Aparicio ready to lead chagrined O's fans in protest

September 21, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

You say you've had it with the Orioles this time.

You've had it with nine straight losing seasons. With another meaningless September. With a jewel of a ballpark that sits empty and forlorn, except when it's invaded by thousands of beered-up Yankees and Red Sox fans who spit peanut shells on your shoes and flirt with your girl and spill out onto Eutaw Street bellowing and high-fiving each other whenever their team clobbers your team, which is pretty much always.

You've had it with an owner who has the PR touch of Tony Soprano, and with watching a once-proud franchise steadily turn into the Chuck E. Cheese of baseball.

FOR THE RECORD - In Kevin Cowherd's column yesterday, the radio station owned by Nestor Aparicio was misidentified. He owns WNST (1570 AM). The Sun regrets the error.

OK, we feel your pain.

So what're you doing this afternoon?

"Nasty" Nestor Aparicio, the Dundalk guy who's been a radio personality in this town for years and owns WYST ("Sports Talk 1570"), is hoping you'll show up at the "Free the Birds" protest rally he's organized at Camden Yards, when the Orioles play the Tigers at 4:05.

Aparicio, 38, is the little guy who always thinks big.

So today he envisions thousands of ticked-off fans in black "Free the Birds" T-shirts marching through the streets to Oriole Park, congregating in the upper deck, then walking out en masse an hour or so later to deliver a simple message: It's time for O's owner Peter Angelos to go.

"He needs to realize he's hurting the city," Aparicio says, offering the owner this advice, free of charge: "If you want to help this city, you'll put your ego aside, take the check [offered by a prospective buyer] and step aside.

"Today is Election Day, and you've been voted out."

If that sounds a little heavy-handed - a little Paulie Walnuts, even - understand that to Aparicio, the ruination of the Orioles is personal.

He traces every good thing that's ever happened in his life to baseball. His beloved Pop passed on a love of the game that young Nestor found intoxicating, and which pushed him into a career talking sports into a microphone.

His 87-year-old mom, Eliza, still watches every O's game on TV with a cold beer in one hand. His uncle, the great shortstop Luis Aparicio, is in the Hall of Fame.

All these years later, he still gets misty-eyed by memories of Frank and Brooks and Jim Palmer, Eddie and Cal; magical late-inning rallies at old Memorial Stadium; "Wild Bill" Hagy leading O-R-I-O-L-E-S! cheers atop the dugout with half a Budweiser brewery sloshing around in his gut; Cal taking a joyous lap around the field after 2,131.

"Look at this!" Aparicio said the other day, rummaging through a box in his downtown apartment overlooking the Camden Yards warehouse and O's executive offices, the nexus of all evil, in his mind. "Every ticket of every game I ever attended! All my press passes! Newspaper clippings from the '79 Series! This box is the story of my life!"

But by the middle of this summer, with the Orioles stumbling to another fourth-place finish and management seemingly indifferent to its hugely turned-off fan base, Aparicio had basically given up on the team.

When does Ravens training camp open? now consumed him.

But after Sun columnist Rick Maese wrote in July about the idea of Oriole fans protesting, and Aparicio was quoted as saying it wouldn't do any good - "A protest? Come on. This is the same way the East Germans felt when the wall was up all those years" - he received a stunning e-mail.

"The Berlin Wall fell because a guy like you did something about it," the e-mail said.

OK, big, grandiose statement.

Tenuous historical analogy.

But it made Aparicio think.

The Orioles are a civic treasure. For them to be abused to the point where people won't even look at them is criminal. Maybe I can do something.

A couple of days later, he went on the air with a column he had written for the station's Web site.

"If you want to protest, I'll make the radio station a conduit," he told listeners.

Within 48 hours, he had received more than 250 e-mails of support.

He flew to the Caribbean for a vacation. Pulling out his laptop a few days later, he found his inbox crammed with hundreds of new e-mails expressing interest in a protest. More than 1,250 came in within the next 10 days.

Nasty Nestor, the Dundalk guy who bled black and orange, had a new cause to champion.

Camden Yards isn't a place of celebration anymore, he thought. It's a burial ground. We have to change that.

So we'll see what happens out at the burial ground today, when the Birds take on the Tigers.

"If we don't have 5,000 [protesters]," says Aparicio, "I'll be astonished."

Whatever the number, they'll march to the stadium in their "Free the Birds" T-shirts and gather in the upper deck and scream and cheer for the Orioles.

Then at precisely 5:08 - "5 for Brooks, 8 for Cal," says Aparicio, ticking off the uniform numbers of the O's legends - they'll stand and walk out.

Maybe Angelos will heed the protest.

More than likely, he won't.

And the odds of his sticking a "For Sale" sign on the ball club anytime soon are long.

But protests aren't built on odds. They're built on raw emotion.

And no matter what happens at Camden Yards today, Aparicio wants people to know he's not doing this to gin up publicity for his radio station.

"I'm doing it because I miss baseball," he says softly. "I miss the memories."

An instant later, gazing out his living room window at the shimmering ballpark, he brightens.

"Let's go tear the Berlin Wall down!" he says, in a voice loud enough to be heard at the warehouse.

If only they were listening.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd

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