O's fans greet Opening Day with barbecue, beer and cheers

Opening Day

April 05, 2005|By Abigail Tucker | Abigail Tucker,SUN STAFF

Opening Day startles, creeping up so quickly on a winter-weary city that the field seems too green and the sun too bright. But as the game progresses and coats are shed and peanuts are cracked, the realization sets in:

This is what we saved daylight for all winter long.

It's a day about awakenings, not just of stadiums but of senses. It's as though sap flows again through the dead wood of the baseball bat. Life is renewed.

"It's a buzz," said Scott Longis, a Towson native who made the long pilgrimage to Camden Yards from his new home in West Chester, Pa., to watch the Orioles play the Oakland Athletics. "It's about sausages, pit beef, smoke. Seven-dollar beers. This is spring."

All this alliteration from a man who claims he's "not good at English."

At the ballpark yesterday, this much was clear: Baseball sharpens each of the senses.

Touching home

Opening Day has the fresh-page feel of an unmarked scorecard. Those wrinkled, dog-eared days of August are hundreds of innings away.

Players and fans go about the business of getting back in touch with their sport on the most elemental, visceral levels: A palm placed gently over the heart as the national anthem plays; ushers taking chamois cloths to plastic seats, wiping away the winter; a father draping an arm over his son's shoulder as they march through the turnstiles.

Scott Foster - a 16-year-old Orioles fan from Fallston who spent his first birthday at Memorial Stadium - took his baseball glove out of storage Sunday night. He pounded his right fist into the pocket a few times. He worked the leather. Spring bloomed in his bedroom.

Scott and his father, Steve Foster, a season-ticket holder, hunkered down in their left-field seats early yesterday. In time for batting practice. Four rows behind the fence.

One ball soars over the wall and Scott snares it on a bounce. He gives it up to a stranger seated nearby: a freckled little girl from Atlanta with a Javy Lopez crush.

The baseball gods saw that. A few minutes later another crack of the bat, another ball arcs high into the sky.

Scott reaches far to his left, over a row of unoccupied seats, and the ball lands smack in the center of his glove. Hard. It sounds like he just caught a falling meteor.

"That stung a little bit," he says with delight, "but it feels pretty good."

- Tom Dunkel

Sound of silence

Camden Yards is brutally loud, especially on Opening Day, when each Oriole striding onto the field is saluted with fireworks so close overhead they seem to detonate in the chest.

It's an obnoxious kind of noisy: The bark of the vendors, the blurt of the tuba as it plays "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," the raucous burping of the guy who's drunk already.

Even the vibrato of the man singing the national anthem is a little much. He's trying too hard for this day to be perfect.

Everyone is. Waiting for the game to start, people march around declaring ("I'm going to eat seven of those") and complaining ("There is mustard all over me"). Everybody is yelling for Buddy to hurry up, eat up, get up. Buddy is the name of every single 7-year-old boy on Opening Day.

But after an inning or so, spectator baseball finds its real sound, which has nothing to do with the club beat on the loudspeakers, or even clever heckling.

It is silence.

In the center of the stadium is the green field, which is as quiet as the eye of the storm. There, 18 men communicate with hand signals, jerked chins, long stares.

The absence of sound is the fellowship of baseball, and it's there in the stands, also, between seatmates who know each other well enough.

- Abigail Tucker

Aroma therapy

Yesterday's choppy winds tossed Opening Day aromas to and fro at Camden Yards, meaning the savory smell of sweet onions and hot sausage often got sidetracked by pungent whiffs of cigar smoke. You could walk past a vendor and smell nothing, then the wind would scoop up a scent and carry it to you some five paces away.

This is what you inhale during an afternoon of baseball when roll-down-the-car-windows weather hasn't arrived yet and cold wind smacks your face instead with the force of a leaf blower.

You need the currents to die down before you discover the folks at Big Mario's Pizzeria season their sauteed crabcakes with butter.

"A little butter makes the smell go all over," said Delores Harris, who manages the Big Mario's just off the Section 23-28 sign.

Barbecue ribs at Bambino's. Powdered sugar from a funnel cake kiosk. Cooked meats at Kosher Sports.

"A grilled hot dog or a grilled sausage does the trick," Jonathan Katz of Kosher Sports said of how customers follow their noses to him.

Cotton candy vendor Irvin Jenkins wrapped the whipped-up sugar around a paper cone, creating a scented cloud that takes you back to county fairs and carnivals and kids munching on bagfuls, getting as much on their faces as in their mouths.

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