Preakness Celebration '98, Maryland's weeklong festival building up to the Preakness Stakes race next Saturday, begins today. Today's events:

* Media Balloon Launch. Thirty gigantic hot-air balloons, in such shapes as Mrs. Butterworth's Syrup Bottle, launch at Rash Field in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, 6: 30 a.m.-8 a.m. Free.

* Baltimore Magazine Pasta Dinner. From 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, 300 S. Charles St., hosts an all-you-can-eat extravaganza (spaghetti, salad fixings, dessert) featuring nine-time New York City Marathon Winner Grete Waitz (6: 30 p.m.). $10 per person; $5 for children 12 and under.

* Balloon Launch II. Hot-air balloons launch from Oregon Ridge Park (I-83 north to exit 20B, 13401 Beaver Dam Road), 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Free.

* Bud Light Nights. 98 Rock presents Drumfish and Love Riot to debut the five-night Bud Light Nights Concert Series on Water Street, 5 p.m. $3 admission, 21 and older only.

For more information and to confirm times: 410-837-3030.

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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