Toronto, here we come


What a pity a week-long orgy of All-Star baseball extravaganza was marred at the last minute by petty pique. American League manager Cito Gaston, sitting on a six-run lead in the ninth inning, refused to let the Orioles' Mike Mussina pitch before his home-town crowd. True, that crowd had been less than hospitable to Toronto's manager, who had loaded his All-Star roster with seven of his own players, some of whom didn't belong there -- not when such stars as Ricky Henderson, Mickey Tettleton and Greg Olson had been left off.

Now we have the makings of a classic sports feud. Even mild-mannered Cal Ripkin Jr. -- whom Mr. Gaston left in the game longer than any other starter -- vented anger. No longer are the New York Yankees at the top of any Oriole fan's hate list. Toronto, the team to beat this year as it was last year, is a target worth getting the adrenalin flowing.

When the Orioles play two games in the Canadian city in two weeks, Johnny Oates had better arrange the rotation so Mussina pitches. Think of the possibilities if the pennant race is still close when the Blue Jays return to Baltimore -- for the four last games of the regular season.

Aside from that sour note, the week of baseball just concluded was one of constant festivity. Hotels were packed from Hunt Valley to Columbia, and many restaurants and shops were chock full of visiting baseball fans. Far more fans than major league baseball officials expected -- about 112,000 paying customers-- flocked to FanFest in the Convention Center, and thousands of others packed Camden Yards for street entertainment, concerts in the Inner Harbor and special events at the ballpark for the home-run derby, old-timers game and tribute to black baseball stars of yore.

The publicity generated by the five days of excitement preceding The Game itself is money in the bank for the metropolitan area. Opinion-molders from all over the country -- the kind of people who decide where major conventions are held -- saw Baltimore at its best. The repeated raves about the city and its facilities on national television were priceless free publicity. The All-Star visitors undoubtedly set a new record for spending on one event -- well over $30 million -- but that pales in comparison with the revenues that will flow in future years.

The combination of a classy and classic ballpark, a downtown area that transformed a decades-old event into a giant festival and local officials who know how to put on a show -- not to mention tens of thousands of eager fans -- reinforce Baltimore's image as a great sports town. And yes, it would work as well in football season, too.

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