A brand new ballgame

As baseball returns to Camden Yards, sports, real heroes mix

Security is heightened

Police, firefighters, rescue workers are honored before game

Baseball

September 22, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

They stood shoulder-to-shoulder last night, the sports heroes and the real-life heroes, brought together by the national pastime to memorialize a national tragedy.

Firefighters, police and rescue workers who rushed to the heavily damaged Pentagon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack marched onto the field at Camden Yards to a standing ovation, the kind of reception usually reserved for a ninth-inning hero or a retiring sports superstar.

Except that the stars - from Cal Ripken to Roger Clemens and all of the Orioles and New York Yankees in between - joined them on the field and joined in the applause of a grateful nation.

That is the way baseball returned to Baltimore last night, not with the pent-up energy of people going back to play, but with a subdued pre-game ceremony that was both respectful and resolute.

Ripken and Clemens served as flagbearers as a Naval Academy bugler played a mournful "Taps" and Diane Sakaris sang the national anthem. The tone was so respectful that only a small handful of fans shouted the hearty "O!" that has graced the final stanza of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at every Orioles home game since the 1970s.

Similar pre-game ceremonies have been played out all over the major leagues since baseball resumed play on Monday night, but the first game at Oriole Park since the attack carried an extra layer of emotion, since it took place so close to the site of the Pentagon disaster and also featured one of the New York teams.

The ceremony also included a video produced by Major League Baseball that shows the World Trade Center standing tall and concludes with the moving motto: "We play, but we never forget."

The Orioles and the crowd of 47,099 honored six companies of rescue workers from Northern Virginia and Maryland, some of which were among the first to arrive at the Pentagon crash site. The Fairfax County and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue departments were represented, along with the Force One Urban Search and Rescue teams from both Virginia and Maryland as well as the Arlington County Police and Fire departments.

"One of my favorite things in life - whether I'm at a play or a game or anything in life - is to watch other people showing appreciation for someone," Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson said. "It's like humans at their best when they show somebody respect for the right reasons."

Members of the Baltimore Fire Department also took part in the pre-game ceremony, while fellow firemen holding firefighter's boots collected more than $22,000 for relief efforts from fans throughout the stadium complex.

Outside the ballpark, some fans had to wait in line to get into the bleacher areas, as police and security personnel searched camera bags and purses, but the new security measures met with little complaint and most fans got through the turnstiles without significant delay.

"I was expecting that there would be lots of people backed up because of the searches," said Jerry Hill of McLean, Va., who found no waiting at Home Plate Plaza. "I didn't see much of that and I think it's because people saw in the papers that they weren't going to allow a lot of baggage."

The heightened security presence was obvious all around the ballpark complex. Police with bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled outside the entrances and dump trucks were positioned to block roadways leading close to the stadium.

Orioles director of ballpark operations Roger Hayden said that the Baltimore Police contingent for the Yankees series is nearly triple what would normally have been assigned to the stadium before the terrorist attacks.

"We've been working very hard with the Baltimore Police," Hayden said. "We have a list from the [baseball] Commissioner's Office that directs us to do certain things. We've tightened up security not only with regard to those things, but also some things that we've devised along with the Baltimore Police.

"We know there will be some minor inconveniences for fans, but I think they understand that this is important."

Hayden said most of the added security measures will remain in effect for the remainder of the season, though the police presence for any series involving the Yankees is larger than usual.

"Once the Yankees go, we'll take it down some, but not all that much," Hayden said. "We'll probably have about double [the usual number of police] for the rest of the season."

In one respect, it was hard to tell that the Yankees were in the ballpark. The long rivalry between the Orioles and the defending world champions usually evokes a strong negative reaction from O's fans when Yankees players are introduced, but the usual rules of fan behavior do not apply at a time when New York is the focus of a national outpouring of grief.

"Normally, you would hear some smart words back and forth," said Dale Lippy of Westminster, "but it's almost like people are walking on eggshells. Usually, you go out to center field where most of the Yankee fans are [to do some verbal sparring], but it's just not there."

It's hard to boo a team that takes the field wearing caps representing the heroic New York firefighters and police, hundreds of whom lost their lives rushing in to help victims of the World Trade Center disaster.

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