Guy Smith and Matt Pisula were planning their trip to Camden Yards long before they received a gift from their boss.
Smith, a Westminster native, and Pisula, who lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, are longtime employees at Maggie’s restaurant in Westminster. When new owner Thomas Zippelli presented them with tickets to the Orioles’ first home game of the season, Smith said, Thursday became a whole lot sweeter.
“I love this thing,” Smith said, referring to Opening Day, as he sat alongside Pisula at a high-top table outside of Pickles Pub, across the street from Oriole Park, three hours ahead of the 3:05 p.m. scheduled first pitch. “It’s the best day of the year.”
Smith and Pisula said they’ve been coming to Opening Day together for the better part of the last decade, even with Pisula proudly sporting his Philadelphia Phillies fandom underneath a black Orioles jersey. They didn’t get the chance to attend last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thursday’s game marked the first for fans at Camden Yards since Sept. 22, 2019. Smith and Pisula have made the trip to Baltimore without tickets in prior years, but they felt fortunate to be part of the 25% capacity crowd.
“It’s the rites of spring. Between Opening Day and the Masters,” Smith said, “you can’t go wrong.”
Added Pisula: “If you’ve got to wear a mask to go to the bathroom or to be here, we’ve got no problem ... so we can sit here and enjoy this.”
Smith and Pisula said they had left-field seats for Thursday’s game between the Orioles and Red Sox, not too far from another Westminster duo that circles Opening Day on the calendar every year.
Tim Ganske said he and his father, Tim Ganske, Sr., have been coming to the first home game of the season for the past five years. Ganske said he’s been an Opening Day spectator for about 20 years now.
They used mass transit for a ride down to Baltimore and visited Pratt Street Ale House to catch some live music from longtime Maryland musician Rob Fahey before making their way into the ballpark.
Fans were allowed inside Camden Yards about an hour before the first pitch, and they were met with several changes since the last time they came to Oriole Park.
Tickets were exclusively available to those with the club’s subscription-based, season-ticket program. Masks are required to be worn at all times unless are fans are actively eating or drinking while in their ticketed seats, which were assigned in pods to allow for social distancing between groups. Pods were available in groups of two, four, and six.
Fans familiar with fellow season-ticket holders greeted each other with fist and elbow bumps upon entering the lower deck just after being allowed entry. Fans in jerseys and other Orioles gear, in the usual colors of the day, made their way around the seating area.
One spectator came into the seating bowl with several colorful, handmade signs. One of them supported Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini, who is back after missing the shortened 2020 season while battling colon cancer.
Another sign from the same fan read, “I got vaccinated.”
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The pregame ceremony had a different look as well. The long orange carpet that led the Orioles from behind the outfield wall onto the infield wasn’t there. Instead, players came out of the dugout as they were introduced prior to first pitch.
Mancini received the biggest and longest ovation, and he tipped his hat toward the crowd while teammates and opponents applauded his return.
Emotions were evident from players and fans alike. Ganske said via text message that he “teared up like an idiot” when he came out of the concourse and laid eyes on the sunshine-covered playing surface from his vantage point in left field.
“It’s so good to be home,” he said.
The Orioles came home after winning four of their first six games of the season on the road, something Smith said shows progress for a club that lost 115 games in 2018 and 108 the following season.
“I think people like where they’re going,” Smith said. “The owner has been quiet, they like the new [general manager]. And they’re building. They’re actually doing what teams have been doing for years, and a couple years from now ...”
Baltimore Sun reporter Nathan Ruiz contributed to this story.