For Orioles fans, the rite of spring

Opening Day: Optimism is in the air as thousands play hooky to celebrate a fresh baseball season at Camden Yards.

April 03, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Every time Cal Ripken hits a grand slam, Dan Teubner throws a beer in his own face.

It doesn't happen that often, but Teubner -- for whom baseball is religion and the Orioles are his declared faith -- has the beer ready, waiting.

Today might be the day Teubner soaks his face.

Opening Day is here.

"It's a stupid tradition, but it's fun," said Teubner, who went to 63 games last year and has the ticket stubs to prove it. "Opening Day is, without a doubt, the single best day of the year. I get way excited. I get so excited you can't believe it."

The Orioles take on the Cleveland Indians at 3: 05 p.m. at Camden Yards, marking for baseball fans the true beginning of spring in Baltimore. You thought the first day of spring was two weeks ago? You must not be from here.

"Opening Day has taken the place of Baltimore's Flower Mart," said police Lt. Carl Gutberlet, who's in charge of traffic outside the stadium. "It's the rite of spring in Baltimore."

Teubner, a Columbia resident, will be at Camden Yards at 6: 30 a.m., as he is every year.

"You can't get here too early," said Teubner, 33. "I just walk around, buy my ticket, wait for the bar to open."

Some 48,000 O's fans will trickle into the stadium after him, the majority playing hooky from work or school. Thousands will party in the streets and bars surrounding the stadium.

But few are in Teubner's league.

The beer-in-the-face ritual began when Ripken hit a grand slam a few years ago and Teubner couldn't high-five anyone because he had a beer in each fist. Overcome with excitement, Teubner went with his instincts -- and the tradition stuck.

Teubner, a waiter and bartender at Phillips Restaurant in Annapolis, has the Oriole bird tattooed on his right hip. His den is packed with orange-and-black paraphernalia -- Orioles memorabilia that includes a faxed copy of Ripken's $203,831 bimonthly paycheck from 1993.

He even persuaded his sister Kathy to name her son Camden (as in Yards).

That's after she rejected his offer of $500 to name the kid Cal Ripken Teubner.

"She laughed at me," he said.

`Like a utility bill'

Teubner barely sleeps the night before Opening Day.

He doesn't have season tickets; he buys them on game day in the scalp-free zone. He and girlfriend Julie Nefferdorf spend about $4,000 per season on games and partying.

"I consider it a fixed cost," he said. "Like a utility bill."

Some predict that the Orioles won't have a stellar season this year, but don't tell that to Teubner.

"Who says?" he'll respond. "Why would you say that? We have as good a chance as anybody."

He expects Opening Day to be as wild as if the O's were a shoo-in for the World Series.

Child-adult hooky

Andy Yesko, co-owner of Pickles Pub, which is across Washington Boulevard from the stadium and throws a keg party every Opening Day, says he expects about 5,000 people today. He calls it the "biggest child-adult hooky day in history."

When Yesko was a schoolboy years ago and skipped to go to Opening Day, his principal called him into the office to ask where he had been. He told the principal the truth, and the principal patted him on the back and excused his absence.

"In Baltimore, it's OK not to live up to any of your obligations on Opening Day," Yesko said. "It's a day to forget about work and school."

Teubner said a buddy called work last week and told his boss he has malaria so he could have this week off to go to the game -- then recuperate.

"I guess he was nervous and just wanted to have something to say," Teubner said. "It's kind of funny because you get malaria in the summer from mosquitoes. You don't get it this time of year."

A day for perfection

Opening Day is a show not only for players and fans, but for stadium employees who have been working since October to keep the 8-year-old stadium in tip-top shape. Last week, workers fixed hinges on doors, power-washed seats, repainted railings and doted on the precious field.

Groundskeeper Derek Howatt cut the remarkably green grass into a pattern called Kansas City cut. That's wide, straight crisscrossing lines that make a diamond pattern.

"It's got to be straight," Howatt said. "Everything has to be perfect."

Groundskeepers picked the Kansas City cut rather than a circular pattern called Baltimore cut because they say Kansas City is a classic and looks great on camera.

"That one gives you the feel of another day at the ballpark, which is a good thing," said Teubner, who pays attention to every detail of the Orioles, down to the grass pattern. "Any day at the ballpark is good."

Ballpark fare

Especially when the lines for pit beef, french fries and Budweiser are short. That's Teubner's favorite ballpark fare.

The stadium expects to sell 2 million beers, 1 million sodas and 750,000 hot dogs and sausages this season. Concessionaires will also be selling new, trendier foods this year such as a buffalo chicken wrap and a turkey leg that have become all the rage at Disney theme parks.

But Teubner says he'll stick to the pit beef. He's a man of habit.

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