Thoughts of Orioles warm fans

Some camp out for tickets

1st-day sale of 60,000 seen

January 16, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

They may be frustrated and pessimistic about the coming season, but nearly 40 Orioles fans braved the coldest weather of the winter Friday night and Saturday morning to guarantee themselves prime bleacher seats.

That's the type of hard-core devotion they have for the Orioles, who sold 57,000 tickets by 5 p.m. yesterday, the first day individual game tickets for the 2000 season became available. So although the team has watched its wins decline recently, it appears it has yet to lose one of the strongest fan bases in the major leagues.

Club officials expected to sell approximately 60,000 by telephone and via the Orioles' Internet site by day's end yesterday. That total would match last year's first-day total. In 1998, the club set a record with 77,500. A quarter of the sales yesterday came by way of the Internet.

Of the early birds, Steven Grimes and Ken Galloway, friends from a summer softball league, were the first to set up beach chairs, arriving at Camden Yards at 6 a.m. Friday. They waited 28 hours before purchasing tickets for front-row seats in the center-field bleachers.

It was the fifth straight year Grimes and Galloway have slept in line overnight for tickets, and they ranked this year's stay as rough, but not the most difficult. Temperatures dipped to the low 20s with brisk winds, but at least the fans didn't have to endure rain and snow.

The first priority was buying tickets for the April 8-9 games against the Detroit Tigers, when they anticipate Cal Ripken will reach 3,000 career hits.

"We're not fair-weather fans. We've been here for a while, so we're pretty big fans," said Grimes, 34, of Clarksville. "We basically know the first 20 people in line, since we're here every year. So, it's like a party."

By 9 a.m. Friday, Grimes and Galloway had been joined by seven others, including fans who drove up from Virginia and flew down from Connecticut. They came equipped with sleeping bags, cell phones and portable televisions. Nearly everyone wore something orange in their many layers, and one man dressed as a bird, with a beak and feathers, calling himself "The Birdman."

Nevertheless, most were not happy campers, especially with the Orioles having allowed starting pitcher Aaron Sele to slip away to Seattle last week.

"I'm disappointed with the organization. I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't," said Jessica Libertini, 22, a Perry Hall native who flew 2 1/2 hours from her home in Mystic, Conn. "But I'm interested to see what [new manager Mike] Hargrove does. Not having a GM [general manager] has really hurt their decision-making."

Darren Snow, 30, a Culpeper, Va., resident, also frowned on the off-season moves made by the Orioles.

"The bullpen is shoddy; it's as bad as last year," Snow said. "It's a slow and aging team. I look at a .500 season at best."

Walt Jura, 44, of Phoenix has waited more than a day in line five times previously and brought his 13-year-old son, Jason, for the second time. Wearing five shirts and four pants each under their matching, bright orange coats, the Juras passed the hours by huddling around their 3-inch television, watching shows such as "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

And like most of the fans around them, they said the Orioles' struggles won't affect their loyalty.

"I'm disappointed, but we'll still root for them," said Walt Jura, who stepped in line at 7 a.m. Friday. "And we'll be back here again next year probably an hour earlier, too."

Orioles tickets

Individual game tickets for the Orioles' 2000 season are available from noon to 5 p.m. today at the Orioles Box Office at Camden Yards.

Tickets also may be purchased at the Orioles official team stores in Washington and York, Pa., through Ticketmaster Phone Charge and at all Ticketmaster outlets, including Hechts stores. Tickets also can be purchased via the Orioles' Internet site at www.TheOrioles.com.

There will be no limits on ticket purchases today. Tickets will be available for every game except the opener April 3 against Cleveland.

For more information, call 410-685-9800.

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