Forgiving Orioles fans get back in line for tickets


Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos stood in front of the pitcher's mound. It should have been Opening Day. They should have been throwing out the first ball.

Instead, Mr. Angelos and Mr. Glendening spoke into a microphone, lamenting how the 7 1/2 -month baseball players strike robbed the city, the state and the franchise of about $100 million. They spoke to an empty ballpark.

But outside Camden Yards yesterday, there was hope.

Fans waited for tickets for nearly two hours in a line that snaked through the promenade outside the B&O; warehouse and down Camden Street. They couldn't wait to get their hands on tickets for the Orioles' May 2 home opener or for Cal Ripken's record-breaking day, whenever that may be.

If the fans harbored any resentment over the strike, they didn't show it.

"I was hoping for a lot of bitter fans," Fred Cook, 22, said as he waited in the back of the line.

Mr. Cook, who works in a Parkville law office, got off work by promising the firm's managing partner and one of the paralegals that he would buy them tickets. He did not expect to be waiting for several hours to get them.

"I thought I'd be in and out of here," Mr. Cook said.

Others, such as Mark Sheely of Hampstead, apparently did not mind the wait.

"I'm looking at it as an extended early lunch hour," said Mr. Sheely, 31, who, after 1 1/2 hours, had reached the front of the line. "I'm in outside sales, so it doesn't really matter."

Orioles officials passed out posters, team insulated lunch bags and other goodies to the fans. Most of them, like Mr. Sheely, did not need any inducements to buy tickets.

In addition to purchasing Opening Day seats, Mr. Sheely is trying to make sure that he will be in the ballpark when Mr. Ripken surpasses Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak of 2,130.

Mr. Sheely is purchasing tickets for every game during the week of Sept. 5, not to mention an Aug. 14 home date against the Cleveland Indians that he's guessing will get shifted to that week in September so Mr. Ripken can break the record at home.

Mr. Sheely said he is not going to stay away from the ballpark because of the strike.

"The game goes on," Mr. Sheely said. "They're going to take our money one way or the other."

Roland Lohr, who stood behind Mr. Sheely in line, agreed. "If you decide not to buy tickets because of the strike, you're just fooling yourself," said Mr. Lohr, 26, of Owings Mills.

The strike, however, caused some fans to be more strategic about their ticket purchases.

Bill Harris bought tickets for only the first half of the season, in case another strike wipes out the second half.

"I have a feeling we're going to have a strike again," said Mr. Harris, 67, of Timonium as he waited in the back of the line with an Orioles cap on his head. "That's fine. I'd come see the games anyway."

That's the wrong attitude, according to Ed Bunker, who was standing outside the stadium but not in line. He said the people waiting in line were the ones playing the fools.

"I think this is sending the wrong message to players and owners," said Mr. Bunker, 30, of Carney. "Every time we've had a strike or a lockout, the fans have flocked back to the ballpark in even larger numbers. All that does is encourage strikes and lockouts even more."

Mr. Bunker, founder of Fan Out America, has decided to do something about it. He is staging a boycott of the season's first seven games to send a message -- no more strikes, no more lockouts or no more fans.

"Fans are being abused," he said. "We're trying to educate them that there's something they can do. They can boycott games."

Mr. Bunker said his organization has only 300 members, and 150 of them live in New York. But he is optimistic that his movement will have an impact.

"I think that only represents the tip of the iceberg," Mr. Bunker said. "There's a lot more fan anger out there than 300 people."

Not in Baltimore.

As people waited in line for tickets outside Camden Yards, at a news conference inside, Mr. Angelos expressed confidence that he will recoup his losses -- which he estimated between $15 million and $17 million -- because of Orioles fans and the ballpark.

"I believe this is an irresistible setting," Mr. Angelos said. "In the old ballparks, where you don't have this beautiful ambience and so on, it's going to be harder to get the fans to come back. Obviously, for a lot of reasons we're not having that problem, and the ballpark is one of them."

Mr. Glendening was more pessimistic. "Nothing really has been resolved, and we very well could have a repeat of August of '94 in August of '95," he said, referring to the beginning of the strike.

The economic consequences would be disastrous, according to Mr. Glendening, who said the strike cost the state approximately $3 million per game. That's $75 million for the 25 games canceled last season, Mr. Glendening said.

Dr. Robert A. Baade, an economics professor at Lake Forest (Ill.) College, said those figures are overstated.

"I'm suspicious of those numbers," said Dr. Baade, who has written extensively about the economic impact of professional sports. "The reason is if people don't go to the baseball games at Camden Yards, then they'll spend their money on other things."

The only substantial economic loss comes from baseball fans who visit Camden Yards from out of state, and that figure does not approach $3 million per game, Dr. Baade said.

Mr. Glendening said the lost tourism cannot be quantified.

"The loss is more than just dollars," Mr. Glendening said. "When people come to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, we also see a major marketing tool for our state."

The line outside the ballpark indicates that the local fans, at least, will be back.

Mr. Angelos said that instead of making speeches yesterday, he would have liked to have given the fans a baseball game.

"The Orioles fans are the most supportive fans in the whole United States," Mr. Angelos said. "In a great sense, it's a poignant day, because it really should be Opening Day."

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