Billy Duquette, an 8-year-old from Herndon, Va., climbed on the shoulders of Ed Geiger, a burly Marine and his newfound friend for life. Geiger then climbed on top of a plastic milk carton behind Camden Yards' right-field wall, giving young Billy a perch as precarious as the Orioles' first-place standing.
With yesterday's 8-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals and the Toronto Blue Jays' 4-1 win over the Chicago White Sox last night, the Orioles' brief moment in the sun was just that. Billy, at least, got down safely. His mother, Bobbie, was a lot more worried about their favorite team.
"It's nice when they're in first," she said.
Never mind that it's July, and that the American League East is so competitive that any team, with the possible exception of the last-place Milwaukee Brewers, could win. Never mind that getting excited about first place right now is like trying to cash in your Preakness bet before the horses have run six furlongs.
For one, brief shining moment, the Orioles were No. 1.
The fans knew just how fragile the lead was. Now ask them if they care.
"I like it close, personally," said William Mobley of Arlington, Va., who planned his baseball outing weeks ago.
Lance Baird, a 24-year-old Texan who works for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said first place has a psychic kick, even if it's short-lived.
"It's always worth it to be No. 1, even if it's only for a day," Baird said. "It's important. It's going to sell more papers than anything Clinton does, that's for sure."
Buddies Robin Nye and Billy Wensel made a deal guaranteed to ensure a designated driver: Nye would get a beer if Mike Devereaux hit a home run, Wensel if George Brett did. The game was a sobering experience for them.
"It's too early to worry about being in first, although they're going to walk away with it," said Nye, a 39-year-old lithographer. "You want a race. It gets you watching. If the Orioles were blanking them out, you'd want to go to the beach instead."
The beach and baseball season seemed remote to John Kosyjana, a mailman, when he bought his tickets in December. He didn't know if the Orioles were going to be in last place or first. He also didn't know he was going to break his left arm and be unable to work. He joined his sons in the bleachers yesterday. Talk about lucky breaks.
Jason and Andrew Kosyjana are baseball crazy. They stay up late to catch the highlights on ESPN and read the box scores avidly. They heckle. And they believed in the Orioles even when the team was at its worst.
Their grasp of baseball's nuances, however, was a little tenuous. Asked how he felt about seeing history made at Camden Yards, Jason said: "You mean George Brett's last game at Camden Yards?"
His father gently reminded him that Gregg Olson had batted in the eighth inning, the first time an Orioles pitcher had batted in the regular season since Grant Jackson in 1972.
"Oh yeah," Jason said. Would he be in the bleachers one day, reliving that moment for his children? "I'll be an Oriole. I'll tell the other guys."
For the Holderby family of Middle River, the standings are almost beside the point. Win or lose, the Orioles have captured the hearts of three generations of Holderbys -- including Heather, 3, and Charles Jr., 2, who celebrated their shared birthday at the park yesterday.
"A fan is supposed to be a fan no matter what," said Charles Sr., the proud father and one of the few Holderbys not wearing one of the clan's homemade Orioles shirts or hats. "I find it unbelieveable to be in first place in the division they're in. But I was also surprised when they were 10 1/2 out."
How much do his son and daughter love Mike Devereaux and Cal Ripken Jr.? Well, in the Holderby household, these guys easily beat out television's Barney.