Let's Have an Opening Day Without the League


Play Ball!

Those immortal words will have a painfully hollow ring to them next week when the 1995 baseball season opens in the midst of its excruciating and self-defeating strike. All across the country, from Boston to San Diego and Seattle, Major League Baseball will have struck out swinging if 27 franchises go ahead as planned with games between teams of overweight butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers.

Things will be different in Baltimore. Due to the principled stand of the Orioles' organization against use of replacement players, the theater, as they say on Broadway, will be dark -- perhaps a fitting commentary on the suicidal state of the game. Yet, if the city fathers and the Orioles and their fans put their heads together in the next few days, we see a tremendous opportunity to celebrate baseball even in the darkest hours of its history.

Opening Day should be used to make a statement on behalf of sanity, common sense and the future of the game. Camden Yards should be the focal point of an event that transcends the strike, looks ahead to the future and reminds the billionaire owners and millionaire players of the one crucial link they've taken for granted too long: the fans.

Here is a modest proposal: The Maryland Stadium Authority and the Orioles' management would open the ballpark next Monday complete with concessions, bunting, bands and other normal Opening Day adornments. The first 48,000 fans to appear would be admitted for $5 and treated to an afternoon of baseball.

The Orioles would bring 20 of their best minor-league players to Baltimore. These major-leaguers of the future and 10 former Orioles stars would be divided into two teams and play a full nine-inning game. The big screen would run highlight films of the World Series of 1966, 1970, 1983, the closing weekend at Memorial Stadium, the 1989 storybook season.

The afternoon's proceeds would be donated to local charities or school programs. Baltimore would have an Opening Day to remember and local charities or schools and the people they serve would get an unexpected infusion of funds.

This would not solve the strike, but it could serve as a vote of confidence in the Orioles, who now stand to set a record of 162 forfeits if the Phantom Season of '95 is held without a settlement.

Editorials throughout the country already have cited the Orioles' stance against replacement baseball as a sensible and courageous statement, and a full house on Opening Day '95 would offer us all a chance to support that position without getting deeply involved in the dispute.

The national news organizations would cover it. The networks would be here with several crews. The President might just agree to throw out the first ball.

Years ago, when Baltimore was once before in a civic funk, it started the City Fair to celebrate itself and its traditions and diversity. The Orioles are an important part of our sense of civic well-being.

In the darkest hours of the Dreadful Season of 1988, when the Orioles were setting a major-league record by losing 21 straight games, when the team was the laughingstock of the game, the fans of Baltimore rallied and filled Memorial Stadium upon their return from a disastrous road trip.

Today, when the team and its new stadium have recovered to become one of the jewels of the game, when the rest of the teams and many players have become a collective laughingstock, it's an appropriate time for Baltimore to demonstrate its support for its only major-league team. And for the organization to show its gratitude for its exceptional fans.

We say, fill Camden Yards on April 3 and celebrate the game, not the shameless business it's become. For one day, as it used to be played, and may yet be played again, by the best, in front of baseball's best fans.

Long-time residents of Baltimore, Fred Hill and Tim Armbruster have instructed their agents to decline all offers to play replacement baseball.

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