It was a hot and steamy night at Camden Yards. Every fan in the outfield bleachers hoped he or she could catch Cal Ripken's 400th home run. A few sought something they considered even more elusive, a tip of the cap from Albert Belle.
Two days after he blasted three home runs in an Orioles victory and then broke a four-month silence to rip into critical fans and media, Belle remained a hot topic at Camden Yards. A sampling of patrons in right field found those who said everyone should get off his back, and some who wondered where he went to charm school.
There were boos when Belle mishandled what appeared to be a catchable ball off the bat of Rusty Greer during the Texas Rangers' breakout four-run second inning. Some of the same people had been on their feet a few minutes earlier, when Belle staked the Orioles to an early lead with a two-run homer in the first.
"It's a shame," said Tom DeRemegis of Highlandtown. "He hit the home run in the first inning. When he came back out to right field, the whole section stood and cheered for him. He wouldn't look this way and acknowledge us. That's the whole point. For $65 million, I don't expect him to love us, but at least he can pretend for three hours.
"People want to give him a shot. Fans are going to boo when you're bad and cheer when you're good. I was happy when he hit the three home runs and won the game Sunday. On Saturday, when he jogged after a ball and turned a double into an inside-the-park home run, I wasn't."
DeRemegis and some friends from the East side were in the third row in Section 98, about as near as a fan can get to Belle's station in right field. A family from the Eastern Shore occupied the front row, and sounded a lot closer to the Orioles' mercurial slugger.
"He's a quiet man, a loner, but as far as baseball players go, he's second to none." Evelyn Hemler said. "I think he gets a raw deal from some of the fans. They holler such obscenities, sometimes I'm embarrassed by what I hear out here."
The Hemler family spends a good part of its entertainment dollar on the Orioles. Evelyn and her husband, Joe, weren't even making use of their 29-game season-ticket plan last night, when they made the trip up from Grasonville with their daughters, Jennifer and Kathy. Kathy feels that fans and media are too hard on Belle.
"People won't give him a break," Kathy said. "He's too scrutinized, whatever he does. Last year, people wouldn't let Cal [Ripken] alone. Now, it's `Let's get on Albert.' He'll never do enough for some people."
Mike Plantier of Frederick wondered if Belle's skin wasn't a tad too thin.
"I've heard Brady Anderson and other Orioles heckled, and that kind of ticks me off," Plantier said. "I'm not sure what the guy [Belle] expects. Even if your numbers are great, you can't act like a maniac. I don't expect the guy to be a saint, but he should probably be a little better role model.
"Not running to first hard like B.J. [Surhoff] does, being lackadaisical in the outfield, that bothers me more than [obscene gestures]. The Orioles knew what they were getting into. Acting shocked when he [Belle] does something wrong is ridiculous on the organization's part."
James Chalk of Wilmington, Del., was attending his first game at Camden Yards.
"My son loves him," Chalk said. "Lamar's 12, and he wears his hat like Belle, he wants to be like him. He's not the first baseball player to get booed. When you do well, people are going to root for you. When you do bad, they're going to boo. He should respect that."