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BOO!! Venting their feelings, fanatical followers turn up heat on Orioles at home

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It isn't as if Gregg Olson wasn't forewarned.

When he joined the Orioles in 1988, a fresh-faced reliever barely out of Auburn, he watched the Memorial Stadium crowd boo Eddie Murray.

Two years later, Olson watched as the fans turned their attentions on Cal Ripken and his .250 batting average in the 1990 season.

"It's kind of like they don't draw the line. They can boo future Hall of Famers. . . . They can boo Larry Sheets, Jim Traber. They can boo whoever they want," Olson said last week.

The location has changed to Camden Yards, but now the sounds of displeasure are aimed at Olson.

And though he tries to block them out, it is clear that the chorus of boos that greets Olson when he enters a game at home, or when he surrenders a walk or a hit or -- heaven forbid -- a run, have pierced his armor.

"I don't know what to think," Olson said. "I've been here long enough to see Eddie Murray get booed, to see Cal get booed and countless others. . . . I guess that's the way it works. I don't think there's anything I can do to change it. Last year, to change it for me, I had to run off 19 straight saves, and as soon as I blew one, they changed back. There's nothing I can do to change it."

"Fan" is a shortened form of "fanatic," and the Orioles see, hear and reap the benefits of that fanaticism.

Manager Johnny Oates said: "Here, it seems like there are so many fans in this ballpark and outside this ballpark that live, eat, sleep, drink and die with the Orioles. They have a bad day when we lose. It's hard sometimes for me to comprehend that someone has a bad day at work the following day because we blow a game the night before. That's the impression I get. That's how serious they are about their Orioles."

By and large, the relationship between the Orioles players and fans is good.

Starting pitchers and pinch hitters alike receive long, boisterous ovations when they leave the game after a strong outing or when they lay down a good bunt to move a runner along.

After the game, players emerge from the Oriole Park tunnel to find about 50 people waiting for autographs or just to shower them with praise.

And when Orioles step out for personal appearances, they frequently are mobbed by adoring fans, from the lowliest rookie all the way up to Ripken, the team's star.

For second baseman Harold Reynolds, who joined the Orioles this season after seven years in fan-starved Seattle, coming to Baltimore is like living in an amusement park.

"Everybody's excited about baseball here," said Reynolds. "When you've got 40,000 people in the stands, there's a buzz in the air. It's not like sitting in the hollow [Kingdome] where you have a couple of drunk people yelling at you, 'You bum, you idiot,' and it's echoing through the dome. Here, it's like baseball."

But Olson and first baseman Glenn Davis have seen the flip side.

Outfielder Brady Anderson said: "When Oly comes in, before he even does anything, they boo him. I don't know what they want from him. He's a competitor. He wants the ball. The same thing with Glenn. He's been hurt. The fans aren't really aware of what some of the players go through."

Though he leads the club with seven saves, Olson's alleged crime has been the saves he has blown this season, as well as his tendency to allow runners, as he did yesterday in Detroit, yielding a walk and a single before saving the victory.

Starter Rick Sutcliffe has seen Olson's situation before. He won the Cy Young Award for the Chicago Cubs in 1984, a year when the Cubs won the division and closer Lee Smith set a record for consecutive 30-save seasons.

The next year, Smith was booed.

Sutcliffe said: "It [the closer] is a no-win situation job. There's a lot of pressure on you if you don't get the job done. If I give up a run in the first, it's no big deal. But if you give up a run in the ninth, that could mean the ballgame. That comes with the territory and the role he's chosen."

But whatever heat Olson has taken at Camden Yards is by far secondary to the boos directed at Davis.

Davis, who has not produced the power numbers expected when he came to Baltimore from the Houston Astros in 1991 for three younger players, is off to a miserable start this season, with a .172 average, one homer and eight RBI.

Davis, benched this past weekend by Oates, has been booed when he is introduced, and the sound reaches a crescendo when he fails at the plate.

Davis declined to comment for this article.

"It's to the point that if Glenn goes 4-for-4 and has a sacrifice fly, they're going to boo him on the sac fly because he didn't get a hit. They're booing him before he comes to the plate," said Olson.

Anderson said: "No one knows what Glenn feels like but Glenn. He's a guy who hit 30 homers in the Astrodome. Something's not right with him physically. You can tell. But he still goes out there and tries."

The obvious reason for the fans' discontent this spring is the Orioles' performance. The team was expected to contend for the AL East title, but through the first six weeks the Orioles are mired in sixth place, with inconsistent and often listless play.

Pitcher Mike Mussina said: "If the record was reversed, things would be overlooked. It's the nature of the game, unfortunately. It's the nature of sports. It's something you have to play with and try not to let it get to you."

Oates and Mussina offer the theory that fans who have had a difficult time getting tickets at Oriole Park want their experiences there to be happy ones.

Oates said: "You hear people in the first inning, if a guy gives up two hits, you hear them, 'Get him out of there.' I assume it's a guy who is only getting to see one game a year and doesn't want us to get behind 7-0 in the first inning. Either that, or he doesn't know what he's talking about."

And let's not forget the money. Baseball players make a lot of it, certainly more than most of the fans.

Davis and Olson in particular are among the most highly paid Orioles and, as such, they carry higher expectations than, say, David Segui and Brad Pennington.

Oates said: "It's the nature of a major-league baseball player, especially if you're well-paid. They [the fans] expect perfection. They expect everything to be directly proportionate to the amount of money you make. It's a part of the job. You have to deal with it."

The solution for Davis and Olson and the whole team, for that matter, is simple, or at least as Mussina sees it.

"If it gets to September and we're in it, then maybe April will be overlooked," said Mussina. "But then someone will say, 'If they'd played better in April, they'd be ahead.' We can't win, unless we win every game, and that's not going to happen.

"We just try to go out there and play the best game we can and accept what everybody's going to say, because they're all going to say something about somebody. It's always been that way."

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