Out at the Ball-timore game

Opening Day

April 01, 2003|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Before the snow storm and after the guy in Section 69 hollered "Kill Saddam!," Opening Day 2003 was a predictable affair of the baseball fan's heart. Then, things got a little weird. Here's the run-down:

Gates opened: Noon.

Orioles batting practice: From 12:25 to 1:25 p.m.

Guy changed into freshly minted "Opening Day 2003" sweatshirt in front of Daily Grind window: 1:26 p.m.

(Weather update: Cold, yes ma'am, but unstoppable fans march toward Oriole Park - "a certain kind of rest area or safe area," as Oriole manager Mike Hargrove this week called home field. Safety and rest, yes, yes. Baseball: The Great American Distraction.)

Indians batting practice: From 1:30 to 2:05 p.m. Who are these guys?

See Boog sit. See Boog sign autographs: 2:30 p.m. Can't you see Boog Powell dishing out barbecue at a USO show?

First swing at capturing the "mood" of the stadium: 2:35 p.m. Whoever said Baltimore was lousy for people-watching has never been to Camden Yards. You want mood? At Opening Day yesterday, people were in the mood for baseball (gloves resting on heads). They were in the mood to eat, drink, yell and flirt.

They were in the mood to catch foul balls. They might have been in the mood to catch a cold. They definitely were in the mood to laugh.

(Note to whiners: Beer is still $5.25. Build a bridge and get over it.)

Player introductions: 2:45 p.m. It about broke your heart to hear announcer Jim Hunter note the passing of 23-year-old Steve Bechler, the Orioles pitcher who died at spring training. Hunter's strong voice paused as if to emotionally re-group. It sounded like the lousy news was being broken to us all over again.

Moments later, B.J. Surhoff was welcomed back to Baltimore, and Oriole Park stood on its feet. Then, during the introduction for the U.S. Color Guard, it was so quiet you could (and did) hear a lone cell phone ring.

Enter the "Kill Saddam!" Guy: 3:05 p.m. to 3:08 p.m. During solemn moments of reflection (caps removed), a man in Section 69 near the left-field foul pole cracked the communal silence by hollering, "Kill Saddam!" Not once, but twice. He received little or no fan support.

But maybe this was his shining moment? Maybe he'll tell his children one day that he was at the Orioles' Opening Day 2003 and screamed "Kill Saddam!" while some 48,000 other fans thought to keep their mouths shut out of respect to the moment.

"Play Ball." 3:16 p.m.

(Weather update: Colder. ICEE stand understandably deserted; vendors pushing the hot cocoa. Sky starting to look scary and weird.)

Tomorrow's headline today!: 3:35 p.m. It's snowing - and not some flimsy-flurry thing, but hardcore, streaming snow. Inside Bambino's Pub, sandwiched patrons snap open their cell phones to spread the news. "It's awesome!" and "It's unbelievable!" and "This is classic."

Some folks on phones are actually talking to friends five feet away, but on the other side of the glass window. Classic. There are "Head & Shoulders" dandruff jokes about the fans snowed-in outdoors, and someone in the crowd asks for Giants first baseman J.T. Snow. At least, no one hollers "Kill Saddam!"

After an official "snow delay," the game continued, and the skies cleared, as if no untoward weather had happened.

Oriole Park indeed felt like a safe and restful place.

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