At Yard, Yankees fans right at home

As one fan of New York boasts: `We own this place'

April 02, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

They've taken Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, and now Yankees fans appear on the verge of claiming the little patch of green yard by the Inner Harbor known as Camden Yards.

Thousands of the spiritual kin of DiMaggio, Mantle and Torre streamed into the ballpark on Opening Day yesterday, intent on making the Yankees feel right at home.

And why not? Ruth may not have built Baltimore's stadium, but center field was his neighborhood as a child.

They came in pairs, in small groups and even accompanied by Orioles fans. The Yankees invaders wore their pinstriped paraphernalia with all the swagger of a bullfighter entering the ring.

"We own this place," boasted Bob Howard, who drove four hours from his home in Virginia Beach to make the game. "This is our home away from home."

A vendor outside Camden Yards said the only thing that kept the numbers tipped in favor of the home team was that Opening Day fell during the work week.

"If it's a weekend, it's just unbelievable for the Yankees," said Dale Novack, who has been selling caps for seven years. "They'll come down and stay for the whole series."

Andrew Riccobono, a transplanted New Yorker and a Yankees fan "since I was baptized," said he can't often make the trip to Yankee Stadium from his Alexandria, Va., home.

"This is closer. It's a convenient substitute," he said. "But I wish I lived just an hour from New York."

Riccobono had another reason to give his own Bronx cheer.

"If it aggravates [Orioles owner Peter] Angelos to hear loud Yankees fans in his ballpark, great, so much the better," he said.

During the 1996 American League playoffs, Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss fumed about season- ticket holders selling out to Yankees fans. Since then, the team has tried to made it tougher for non-Orioles fans to get Opening Day tickets.

First dibs go to VIPs and season-ticket holders, said Kevin Behan, an Orioles spokesman. "In theory, there should be fewer Yankees fans, because there is no public sale," he said.

But ticket brokers here and in New York say that during an Orioles-Yankees series, a minimum of one-third of Camden Yards tickets end up in the hands of the visitors.

Eli Alter of Brooklyn, N.Y., bought a 13-game plan just to secure Opening Day seats. He's given little thought to what happens to the tickets to the other 12 games.

"They keep a lot of Yankees fans away for Opening Day," he conceded. "But the next two games should be better for us."

David Cohen, 17, of Westchester County, N.Y., bought tickets for himself and Pete Motta, one of his high school teachers, online from the Orioles store in Pennsylvania. He had to buy two $10 caps, but considered it money well-spent.

Decked out in their Yankees finery, the two were asked if they were afraid of being accosted by Orioles fans.

"We're been to Shea Stadium for the Subway Series," Cohen began before Motta jumped in.

"To paraphrase [Frank Sinatra], if you can survive there, you can survive anywhere," the teacher concluded with a smile.

Yankees fans George Hays and John Bilowith, who both moved from New Jersey to the Baltimore area 15 years ago, split the difference yesterday.

Bilowith wore Orioles attire 10 years ago at Opening Day, but since then "there's been no question" that his garb is navy blue.

Hays, on the other hand, dug out his orange and black hat and warm-up jacket.

"You can't root against the home team on Opening Day," he said.

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