I want an honest count of how many readers are excited about tomorrow's FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center. How many of you are going, but maybe aren't that excited? How many of you even know about it?
The Orioles sure want you there. I'm told that season-ticket holders who used to receive one free pass are now getting two. Haven't they been punished enough? Why not make them clean up afterward?
OK, just kidding. It's always a worthwhile trip to the Convention Center, though it's a little harder to justify the long autograph lines when Cal Ripken isn't holding the pen. Or Brady Anderson. Or Mike Mussina. Heck, where's Will Clark?
Current players scheduled to attend include Tim Byrdak, Daniel Cabrera, Bruce Chen, Eric DuBose, Jay Gibbons, Chris Gomez, Luis Matos, Melvin Mora, David Newhan, John Parrish, Aaron Rakers, Chris Ray, Brian Roberts, Eli Whiteside and Walter Young. Whose signature can't you live without?
I guess Miguel Tejada didn't get his invitation. If anyone needs his own fan forum, it's Miggy. I sure have a few questions for him. Or for his agent, if he'd ever return one of The Sun's daily calls.
A bunch of Orioles from the past will be there, and "future Orioles" –- including top prospects Nick Markakis and Hayden Penn –- will sign autographs and participate in fan forums. Anything to distract from the present. It's sort of the Orioles' way of saying, "Hey, look over there."
I'm glad to see that Paul Blair, my favorite Oriole growing up, will participate in the forum celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1966 World Series team. Blair works out at the same gym that I frequent (Triangle Fitness in Eldersburg), and he's always wearing Yankees garb. My arms look bigger in a t-shirt, but I digress ...
Blair feels slighted by the way the Orioles have treated him, though it could be a simple case of miscommunication. One example: Blair says the team didn't contact him to be part of the 50 Favorite Orioles celebration. The Orioles say they left messages that weren't returned. Maybe they had the wrong number.
Either way, I'm hoping tomorrow's appearance is an indication that Blair and the Orioles have gotten close again. It's unfortunate that the Yankees treat him as though he once batted ahead of Mantle, but the Orioles have virtually no relationship with him anymore –- whatever the reason. Wouldn't he make a great spring training coach? Think a few outfielders would benefit from his tutelage?
One quick FanFest memory: Me spotting Albert Belle near the fan forum stage and avoiding him like ... well ... Albert Belle. He notices how I'm greeting other players and says, "Hi Roch." I had trouble answering with my jaw dropping so close to the floor, so I just nodded.
I later asked for an interview to check on his arthritic hip, and he did more than just agree to it. He even pulled up a chair for me –- and didn't yank it back as I started to sit down. Yes, I looked behind me to make sure.
Belle insisted that he felt fine and would be ready for spring training, but one day at Fort Lauderdale Stadium told us all we needed to know. He'd never play again.
Albert, if you're reading this blog, thanks for the interview. And for not yanking my chair away.