today.

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