Opening Day puts spring in fans' steps

With long winter over, only optimism reigns for new players, new season

Opening Day 1999

April 06, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Erika Niedowski | Gerard Shields and Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

As she has for the past 31 years, Peggy Andes studied the Orioles' roster yesterday like a schoolteacher looking over her new roll of pupils.

Under crystal blue skies and brilliant sunshine, Andes sat along the third base side of Oriole Park, her insides fluttering with all the emotions that Opening Day brings: trepidation, hope, anxiety and joy. Gone were familiar names like Alomar, Palmeiro and Davis, replaced by the likes of Belle, Clark and Garcia.

"That's all I was thinking about in church yesterday," the Dundalk resident said. "I said, `We'll take all the rain you can give us today, Lord, just give us a little bit of sun tomorrow.' "

Andes' prayers were answered, and the sellout crowd of Baltimore baseball faithful poured through the clacking turnstiles at Camden Yards shedding winter memories.

Frank Uveges, Eric Jones and Damien Hirsch drove from New York for the game. "It embodies what I like about baseball," said Hirsch, a pharmacist, as he swilled a golden beer glistening in the warmth of the center-field patio.

"We were trying to figure out how to sneak down and catch batting practice," added Uveges, a school counselor. "And then the usher just walked up and invited us down. Unbelievable!"

Behind a wall of candy bars and chewing gum, Rishi Mehta watched the game on a 6-inch television miles away at his father's Glen Burnie convenience store. "It's kind of like New Year's," the 13-year-old said of Opening Day. "I hope they get off to a good start, because if they can get off to a good start, they will do well."

The Orioles' new year brought new stadium fare such as cheese fries, sausage marinara and sno-balls. But absent yesterday was the wall of vendors that used to hug the cast-iron railings on the rim of the park. The Maryland Stadium Authority chased the vendors across the street.

The most welcomed addition to the park, however, was slugger Albert Belle. Bleacher fans in Section 98 were just getting accustomed to hearing "Come on, Albert!" when they jumped to their feet to give Belle a standing ovation, chanting, "Albert! Albert! Albert!" after a three-run homer during his second at-bat.

"It's nice to see him come in here and hit one out," said Joe McGovern, a 34-year-old Wheaton bartender who sat behind Belle in the right-field bleachers. "And I thought it was pretty cool that he waved at us when he came out."

For Phil Buffa of Owings Mills, yesterday's opener served as the 18th straight year of trying to score scarce tickets with creativity. Because tickets to Opening Day are offered to season-ticket holders first, Buffa joined lines of fans in the "scalp-free" zone hoping to grab up leftovers.

Buffa stood out because of a cardboard sign he held over his head that read: "On Our Honeymoon." Closer scrutiny revealed tiny print reading, "We feel like we're " Buffa said he has used the strategy for almost two decades, with signs ranging from "Beer Money For Sale" to "Continue The Tradition."

"And I haven't been skunked in 18 years," the Washington, D.C., firefighter said.

In another Camden Yards trademark, gray smoke billowed over right field where fans consider it a mandate to eat Boog's barbecue at the game. Owner and former Oriole Boog Powell signed baseballs, ticket stubs and anything else his admirers shoved in front of him while the line for the $7.50 pit beef and smoked pork grew.

"You come here, you just gotta have one," said Lee Kemper Jr., of Warrenton, Va. "I put too much horseradish in mine," said his father, Lee Kemper Sr., of Bethesda.

A three-piece band called the "Dixie Devils" played a Dixie version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" as fans filed in through Gate H. Their red-and-white-striped vests and red bow ties had even faded to a shade of Orioles orange.

In the bleachers, McGovern took it all in, saying: "There's not a better way to get the spring out than a day at the Yard."

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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