O's fans give voice to their loyalty

June 01, 2008|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,Sun Reporter

"Highest price, last place!" Nick Moyer screamed as he walked into Camden Yards on Wednesday night.

Moyer, an Orioles fan from Hagerstown, was happily telling every person wearing New York Yankees garb that their team had spent more than $200 million on slop.

He was able to do so because his Birds entered the night with a winning record and a 1 1/2 -game lead on their visitors from New York.

Orioles fans haven't had much opportunity for such crowing in recent seasons, but this season's surprise start has them excited.

"Yeah, it's good to be able to say that," Moyer said of his taunt. "People here always want to talk [Cal] Ripken and the old days, but that don't matter. We're good now!"

The Orioles made it clear in the offseason that they were beginning a true rebuilding effort. They promised unfailing on-field effort and asked for faith from their long-suffering fans. So far, the pact has worked better than anyone imagined. The Orioles are playing near-.500 ball behind surprising pitching and a never-say-die attitude in the late innings. The attendance numbers at Camden Yards aren't up much, but the faithful say they love watching this year's team.

"They don't have to do it all in one year," said Neil Shumaker, who drove 2 1/2 hours from the Eastern Shore for Wednesday's game against the Yankees. "What I like about this team is that we never give up. I can tell you, I haven't given up hope."

Attendance is ahead of last year's pace, but team officials don't expect the final numbers to be much different from 2006 or 2007. But they're pleased with large walk-up crowds for recent games and loud pro-Orioles cheers.

"There seems to be a buzz, a buy-in," team spokesman Greg Bader said. "People understand that this is a process and that they have to be patient. But there is a buzz."

That was evident last week as the Orioles wrapped up a three-game series against the Yankees and prepared to host leviathan No. 2, the Boston Red Sox.

Orange-clad fans taunted Yankees rooters about their place in the standings. Ushers debated where Tuesday's comeback win - in which the Orioles twice rallied from four-run deficits and then won with two runs in the 11th inning - ranked among the greatest games they'd seen. A roar went up when Jeremy Guthrie struck out Derek Jeter in a key spot, and an even bigger one filled the park when Melvin Mora homered to put the Orioles ahead.

At 24,791, the announced crowd wasn't huge, but it leaned strongly toward the home team, which hasn't always been the case when the Yankees and Red Sox have visited in recent years.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley spoke before the season about asking fans to buy into his club's rebuilding efforts.

"What I hoped was for us to play well enough to earn the respect of the people who come out and watch us," he said last week.

Asked whether he believes that is happening, he said: "I think we've seen that here for a while. I think it's great for us and great for the people who follow baseball."

Fans credited Trembley for his team's consistent effort and resilience. "Not giving up, I think Trembley gave them that," Shumaker said.

He doesn't expect the Orioles to be much more than "decent" but said he was just happy not to feel as outnumbered as he had at previous games against the Yankees and Red Sox.

His friend, Ashley Webster, wore a Jeter jersey to the game. "How can you not like him?" she asked of the Yankees shortstop as her friends looked on incredulously.

Webster said she wouldn't cheer the Yanks openly for fear of being shouted down.

"We were trash talking her the whole way up," Shumaker said. "She finally told us that if we didn't shut up, we'd have to get out of the car."

Robin Sigwart, her daughter Ashley and Ashley's boyfriend, Kevin Brown, qualify as experts on the nature of Orioles crowds. The Fullerton residents have attended dozens of games each of the past few seasons and are well on their way to doing the same in 2008.

This year's crowds aren't noticeably bigger, they said, but seem to stay deeper into games and cheer more enthusiastically.

"I can't wait to come every day," said Robin Sigwart, standing in the first row beside the field during batting practice Wednesday.

Brown said it has been fun to watch the Orioles refute expert predictions that they would lose 100 games and be the worst team in baseball.

"I want them to put those people who bashed them on ESPN in their places," he said.

A .500 record would be a big step in his mind, though he's not counting on it. "They always seem to plummet after the All-Star break," he said, voicing the reservation that creeps in when many longtime fans discuss the Orioles. (They were on a similar pace at this point last year, after all.)

For now, fans are dwelling on the happy surprises.

Daniel Cabrera's maturation has been a particular plum for the Sigwarts. "He was so up and down," Ashley said. "It's just been amazing."

Her boyfriend said: "I never gave up on him. I always said he would turn into an ace, and you were like, `Nah.'"

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