As clearly as interest is up, it hasn't reached the peak levels of the late 1990s, when Camden Yards had opened recently and the team was contending. As recently as 2005, the Orioles drew more than 32,000 fans a game, compared to about 29,000 a game this season.

Why haven't the crowds come all the way back?

Perhaps the presence of the Washington Nationals offers a partial explanation. In their attendance heyday, the Orioles were the primary team for the entire Baltimore-Washington area. Now, the Nationals draw almost 34,000 fans a game to their downtown ballpark.

"I think there are several factors," Bader said of the attendance levels. "One of them is clearly that there's another club close by. One of them is that the team performed poorly for so many years. But what we're seeing now is people of all ages coming back in the fold or becoming Orioles fans. It takes a little while for everyone to come back into the fold."

Players recognize this and take pride in the fact they've slowly refilled the stands at Camden Yards. "It takes awhile," said McLouth, one of the unexpected heroes of last season. "After the organization had an extended period of losing, we've had to earn back their trust."

Last week in Parkville, fans tittered as they spotted the outfielder and his well-sculpted blond hair. "There he is," said Pam Crawford, 56. "There's his hair!"

Crawford is one of the many fans who've made watching these Orioles a daily appointment.

"The women from my church, we have appointed ourselves the co-managers and coaches of the team," said the Towson resident. "You know, it's great. If you're worried about something else, you can set it aside every night and watch the game."

But with the club in playoff contention for a second straight year, the switch has already flipped from "pleasantly surprised" to "now, they better win."

"The expectations are there now," McLouth said. "They expect us to win. And that's how it should be."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

Orioles midseason by the numbers

Record at midpoint 2012 – 44-37 2013 – 45-36

Avg. home attendance – 2012 – 25,746 2013 – 29,209

Share of U.S. retail market – 2012 – 1.44 percent 2013 – 3.28 percent

All-Star starters – 2012 – none 2013 – three leading in voting