Spring greets Orioles with an inning of snow

Baseball: Flakes thick enough to hide a fly ball force delay during O's 13-inning, 6-5 victory.

April 01, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Even after a winter that produced some of the biggest snowfalls in Baltimore's history, there was something surreal about the sudden snowstorm that forced a brief delay in the Orioles' regular-season opener yesterday at Camden Yards.

"It's like something out of the Wizard of Oz," said Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who did not have to remind the Orioles and Cleveland Indians that they were not in Florida anymore.

Heavy snowflakes poured into Oriole Park in the third inning, creating a swirling sea of white that made a routine fly ball in right field disappear and caused thousands of chilly fans to let loose with a spontaneous expression of what could only be described as bemused awe.

The poor visibility persuaded home plate umpire Tim Welke to pull the players off the field, but the delay lasted just 13 minutes and there was no accumulation of snow on the field. The rest of the game - which went into 13 innings before the Orioles won 6-5 - was played under scattered clouds, with the temperature in the high 30s.

"This is just insane," said Amber Gallio, 19, as fans huddled under blankets to ward off the cold. "Look at the sky. This is going to make history, and I'm here. Look at me. I'm wearing sunglasses and a spring coat. This is football weather. Cool!"

The last time an Orioles opener was delayed by snow was 1985, when umpire Larry Barnett interrupted the game during a first-inning flurry at Memorial Stadium. There also was light snow before the Orioles took the field for their 1987 home opener against the Texas Rangers, but nothing to compare with the strange scene in the third inning yesterday.

The big chill did not keep the Orioles from announcing a sellout crowd of 46,257, though the final tickets were not sold until close to game time and there were lots of empty seats visible in the upper deck. The crowd thinned out noticeably after the snow squall, and there were only a few thousand fans left by the time the nearly four-hour game ended at 7:20 p.m.

"Ain't the beer cold," said Bill Ellwood as he tended the Marine Corps League's beer stand outside the B&O warehouse, echoing Orioles announcer Chuck Thompson's old exclamation. "Ain't the beer vendor cold."

The afternoon still went largely as planned. Newly elected Hall of Famer Eddie Murray threw the ceremonial first pitch to Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The Orioles rolled out their traditional orange carpet for player introductions and paid tribute to the armed forces by lining the orange runway with the children of local servicemen and women.

Of course, the war in Iraq was never far out of mind. The heightened state of alert was evident inside and outside the ballpark, where security agents were on the lookout for any possibility of terrorist activity.

"It [the war] is all you see on TV," said Orioles first baseman David Segui. "It seems like all of America is glued to the tube. It's kind of strange. I think people come to the game to get away from that."

Sun staff writers Jamie Stiehm and Candus Thomson and researcher Sarah Gehring contributed to this article.

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