Orioles FanFest turns out to be real crowd-pleaser

More than 15,000 attend

ticket sales brisk, O's say

February 08, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The large crowd that turned out for Orioles FanFest yesterday left little doubt that the team's offseason improvement program was a public relations triumph, even if it is not yet clear whether the new-look Orioles will be able to change the long-standing balance of power in the American League East.

More than 15,000 fans packed the Baltimore Convention Center -- believed to be a one-day record for the event -- and club officials buzzed about the brisk business at the advance ticket booths and a sharp surge in full and partial season-ticket orders.

The Orioles recently raised the price of some choice seats, but that apparently didn't keep fans from flocking back to the box office for the first day of advance ticket sales to the general public. More than 105,000 individual game tickets had been sold by 6 p.m. The club also reported opening more than 1,200 new season-ticket accounts in the first week of sales, compared with 900 new accounts for the entire month of February last year.

"It's a great start," said Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Jim Beattie. "This is the fun part of what we've been working for, to see the fans getting excited, because we've been getting excited in here about what's going on."

The free-agent shopping spree that dynamically upgraded the club's offense clearly has energized a fan following that had grown increasingly frustrated during an unprecedented string of six losing seasons. And the same upbeat outlook seems to have infected the players, who came together this weekend for the first time since the rebuilding effort began.

"We had everybody at the warehouse last night," said vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan. "Just to see the enthusiasm of the players ... they're excited ... they can't wait to get to Florida [for spring training]. They can't wait to get on the field and see what they look like."

New manager Lee Mazzilli is getting antsy. He was brought in to instill a new winning culture in the organization, and he is itching to get started. The first pitcher/catcher workout will be Feb. 21 in Fort Lauderdale.

"These guys, they all want to win -- we all know that -- and it starts on Day One," Mazzilli said. "You go out there expecting to win every game you play, but it starts in spring training."

The Orioles attempted to bring everyone to Baltimore for their annual winter jamboree, but there were some notable absences. Shortstop Miguel Tejada was originally scheduled to attend, but he felt more obligated to remain in the Dominican Republic to represent his country in the Caribbean World Series. New catcher Javy Lopez was a no-show for personal reasons, and Melvin Mora returned to his native Venezuela after the death of his grandmother.

Tejada recorded a video greeting that was played on the large screen above the main stage. He was in the starting lineup for the Dominican team in a crucial game on Friday night, so there was no practical way to get him to Baltimore in time.

Past and present first baseman Rafael Palmeiro came in from his Texas home to hold a solo question-and-answer session for a large crowd. Newly signed reliever Mike DeJean also introduced himself to fans.

DeJean, signed as a free agent, brings much-needed experience to the youthful Orioles pitching staff and could provide an alternative at closer if Jorge Julio is slow to rebound from a tired shoulder.

The right-hander, 32, said he welcomes the opportunity to assist in the development in some of the young relievers.

"If I can just help them by talking about setting a hitter up or about taking care of your arm, whatever they need me to do, I'll do," he said.

Sun staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this article.

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