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FANS: Most embracing return with open arms BASEBALL OWNERS SAY PLAY BALL


Shortly after the announcement that the baseball strike had ended, the sun set over the third-base side of Camden Yards. White tarps secured by sandbags covered the home plate area and the pitcher's mound. The wind howled through open gates to the promenade behind the warehouse.

The ballpark was empty. But not for long.

Less than four weeks from now, the players will be back. The business of surrounding merchants will be back. The fans will be back, at least most of them.

Greg Fabricante says he will not be heading out to the ballpark anytime soon. One of many area fans and merchants who reacted to the end of the longest strike in professional sports history with a mixture of relief and bitterness, Fabricante -- who was at Harborplace picking up chicken wings -- is taking a stand.

"I'm not going to the games to begin with. It's my way of saying you guys are making enough money, tickets are expensive enough as it is," said Fabricante, 33, of Middle River, about the 7 1/2 -month strike. "We're the ones who are paying for it in the long run."

Staying away from the game he loves, Fabricante says, is the only way he and other angry fans can be heard.

Merchants with businesses near the ballpark cannot wait for the games and the fans to return.

Stacey Weiss, the owner of Camdens near the ballpark on Washington Boulevard, said that when the games resume her business will triple.

"Send the boys back. I miss the boys," Weiss said.

At Pickles Pub on the same block, the bartenders and the customers rejoiced when they heard the news.

"Everybody was doing shots and shooters," 25-year-old bartender Mike Palad said. "Hell, we were doing them."

No one was happier about the end of the strike than Palad, whose decreased wages forced him to take only two classes at Catonsville Community College this semester. Palad said if business picks up, he will have enough money to take a full load next semester.

"The last couple years, as soon as spring comes, more people start showing up. It's like a fever," Palad said. "The whole area just starts humming."

For some people at Pickles, the bitterness over the strike lingered.

"That dragged on too long. Plus the fact that both sides, they didn't even care about the fans," said Tommy Fisher, 37, a part-time employee and full-time customer. "They better play outstanding."

Most fans had kind words for the seemingly principled anti-replacement stand of Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Some Pickles customers went so far as to toast him.

"God bless Peter Angelos; he's the reason it ended," said Buck Maguire, 25, of Ferndale, with a pitcher of beer in his hand.

Other fans were equally forgiving as they walked through Camden Yards at sunset.

Two University of Maryland at Baltimore graduate students took a study break by strolling through the promenade and thinking about the games they will be enjoying this spring.

"I've been living here for two years, and [during the strike], it's kind of stunk," said 22-year-old pharmacy student Tony Guerra. "I'm happy they're back, and I'll be going to the games."

So will nursing student Meredith Roeca, but with reservations. "I'm still kind of mad about it. I've lost a little respect for the players," Roeca, 23, said. "But at least we'll have something to do across the street."

Fabricante, waiting for his chicken wings, will try to stay away from the ballpark at least until midseason. It will not be easy. A former high school baseball player at Calvert High in Calvert County, the customer service manager still plays on his company softball team. He will be watching the games every night on Home Team Sports.

His boycott will take willpower.

"Probably the middle of June, the fever will have me so enveloped that I'll have to go back to the ballpark," Fabricante said. "And if the Orioles are doing real well, it might even be before that."

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