Orioles fans turn in a fulfilling performance

June 24, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Give yourselves a standing ovation, Orioles fans. You know ... O-R-I-O ...

You reclaimed your territory last night.

In a way, you convinced everybody that the talk of a "rivalry" between the two nearby baseball teams is a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, if that wasn't a statement of support for your team against an outside aggressor, then what is?

What could have been a testy little faceoff between loyalists and rebel defectors to the south turned into possibly the best Orioles home crowd in several years. It was as big as the other sellouts, but it wasn't padded by special events like Opening Day. Nor was it tainted by Noo Yawkers and New Englandaaahs scooping up all the seats.

For once, Orioles fans responded to the threat to their kingdom and didn't give in with a shrug and a speech about their constitutional right to profit from their tickets.

If it's a rivalry the Orioles and Nationals have - and that's still a big "if" - Baltimore has held up its end of it. It finished the job when Chris Ray got the final out and the crowd at Camden Yards stood and roared through the fireworks.

It had started 2 1/2 hours before the first pitch; the fans who had started to trickle in were almost all Orioles fans.

Same for the ones who were in their seats when the home team and the visitors were introduced - Orioles fans. Same for the ones who stood for the national anthem; the "O!" they shouted was loud and clear, and nobody tried to boo them into silence.

At that point, only about half of the eventual 48,331 had arrived. There was supposed to be the buzz present at any good neighborhood tangle. But there was only the hum of the Orioles faithful, and the seats - the ones full at the time - were a sea of orange, not red.

Still no buzz inside, but lots of honking outside - cars stuck on the various entrances into downtown at rush hour on the official first Friday of summer. When those cars arrived and the fans poured out and filled the stands, they were decked in orange.

Of course, this isn't their first meeting that counts (that was last month at RFK) or their first in Camden Yards (that was at the end of spring training). Not the first chance for the fans from each end of the parkway to make their feelings known about how this became a two-team market.

The early attempts to light a spark between the teams have always felt contrived, and now that there are so few "firsts" left, the topic is becoming stale. Players don't take the bait, and reporters don't bother to ask. If you don't know Frank Robinson's connection between the two franchises, you've probably been asleep the past 21 months. It was acknowledged with a scoreboard salute in the bottom of the third inning, to which he came to the Nationals' dugout railing and tipped his cap to a warm ovation.

Still, nostalgic feelings and forced bitterness aside, this was expected to be the best opportunity for disgruntled Orioles fans who had been driven to the arms of another, to really vent, make a statement - to thumb their noses at their nemesis, Peter Angelos, to drown out the home team and turn its park against it the way Yankees and Red Sox fans do every year. A few told The Sun in yesterday's editions that it was exactly what they, collectively, as fans with a team of their own after three decades, had hoped to do.

They didn't do it.

This was an Orioles crowd all the way. It was more of an Orioles crowd last night than it had been a Nationals crowd in Washington in May - and even then, as you'll recall, the "O's" call during the anthem got tempers flaring.

Last night, when the Orioles extended their lead to 2-0 in the sixth, on Corey Patterson's single driving in Melvin Mora, there was not a shred of doubt whose ballpark this was. Same for when Rodrigo Lopez whiffed Alfonso Soriano with the tying run on to end the seventh.

Exciting, yes, but four regular-season games into their history, there still is a truly memorable moment lacking - something as dramatic as, say, Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off home run against the Yankees at RFK on Sunday, the one that made Spike Lee snap and that became an instant legend. Once that happens between these teams, this might be on for real. Nothing contrived.

Oh, the Orioles tried to stir it up a little. After the fourth inning, in a skit on the scoreboard, the Bird mascot did a routine that was too corny not to laugh at - he went to the Lincoln Memorial, threw a magic spell at the statue and had Abe sitting in his chair with an Orioles cap, mouthing "Let's Go O's."

But as it turned out, the Orioles fans - the real ones, not the people who usually sell out Camden Yards in every sense of the term - didn't need help. Drown out the visiting fans? Yes, they did. Better yet, they kept them out.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

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