Greetings from CLEVELAND $19 fare has O's fans flying high to ballgame

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dear Baltimore,

Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

Oh, wait, you are here. Thought we'd get away from it all by taking one of those $19 flights out here, but great minds apparently think alike -- the streets are overrun with people wearing the orange-and-black, you know, that hometown stuff that you only wear away from home.

The natives are making us feel right at home. They've pointed us in the direction of their new ballpark -- which will open next year -- and told us it was patterned after Camden Yards. They also showed us the plans for developing the North Coast Harbor of Lake Erie -- which includes an aquarium. Sound familiar? We feel like Macon Leary, Anne Tyler's "Accidental Tourist," the Baltimore travel writer who traveled in search of the familiar rather than -- shivers! -- the exotic.

There are two big differences though: One, Hopkins is the airport here, not the university, and, two, you actually can get a baseball ticket even if you're not some corporate, Washington type with a sky box. In fact, most everyone we've met from home came here to see the Orioles play the Indians (in the old Municipal Stadium, even older than our Memorial Stadium). We took over most of the third-base side around our team's dugout. Yelling "O" during the national anthem sort of startled the locals.

"If the national anthem was written there, you'd think they'd have a little more respect for it," muttered Matt Burns, who was sitting next to us.

Matt and his father, Norman, and their friend, Leo "Peewee" Farabee, were among the few Ohio natives in the section, although Norman and Peewee were decked out in Orioles gear. Turns out Peewee is a second cousin of the Orioles' Chris Hoiles, who is from Wayne, Ohio. Everyone mistook them for Baltimoreans -- who else would wear these colors unless it was Halloween?

You should have seen our plane out here (we took a Continental flight, it matched the $19 fare first offered by Southwest Airlines) -- it was like a charter to Orioles' fantasy camp. Real giddy, aging-children atmosphere. Which continued even after we all got to Cleveland.

"People were honking at us on the street," says John B., who wouldn't give his last name because he called in sick at work to take a quick, overnight trip out here to see the Orioles. "Someone came up to me . . . and asked if I was here on a $19 fare."

John was with his friend, Pat Loy, a self-employed computer consultant who didn't have to call in sick. (He did, however, bring his PowerBook, so he got some work in earlier in the day while John took a cruise of the Cuyahoga River in which, he noted with disappointment, "they didn't even point out where it caught fire.")

If Baltimore seemed guy-less last week, it's because they were all here on a pilgrimage to say farewell to both the O's pennant hopes and an old stadium. Who says men aren't sentimental?

"This is the last year the Indians are going to play in this stadium," Rich Warczynski of Perry Hall says solemnly. He and friends Vince Mazzuca, Mark Ruley and Ben Jackson also paid their respect to another sacred guy landmark, the Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton.

While they rented a car and stayed at the $115-a-night Radisson Plaza, you really could do this trip on the cheap: Softball pals Randy Weidner, Bill Oler and Mike Urbane got the $19 fares, split a $39-a-night motel room near the airport and relied on public transit and ballpark food. (Mike was hoping to catch the eye of the Home Team Sports cameras filming the game to pop a very important question to someone back home. He failed, so we offered The Sun as consolation: "Sharon Gardner, will you marry me?")

If your sport is marathon shopping, you'll want to make a Cleveland pilgrimage, too.

In fact, "We have a Barneys" is what the first local we met told us. Mary James, a volunteer at the airport's visitor information center, tipped us off to the shop-o-rama possibilities.

Barneys, the chic New York store that makes us sing the "I love you . . ." song, has an outpost here at The Avenue mall at Tower City, a former train station renovated into a rather awesome complex of stores, restaurants, movie theaters and offices. The rapid transit will take you there from the airport in about 30 minutes.

And just blocks away are the Galleria, much like our Gallery at Harborplace, and the Arcade, a stunning 103-year old building with a five-story atrium of ornamental ironwork.

Which is why, "whenever the women come along with you to Cleveland, you have to go shopping," notes the aforementioned Norman Burns.

We also tried to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum -- they've been inducting rock stars since 1986, after all.

"People call us to ask what our hours are," says a rueful Bruce Conforth, a curator. "It must be one of the best-known uncompleted projects in the world."

They did break ground in June on North Coast Harbor for the futuristic-looking building by the famed I.M. Pei, but it won't actually open until 1995.

In the meantime, the hall is displaying some of its collection at the Western Reserve Historical Society, one of the museums concentrated in the University Circle district about a 15-minute drive from downtown.

Other exhibits at the museum, housed in two splendid Italian Renaissance-style mansions, were great too -- loved the costume wing, especially the pink cashmere Givenchy ensemble that Audrey Hepburn wore to marry Dr. Andrea Dotti, and the really neat exhibit commemorating the Cleveland Rocket Society the 1930s, a forward-thinking, seemingly Buck Rogers-inspired group.)

Except for that, we kept pretty busy exploring all the different downtown districts. Really liked the warehouse district, which has been renovated into lofts and tres yup restaurants.

The post-game and night life choice, though, seems to be the Flats. Think Fells Point and The Block rubbing elbows. With a bit of Harborplace butting in. And straddling the infamous Cuyahoga River. The Flats' amusements span from X-rated girlie shows to alternative music venues like Peabody's Down Under (aargh -- just missed catching Juliana Hatfield there last night) to theme-parkish bars like Hooters, Shooters and TGIFriday. And lots of chicken wings.

Oddly, there's also a stylish furniture store, Arhaus, in the middle of all this in case you get your fill of wings and other protuberances. Filled with pseudo-Shaker and other simple, rustic furniture, Arhaus delivers out-of-town -- $285 for the first 500 pounds -- and you bypass the local sales tax that way.

Mercifully, we missed an altercation in the Flats between a visiting Owings Mills guy and Cleveland Indians star Albert Belle. Either a misunderstanding or misbehavior, involving a pingpong paddle and name-calling and such.

Phew! Hope Clevelanders don't get a bad impression of us from that, since we met several who were planning to do the $19 thing to visit Baltimore. Jim and Jackie Hopkins have a great surprise planned for their three kids, ages 4, 6 and 8.

"They don't know yet, we're just going to tell them we're going to go to the airport to have lunch, and then we're going to say, 'Hey, why don't we get on a plane as long as we're here?' " says Mr. Hopkins, a tool and die maker who lives in nearby Euclid, Ohio. "We thought, what a great way to show them Baltimore and Washington."

For $19 (it ends up actually costing $44, round-trip, with taxes), it's hard not to make the case for either city.

Or for merely getting up in the air. "I'd never been on an airplane before, so I thought I'd just go for a quick ride to try it out," says Faith Booker of Glen Burnie, who with Joseph Simms, flew to Cleveland with no set plans except to stay overnight at an airport-area motel. Ironically enough, they met two other Marylanders, sisters Katie, 22, and Brigid, 19, Smith, at a Denny's, and ended up accompanying them to the Orioles-Indians game that night, where we ran into them again. Small world, etc.

We're betting on lots of return trips.

"I'd definitely come back to see the new stadium, if there are any more cheap fares," says John Boyd, a Baltimore police officer who came to see the Orioles with friends Jim Keane, also an officer, and Ray Shettle and Cheryl Graham, who are bartenders. "Tomorrow, we're going to see the Football Hall of Fame, then go to the race track, then go back home and go to Ocean City."

"Life," Ray notes, "is good."

No matter where you are.

Love and kisses,

The Not-So-Accidental Tourist

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