A whole new ballgame

Potraits of folks for whom Opening Day truly is a first

April 03, 2001

The 13-year-old Fan

First things first: This is Derrick Faulkner.

He is an eighth-grader at West Baltimore Middle School, and up until yesterday, he was going to be a doctor or judge when he grew up.

At first glance, Derrick didn't look any different from the other young players on the field for Opening Day.

But his mom knew he watched the news the night before and prayed for no rain. His dad knew Derrick couldn't sleep and awoke at 1 a.m.

His brothers, Donald and Drew, knew he was excited; one played Nintendo baseball with him, the other played catch. His aunt Mattie knew, too. She gave him $15 to spend.

Derrick skipped breakfast and drank only chocolate milk at lunch. Saving room, he explained, for a hot dog and pretzel.

The first thing you need to know about Derrick is not how much he likes to eat, but how much he loves sports - all sports. If not a doctor or a judge, he wants to be a football or basketball player.

But that was before yesterday.

Until then, he had never been to an Orioles' game.

All those people.

Balloons. Fireworks. Airplanes.

Cal Ripken in person!

Yesterday, for the first time, Derrick changed his career lineup.

He couldn't wait to tell his brothers. -- Larry Bingham

The Rookie

In his first Big League Opening Day, Orioles infielder Jay Gibbons belted five balls out of the park, one of them coming tantalizingly close to a rendezvous with the warehouse. An appreciative crowd oohed and ahed.

OK, it was only batting practice. But this was a major league ballpark -and for now, that was accomplishment enough. After all, Gibbons knows exactly where he was for last year's opener: in South Carolina playing first base against the Braves. The Greenville Braves. Double A ball.

Now Gibbons, a 24-year-old with arms like steel pipes, never doubted his ability to crush a baseball. But even he didn't see himself jumping from the Tennessee Smokies to a big league roster this soon. "I didn't expect to be in the majors now," he said in the clubhouse before the Orioles took the field against the Red Sox.

Outside, more than 45,000 people sat, wondering if they could place their hopes in youngsters like Gibbons. "I'm trying to stay relaxed," he said. "It's hard not to feel a little jittery, but I'm going to try to enjoy this."

As a reserve first baseman, Gibbons knew the chances were against his getting an at-bat against Pedro Martinez - he wanted to - but as the game headed into extra innings, he began loosening up. As it turned out, Brady Anderson's RBI in the 11th made Gibbons' services unnecessary.

"I wanted to get that first at-bat out of the way," Gibbons said after the game. "I wanted to hit."

If Opening Day batting practice is any gauge, he will. -- Michael Ollove

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