For fans, afternoon at park touches all the bases

New veterans memorial, sudden snow add to usual Opening Day panorama

April 01, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The Orioles' rite of early spring mixed Americana, snow and war awareness, all of which made yesterday's Opening Day at Camden Yards that much more meaningful to fans at the ballpark. And some were there to live it up, no matter what.

Coming and going to their seats, hundreds paused to take in a new feature of the landscape near the south side of the B&O warehouse. Many were drawn to a simple curving wall and meditative space dedicated to the nation's veterans with the original lettering from the former Memorial Stadium facade on 33rd Street, which was cleared last year.

"I was working on the stadium demolition and always wondering what would happen with the letters," said Jeremy McWatters of Dundalk, 25, who walked along the somber curve of the freshly finished black granite memorial with his father, Tommy McWatters of Edgemere.

With the country at war, Jeffry Burden said he found the state-funded memorial striking. "It's especially timely, that much more relevant. It's brilliantly realized," said Burden, a lawyer in Richmond, Va. "We weren't expecting to see this."

Edward E. Cline, deputy director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, watched as streams of people followed their curiosity to a bronze urn enclosed in a glass case, also brought over from the demolished Memorial Stadium. It contains soil from every U.S. military cemetery overseas.

"The architect [Michael Bolinger] deserves a lot of credit for the human scale," Cline said. "It's personal and lets you appreciate the message up close."

The seamlessness between the ordinary sidewalk promenade and the violet paving stones of the memorial was meant to make it easy to cross from one to another. Preserving the essence of the old stadium's memorial was the other goal designers had in mind.

Yesterday, the consensus was that they succeeded.

"This gives them back what they lost in the old," said Irving Ashley, 32, of Baltimore, a letter carrier who was making his rounds and not going to the game. "The visibility is excellent."

Those who seemed to pay the most heed were several fit men with short-cropped hair who were about to ship out themselves. Four members of the Army's 115th Military Police Battalion, who declined to give their names, said they were waiting to go to the Persian Gulf at any time.

So was a member of the National Guard, Kevin Dauphin, who said the memorial next to the parade into the baseball stadium made for a full scene of civilian life.

"It's subtle but strong enough. Memorials are good," said Dauphin, who is training at Aberdeen.

Inside Camden Yards, exuberance appeared undimmed by thoughts of war or by a mid-game sudden snowfall that lifted nearly as fast as it fell.

An usher, Lamont Heard, 32, said: "Regardless of the situation around the world, there's always enthusiasm on a day like this. If you woke up from a coma here, you wouldn't know [a war is going on]."

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who still lives in her hometown of Baltimore, both attended the game. O'Malley said he "double-backed" in his schedule to pick up three of his children, Tara, Grace and William, so he could take them to the game as a surprise. "It's a rare parenthood moment," he said, as he made a plain hot dog for William in a clubhouse suite.

As for a damper the war might cast on the spring mood, O'Malley said he found civic rituals like yesterday's especially important.

Snow and war beyond their control, the 130 Baltimore police officers on duty yesterday, including several counter-snipers atop the steel structure above the seating bowl, were not taking any chances when it came to their part of the event.

"It's extra-high security with the country at war," said Police Maj. John Skinner. "We have bomb sweepers and all special-operations officers on duty, with intelligence teams working in pairs looking for unusual packages or suspicious activity. And we're taking live footage of the entire exterior for the mobile command post."

That's not to say they didn't enjoy being there rooting for the home team.

When asked who was going to win, Maj. Marcus Brown replied, "I think that's a given."

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