Belle thrills O's fans with bashing debut

Mostly warm greetings accompany 3-run shot

Opening Day Orioles 10, Devil Rays 7

April 06, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Felicia Minnix and Jane Stone stood outside of Camden Yards yesterday and almost pleaded with Orioles fans to give Albert Belle a "second chance" after he had helped defeat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with a three-run homer and four RBIs in a 10-7 Opening Day victory.

"Albert was great in spring training; he was waving to all the fans and signing autographs," Minnix said, as Stone nodded in agreement. "You should never judge a player on what happens to him in another city. Baltimore has always been known as a town that is willing to give a guy another opportunity."

Minnix, a 22-year-old student at Carroll Community College and a Reisterstown resident, said, "He is going to help this team a lot. He hits in the clutch and he hits in big games. Everybody deserves a second chance."

Stone, a 33-year-old manager at Blockbuster Video and a Baltimore resident, said, "I don't think Albert's going to cause any trouble. He's just going to be himself. If anybody else would have thrown those bats in the clubhouse in spring training, it would have gone unnoticed. But he gets attention because of who he is."

But Tony Defina of Columbia wasn't much in a forgiving mood for Belle as he stood about 200 feet away from the two women and waited for second baseman Jesse Garcia to come out.

"Belle's a heck of a player but I don't want him on my team," said Defina, a 41-year-old engineer. "He's an example of how the Orioles have allowed the franchise to go downhill. The Orioles have sold out. They say the Oriole Way is dead, but it's alive and well in cities like New York and Atlanta. It's a horrible irony that the Orioles signed Albert so close to when Cal Ripken Sr. died. Cal Sr. was the Oriole Way."

Defina said he vowed never to spend another nickel at an Orioles game last Dec. 1, when Belle was signed to a five-year, $65 million contract.

"I kept to my word today," Defina said. "I didn't buy my ticket and I didn't even buy a Coke or anything at the concessions stands. I'm only here because of Jesse. I became friends with him when he played for Bowie."

Several friends standing around Defina backed up his statement that he didn't even spend a nickel yesterday. Many other fans refused to comment when asked if they wanted to be interviewed about Belle.

Belle himself said a flat "no" when asked to comment on an almost storybook debut with the Orioles. It would have been enough to make even some of the angriest people in the world melt a little.

But not Belle.

"One reporter in spring training ruined it all for everybody else this year," said Orioles manager Ray Miller, referring to the bat throwing incident in the clubhouse March 11 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I know he's a big-time and big-game player who had an outstanding spring training in right field for us."

Dundalk's Ron Kropkowski didn't need any home runs or any outstanding plays in the outfield to get behind Belle.

Kropkowski, 41, took off from his job as a UPS truck driver to attend his 30th straight Orioles Opening Day and unfurled a banner saluting Belle behind the Orioles dugout during batting practice that read: "Think World Series: Ring Belle 88."

"I think Albert's going to do well here," Kropkowski said. "Everybody messes up when they're young. When he gets his money, that will shut him up. He's grown up."

Regarding the five-year, $65 million contract given to Belle, Kropkowski said, "Even the president or a king doesn't deserve that much money. But he'll earn it. He could hit 60 home runs here.

"He's going to help us win a world championship in our last chance in this decade. We won in 1966, in 1970 and 1983, and now this is our last shot in the '90s."

Winning omen?

If the Orioles follow the form of the previous five years, yesterday's victory was a good sign. In that time, a winning season has followed when the Orioles won their opener, and a losing season has followed a loss:

year Opponent Result Record

1994 Kan. City W,6-3 63-49

1995 at Kan. city L,5-1 71-73

1996 Kan. City W,4-2 *88-74

1997 Kan. City W,4-2 *98-64

1998 Kan. City L,4-1 79-83

* Made playoffs Pub Date: 4/06/99

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