Yards debut still fresh

Oriole Park: The club felt right at home 10 years ago today when Camden Yards opened.

April 06, 2002|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

Teeth. That's all Rick Sutcliffe saw as he strode to the mound that sun-drenched afternoon of April 6, 1992. Row upon row of bright white choppers, sparkling like flashbulbs amid the sellout crowd at newborn Oriole Park.

"Everywhere I looked, there were teeth," said Sutcliffe, the Orioles' starting pitcher. "It was like the whole ballpark was smiling that day."

Two hours and two minutes later, Sutcliffe polished off Cleveland, 2-0, and the place went nuts. Cheshire-sized grins stretched from beer to beer.

It has been 10 years since the Orioles christened their park at Camden Yards before a crowd of 44,568. The lineup was peppered with blue-collar guys like Sutcliffe and Sam Horn and Chris Hoiles and other ordinary Joes - including a right fielder named Orsulak.

On a day that would be noted for a bevy of "firsts," Orsulak made certain he carved his niche: The first to sprint from the dugout to his spot on the diamond.

"I tried to get into the record books any way I could," he said this week. "Really, I couldn't wait to get out there, on that field, before all those people. We hadn't played before too many full houses at Memorial Stadium."

Then the game began and Orsulak made the first putout. Though it wasn't easy, tracking Kenny Lofton's fly in that Colgate crowd.

"Everybody was smiling so much, I couldn't see the ball," he said. "I was scared to death that I'd lost it, but then, there it was."

The game sailed along until the Orioles' fifth inning, when designated hitter Horn walked, Leo Gomez singled and Hoiles crunched a Charles Nagy fastball to the gap in deep left-center field. It skipped over the wall for a ground-rule double, scoring Horn, who'd like to have danced on home plate.

"I came in all smiles," said Horn, 6 feet 5 and 247 pounds. "I remember thinking, `No matter what happens in this stadium, I scored first. I've got that.'

"I knew it would mean something, someday."

Perched on second base, with the historic RBI, Hoiles appeared nonchalant. April fool. "On the outside, I had to play it cool," he recalled. "Inside, I was out of control. Standing on the bag, I had this numbing feeling going through my whole body, as to what had just happened. It's a feeling I'll have forever."

Gomez scored on Bill Ripken's suicide squeeze bunt, giving Sutcliffe his cushion. The 35-year-old right-hander mowed through the Indians, who'd once traded him. His efficiency wowed the crowd but failed to endear Sutcliffe to concessionaires. "I got off to a bad start with the beer vendors," he said.

In December 1991, before signing as a free agent, Sutcliffe had stood on that same patch of dirt in an unfinished ballpark beside Johnny Oates, the Orioles' manager keen on signing him.

"I'd been leaning toward going someplace else," Sutcliffe said. "Then Johnny walked me to the mound in that big empty place and, with a twinkle in his eye, said, `I want you to throw the first pitch here.' "

On Opening Day, late in the game, Oates trudged out to the mound again - to see if the tiring Sutcliffe also wanted to throw the last pitch. He needn't have asked.

"I thought about the parade through the city, the day before. I thought about the thrill of playing with Cal [Ripken] for the first time. I looked at all those people, on their feet, hollering for me and knowing what they wanted," Sutcliffe said.

"Leave the game? I wasn't going to have a closer come in, throw 10 pitches and watch everybody shake his hand."

Paul Sorrento, Cleveland's final batter, went down on a called third strike as Hoiles peeled off his mask and raced toward the mound for hugs and high-fives. "I'm sure there was some jumping up and down, but I can't recall exactly," he said. "I hope I didn't make a fool of myself."

Sutcliffe would go on to win 16 games in 1992 and pitch one more shutout - his last in baseball. Retired since 1994, he lives in Kansas City, Mo., and works as a broadcaster for both ESPN and the San Diego Padres. Hoiles played 10 years with the Orioles, until leg and back ailments ended his career in 1998. Now 37, he lives on a 90-acre farm in Wayne, Ohio, and coaches at nearby Bowling Green State University.

Horn, 38, runs an indoor sports complex ("Around The Horn") in East Greenwich, R.I. He remained in baseball until last season, playing for a minor-league team in Nashua, N.H. Orsulak, a fan favorite, led the '92 Orioles in hitting (.289), then played for the New York Mets after Baltimore refused to re-sign him. Retired since 1998, the 39-year-old Orsulak lives in Cockeysville.

As for the other Opening Day starters, left fielder Brady Anderson, 38, plays for Cleveland; third baseman Gomez, 35, for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan. Center fielder Mike Devereaux, 38, bounced around the big leagues, helping the Braves to the '95 World Series before retiring in 1998. He reportedly runs a construction company in the Atlanta area.

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