With their new park fully completed for the first time, Bowie Baysox officials were optimistic about this season's attendance figures.
A few breaks from the weather and they believed the Orioles' Double-A club could attract a half-million fans to Prince George's County Stadium.
Now, more than two-thirds of the way through the season, there is good news and a little bad news.
A total of 500,000 appears out of reach, primarily because "we had a lot of home games in April and we didn't get the breaks with the weather," general manager Keith Lupton said.
"We played a couple of days when the weather killed the crowd, but the field was OK to play on." Bowie has lost five home dates to bad weather.
Still, the Baysox lead the Eastern League in attendance -- another preseason goal -- with an average crowd of 6,301 for 49 openings, and Lupton is planning a heavy promotion schedule for next month.
Moreover, Bowie is in a hot three-team race for the Southern Division title.
"Winning is probably the best free promotion you have," Lupton said. "But minor-league attendance is based more on making the game an event, and promotions are as important as anything. We're going to give it everything we've got through the stretch."
The Baysox already have eclipsed their 1994 attendance (293,585), compiled when they were a nomadic group that played at five different sites, including a half-season at partially completed Prince George's Stadium.
Alfonzo, Bartee rehabilitating
Two players who could help Bowie's stretch run have been sent to Florida to rehabilitate.
Infielder Edgar Alfonzo played in only 15 games with Rochester before being sidelined for almost three months with blurred vision and a wrist injury.
"When he's ready, he'll probably go to Bowie," Syd Thrift, the Orioles' director of player development, said.
Center fielder Kim Bartee, who broke his left hand while trying to make a diving catch a month ago, has healed faster than expected and could return for the final two weeks of the season.
Call-ups weaken Rochester
Rochester misses infielder Jeff Huson and catchers Greg Zaun and Cesar Devarez, three players promoted to the Orioles.
As the Red Wings struggle to stay in Triple-A International League playoff contention, new catchers Mike Knapp and Russ McGinnis are batting a combined .152 since the call-ups.
The new shortstop, Greg Smith (Glenelg), hit .171 with one homer and seven RBIs in his first 20 games.
But Armando Benitez has done his part. Since his latest demotion, the closer has not given up an earned run in 15 innings, and has struck out 24 with only four walks.
Bluefield players impress Thrift
Thrift said he returned "very excited after going" to watch the Bluefield Orioles of the Rookie-level Appalachian League.
"They've got a double play combination [shortstop Eddy Martinez and second baseman Denio Gabriel] that plays like acrobats," Thrift said. "You hit the ball on the ground against them and it's an out and they're hitting, too."
Martinez is batting .329 and Gabriel .286.
Other players who Thrift says impressed him were Chris Fussell (4-1, 2.92 ERA), Matt Snyder (0-0, 1.02 ERA, 3 saves) and first baseman Tom Russin (.347, 23 RBIs).
Russin was drafted on the 29th round after playing against Orioles minor-leaguers in spring training. Snyder, who wasn't drafted, signed after working out at Essex Community College.
Bluefield went into last night 23-8.
Around the horn
Center fielder Damon Buford, who missed a week with a hamstring injury, returned with a vengeance. During an 11-game span, he batted .429 with eight multi-hit games. . . . The Red Wings entered the week 33-17 at home and 18-33 on the road. . . . Pitcher Brad Holman was signed as a free agent and is scheduled to move into the rotation. . . . Brian Sackinsky, who still is having elbow problems, is recovering from bone spurs and could return within a week. . . . Construction has begun on the new downtown stadium, Frontier Field. Monroe County has estimated completion for next July 1. . . . Pitcher Alan Mills still is rehabilitating in Florida. Pitcher Steve Chitren has been released. . . .
Bowie third baseman Scott McClain was bypassed as the
Eastern League Player of the Week, though he batted .423 with four homers and 14 RBIs. . . . The 56th player on the Bowie roster this year is outfielder Ed Fully, who was hitting .369 with 34 RBIs in 38 games for the Single-A High Desert Mavericks. Outfielder Sean Hugo was sent to High Desert. . . . Starter Matt Jarvis, the Baysox's All-Star representative, is expected to miss one or two starts with elbow problems. . . . Rick Forney's victory Sunday gave him 20 in the past seasons, the most by any Eastern League pitcher. . . . The Baysox are in the midst of a crucial stretch during which they play the league's best two teams, the Portland Sea Dogs and the New Haven Ravens, in 16 of 24 games. . . . Center fielder Jarvis Brown scored 35 runs in his first 37 games. When Brown scores, the Baysox are 17-4; when he doesn't, they are 7-9. . . .
Harry Berrios, the Orioles' Minor League Player of the Year in 1994, is finally warming up for the Single-A Frederick Keys. Berrios homered in three straight games. He is leading off "to get his confidence back," Thrift said. . . . The Keys received left-handed reliever Bo Magee from Bowie. . . . Catcher Jimmy Foster had two doubles and two RBIs in the Carolina League All-Star Game. . . . Brad Crills pitched the Keys' fifth complete game, and only their second over nine innings, in a 2-1 loss to the Winston-Salem Warthogs. It was Frederick's shortest game (1 hour, 58 minutes) this year. . . .
At High Desert, Billy Percibal is 6-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 109 innings. He was rated the top pitching prospect in the California League by Baseball America.