Bars wait for payoff pitch Neighborhood pubs count days until streets fill with fans


Take three average guys who love the Orioles, hate their jobs and hanker for a change. What do you get?

The birth of a sports bar.

Sliders Bar & Grill, to be exact, the recently reopened Washington Boulevard pub on the third base side of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"Baseball is our focal point," says James Ford, 29, one of the owners. "And I'm happy as a pig in mud about it."

Happy, too, are the owners of other sports bars in the area, many of whom have tied their fortunes to the new stadium. With the roar of the crowd about to replace the hum of the jackhammer, they figure their game plan -- serve drinks and snacks while paying homage to all things athletic -- can't miss just a walk away from Baltimore's newest attraction.

"We can't wait for 3 1/2 million people to trot through our back yard," says Ernie Tyler, an owner of Bleachers Bar & Cafe on South Eutaw Street.

For the owners of Sliders (five in all, including a partner who maintains a full-time job and a silent partner), the bar is an extension of their collective philosophy: Baseball is life.

They became friends playing softball together and between innings discovered a common bond -- a devotion to the Orioles. )) Two years ago, they decided to take the plunge -- joining forces, and bank accounts, to buy a bar roughly 700 feet from home plate.

Do these guys like America's favorite pastime? Look around. Over the oak bar are softball trophies and caps from every major-league team. There's the larger-than-life Orioles schedule covering the back wall, a "Bottom of the Ninth" video game tucked in the corner and photos of Babe, Earl and Cal hung with the care normally given to family heirlooms.

"If I were 15 and somebody asked, 'What do I want to be when I grow up?' I would have said a professional baseball player," says Ford, who lives above the bar. "This is the next best thing."

The worst thing has been waiting for the stadium to open.

Since last April, Tyler and his two partners have spent many nights playing pool and pinball alone at Bleachers. "Two people was a good night for us. After a month or two, we learned not to get depressed," says the 36-year-old, who grew up on 33rd Street.

The men of Sliders voice similar opinions. The investment forced Michael Taylor, a partner, to sell his Sykesville home and move in with his grandmother; another partner, John King, began living with his parents.

"Whatever sacrifice it took to get to April 6," says King, 27.

The financial strain also tested their friendship. One of their worst arguments revolved around naming the bar. After studying the baseball dictionary, they decided on "Sliders" instead of "Out in Left Field" because it was snappier.

Some owners readily admit their establishments are sports bars in name only. Melvin Patterson, co-owner of the Strike Three Lounge in Ridgely's Delight, is hoping to capitalize on the baseball fever.

"My motto is, 'This is the only place where you have three strikes and you're not out,' " he says with a laugh.

But will the crack of the bat mean big business for all these ventures -- especially since established city sports bars, such as Balls and Baltimore's Original Sports Bar, already exist?

"I think everybody down here is going to do well. There are going to be enough people to go around," says Jim Kolmansberger, general manager of Balls on West Pratt Street.

But if things don't pan out, Tyler will hjave no regrets.

"We've invested in a part of history," he says. "We may look back on this in 10 years -- we may be doctors, lawyers, we may be fry cooks -- but we'll be able to say, 'We owned a bar near Camden Yards.' "

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