A whole new ballgame

Spirits soar on Orioles win

Opening Day gives Baltimore fans a good reason to ditch pessimism

April 04, 2006|By TOM DUNKEL | TOM DUNKEL,SUN REPORTER

Nursing a beer at a bar across from Camden Yards a couple of hours before game time yesterday, John Castro wasn't in any mood to predict a pennant for the Orioles this year. He has been to about 20 Opening Days, but after eight straight losing seasons, he knows better than to get caught up in Opening Day euphoria.

Just then, all the 49-year-old respiratory therapist from Severna Park was willing to predict was a 6-5 win over Tampa Bay.

Whattayaknow? The Orioles wound up stinging the Devil Rays 9-6.

Currently in first place.

Currently undefeated in 2006.

The crowd that arrived for the opener yesterday was as variable as the weather: some sunny, some gloomy.

George Santos, 47, had no way of knowing victory was at hand as he walked to the game. "When I think of `8' I like to think of Cal Ripken," said Santos, "not how many years we've been on the short end of the stick."

Santos was charitable enough to grant Orioles owner Peter Angelos credit for any number of his civic accomplishments, but none within the baseball stadium looming ahead. "He missed with this baseball thing," Santos said.

Moving closer to Oriole Park - toward the baseball mother ship, toward all that heavenly green grass and those blazing stadium lights - the mood brightened considerably.

Is there such a things as Battered Fan syndrome? What else keeps people coming back for another punch of disappointment?

"If the Chicago White Sox can do it, if the '69 Mets can do it," said James Baker, a Towson University student brandishing a large BELIEVE sign, "then the Orioles can do it."

By "it," he means - seriously - win the World Series.

After all, as any baseball statistician could tell you, things could be worse. The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't had a winning season in 14 years. The Detroit Tigers have had 12 straight losing seasons. The Major League record is 16 consecutive years of futility (Phillies, 1933-48). The O's are only halfway there.

"But you know what?" said Baker. "It stops this year."

Kim and Mike Mahrenholz almost stopped believing this year. The Marriottsville couple have held season tickets since the Memorial Stadium days, but they almost didn't renew this time.

They were friends of Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks and didn't care for the way his future with the team was left in limbo prior to his death last winter. Yet here they were again, ready to take their seats on Opening Day. Why?

"Because it's my team," said Kim Mahrenholz. "Knowing Ellie the way we knew him, he'd want us to be here."

Brian Burk couldn't stay away either. "Optimism is a hundred percent this day," he said, in the thick of the crowd at Pickles Pub. "This day's marked on the calendar a year in advance."

Inside the stadium Jennifer Bahr, a 17-year-old high school student from Essex, was playing hooky with her parents' permission: She was raised the Orioles Way. Jennifer and three friends had their faces painted bright orange for Opening Day.

"It doesn't matter whether you win or lose," Jennifer said, undaunted by eight years of the latter, "if you love the game."

Baker, the Towson University student, and his buddy Jon Langley sat together in the upper right-field deck, wearing orange T-shirts, reveling in the Orioles' power surge of four home runs.

"This is good so that the `haters' can't pile on by saying we couldn't even win the first game," said Baker. "It's always good to start with a positive."

Bob Kominski, a long-time season ticket holder, loves the game enough to have taken his seat in the section behind home plate wearing a custom-made, orange-and-black leather, full-face wrestling mask. His nephew gave it to him for good baseball luck. Despite being adorned with two Orioles on the sides and a number 8 on the forehead, Kominski, 53, looked like a cross between Spiderman and a bank robber.

"Some of them at least are young and hungry," he said of the 2006 Birds. "And sometimes the giant does trip and fall."

When Javy Lopez tripled to the right field gap in the bottom of the second inning, Kominski stood and cheered and high-fived his wife, Jan.

At first he said this is a .500 ballclub and his Orioles mask only an Opening Day affectation. Minutes later, caught up in the spirit of the occasion, his team on the way to victory, he pinned pessimism to the mat.

The mask might stay. "Hopefully," said Kominsky, "I'll be wearing it to the playoffs and the World Series."

Rationality can wait 'til tomorrow. The O's are in first!

tom.dunkel@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Julie Bykowicz and John Fritze contributed to this article.

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