Not the old ball game

Fan fervor missing on Opening Day

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April 06, 2008|By Gene Sweeney Jr. | Gene Sweeney Jr.,Sun Photographer

I came to The Sun in 1983 and being a baseball fan who had long suffered with his Minnesota Twins in the '60s and '70s, I thought I was in heaven. World Series champs, who could ask for more?

The next few years were exciting and then came a downturn, but wait, there was Cal's consecutive-games streak and two years when the Orioles made the playoffs in the late '90s, so it was OK. Then came the last 10 years -- and 10 straight losing records -- when games were at times painful to watch. But unlike the paying fans, I couldn't leave the stadium. I was working.

I've covered Opening Day for The Sun for the last 24 years (minus a couple), and nothing really prepared me for this season's beginning. Sure, I had read the papers and listened to the sports shows about how bad the team was expected to be, but hey, this is Baltimore and Opening Day, so I expected electricity in the air and a packed ballpark.

Now granted, the weather was cold and rainy, but I've worked Opening Days here when it snowed, for heaven's sake, and that didn't stop the fans from coming. This year there was little electricity in the air, few big cheers and no celebrity throwing out the first pitch (apologies to Hank Peters, but the former general manager isn't exactly a household name). At game time, the stadium was maybe half-full.

Sure, the orange carpet was laid and the players still ran out from center field, the fireworks went off and the anthem played, but something was just wrong. I sensed that the love affair between a city and its team had cooled. It was as if the stadium had been moved to a city that didn't care about baseball, or maybe the stadium hadn't moved at all.

gene.sweeney@baltsun.com

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