Belle should be big hit with Opening Day fans

This Just In...

April 05, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

SO WHAT DO you think? Albert Belle gets a standing O today? O yeah. They used to boo him at Camden Yards and call him bad names and sneer at his boorish behavior and his six suspensions, but today he's the angel hired to avenge many disappointing Orioles seasons, and everybody loves the guy. So, during the annual overwrought Opening Day opening ceremony, fans will stand a'tip-toe when his name is mentioned.

I guess that's good. We want to get off on the right foot with this guy, right? We want Belle to feel warm and welcome. It's the Baltimore Way.

The arrival of another baseball season at Camden Yards prompts me to ask: How many days till the Bowie Baysox opener?

Just curious: Is there anyone left from last year's team? Do we still have Cal?

Baseball Billie, Turkey Joe, Martin Clark and Carl the Clown Hater, who hates to be called Carl the Clown Hater, met at our favorite neighborhood bar, Swallow at the Hollow, and they divided up their season tickets. It's an annual rite. But a fight almost broke out when Joey Amalfitano, who stopped by for a couple of beers, said something cynical about the Orioles hiring Belle at $65 million over five years.

"I hope he hits one into the left field stands in his first at-bat," Baseball Billie said.

"I hope he chases you down in the street with his car," said Amalfitano.

Joey has soured on Major League Baseball generally and the Orioles specifically. He doesn't like interleague play. He doesn't like the dizzying off-season deals. He thinks players have no loyalty to teams or towns. Aside from the aromas of Boog's Barbecue, he doesn't like the atmosphere at Camden Yards, either. So when the Orioles signed Belle, that just gave Joey another means of provoking a barroom argument.

By contrast, Turkey Joe, Baseball Billie, Martin and Carl -- who, as a bartender at a Baltimore tavern of famous memory, once evicted a clown and was thereupon labeled a clown hater -- have been sharing season tickets since Brooks played. They are loyal. They bleed black and orange. Don't get into a lot of unpleasant facts with them about Belle's track record as a human. They don't want to hear it. It's spring. It's Easter Monday. The streets are lined with daffodils. The world is new again. Opening Day is here.

To them, Albert Belle is one of us now, and he'll probably hit 60 home runs in Camden Yards. To them, he's not ill-tempered and a poor role model for kids. He's intense and misunderstood and the most productive hitter in the sport. Mr. Angelos has invested his money in a winner. This is what you hear now. The Camden Yarders, who used to boo Bad Albert, have learned how to spin the Belle deal to make it look like the best thing since the Orioles got Frank. When you're paying what they pay for season tickets, you gotta believe!

Responsibility to Kosovo

We got into the Balkans a bit at Swallow at the Hollow. There, and in several other conversations around Baltimore last week, I heard it suggested that the United States had inserted itself into what amounted to a civil conflict -- Slobodan Milosevic trying to maintain Kosovo as part of Yugoslavia.

Civil conflict? Isn't it clear by now what this really is? Anyone have doubts that Milosevic had the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo in his plans all along? Isn't it clear that the NATO airstrikes only provoked him to speed up a purge he had planned to execute gradually?

It is to me. It's also clear that the United States and its NATO allies have an absolute responsibility to help the ethnic Albanians suffering at Kosovo's borders, to protect those who remain inside Kosovo -- assuming there are any -- and, more, completely neuter Serbia as a military force of any kind. I keep hearing expert analysts say Milosevic has won on the ground, his terrorist soldiers and police having gobbled up real estate in the process of the purge. Who says we can't reverse what has happened and return the refugees to Kosovo?

If we accept the new world order, then we ought to accept our role in it -- a wealthy and powerful nation that, with other powerful and wealthy nations, takes on the bullies, protects the innocent, makes the world safe and lifts up struggling nations in the process. We can act in self-interest, I'll concede that. But we can even act for humanitarian causes and the hope of a more stable, peaceful world. Big order. But we can handle it. We have to.

Nose out of joint

Frank Monaldi, professional sharpener of knives and maestro of the Monaldi Brothers band, notes that the Ringling Bros. elephants left Baltimore without giving up manure for local gardeners. Bummer, says Frank. For the past seven years, while the circus was in town, he went to the arena and filled four 20-gallon trash cans with the valuable fertilizer. "I put them in the back of my Chevy Astro and drove home with all the windows open," he says. Not this year. The circus elephants came and went without leaving a drop for public "consumption." Frank says he called the arena and was crestfallen to learn there was no plan to give manure away this year. "I asked the lady on the phone what happened to the manure," Frank says, "and she said, 'I guess they took it to New York with them.'"

Pub Date: 04/05/99

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