Flurry of activity on busy day

Scene: There was much to find yesterday at Camden Yards besides a baseball lost in the snow.

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

Maybe there was some celestial symbolism at work when the Orioles opened the 2003 season at Camden Yards yesterday afternoon.

The long winter that has chilled Maryland to the core delivered one more nasty snow flurry before the skies cleared and allowed the Orioles to score a 6-5, extra-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians.

There certainly will be other storms ahead, but the Jim Beattie/Mike Flanagan era officially began with a scrappy two-comeback win in which the Orioles survived a strange and snowy twist of fate in the third inning.

It isn't every day that a routine fly ball gets lost in the snow, even for a team that found plenty of interesting ways to lose en route to an unprecedented 4-32 finish in 2002. The ultimate hidden-ball trick helped the Indians score three runs, but the Orioles were the ones celebrating when the game finally ended 10 innings later.

There weren't a lot of Orioles fans celebrating with them. The announced sellout crowd of 46,257 never filled Oriole Park to capacity, and it thinned out noticeably after the freak snow squall turned the stadium into swirling bowl of large snowflakes.

"I couldn't see clearly to home plate," Orioles starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez said. "I've never played in snow before. It felt like it was Christmastime."

Orioles fans have always viewed Opening Day as something of an unofficial holiday, but nobody was thinking white Christmas after a harsh winter that produced some of the biggest snowfalls in the history of the region. The regular-season opener is supposed to signal the beginning of the warm half of the year.

There was no sign of snow when the pre-game ceremonies began about an hour earlier. The Orioles paid tribute to late pitching great Dave McNally, who passed away during the winter, and pitching prospect Steve Bechler, who died of heatstroke during the early days of spring training. Newly elected Hall of Famer Eddie Murray threw the ceremonial first pitch to new Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Opening Day is a special occasion in every major league city, but yesterday's festivities marked the 50th home opener for the Orioles and the 20th anniversary of their 1983 world championship season.

Even the opponent was appropriate. The Indians are another proud franchise in the midst of a rebuilding program, and they are a team with a number of close ties to Baltimore.

Murray is the Indians hitting coach but will go into the Hall of Fame as an Oriole. General manager Mark Shapiro grew up in the Baltimore area, a big Orioles fan and the son of prominent attorney and sports agent Ron Shapiro.

"I think if it was Memorial Stadium, it would be more nostalgic," Shapiro said. "I didn't miss many Opening Days there. But Baltimore is home, and that's where my roots are in baseball. This is the source of my love of the game."

The club rolled out the traditional orange carpet for player introductions and honored the men and women of the armed forces by lining the makeshift runway with military kids holding American flags.

Sarah, Mary and Theresa Angstadt held flags for their father, Scott, who is awaiting deployment of his Air Force unit after returning from a three-month stay in Kuwait.

"We're just proud of our dad and of what he's doing," said 12-year-old Theresa, the oldest of the three sisters.

Baseball celebrations all over the country were tempered by concern about the servicemen and women already in Iraq, and security was tight around Camden Yards and the other 11 ballparks that held openers yesterday.

Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston took time before the game to tape a message to troops overseas, then tried to put into perspective the importance of a baseball game in a time of war."Our job is very minimal in the greater scheme of things," Hairston said, "but if we can be a source of entertainment for the troops, we're very proud of that."

There was speculation that anti-war protesters might turn up outside the stadium, but nothing significant materialized. However, about 500 protesters marched across Russell Street to the ballpark to draw attention to the need for improved conditions in Baltimore schools.

The game was announced as a sellout, but there were still some tickets available late Sunday and early yesterday. The struggle to sell the last tickets was quite in contrast to the heavy demand for Opening Day tickets during the 1990s but was not surprising in light of the sagging economy and the team's declining attendance numbers the past several seasons.

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