Opening Day gets O's fans flapping wings; Camden Yards: Opening Day is the one day Orioles fans don't mind standing in line, paying too much for tickets or even drinking too much beer. A tradition lives on.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For a while, some Opening Day ticket holders said it was as if God had become an Orioles fan.

"I mean, look at this weather," said Mike Balomas, a 21-year-old Fells Point bartender. "It was supposed to rain and thunder. Now, it's sunny and warm. I really do think God is an O's fan sometimes. This is proof."

That was until the sixth inning, when the Indians broke the 1-1 tie, leaving many optimistic fans disappointed and others shaking their heads as if it were exactly what they expected.

Despite an occasional threatening cloud, the weather was ideal for most of the game, though forecasts had called for rain.

As if choreographed, the gray skies cleared just in time for the sea of 46,902 orange-and-black-clad fans to file through the gates for the 3 p.m. season opener.

Tickets were so much in demand that hundreds queued up for hours in the stadium's scalp-free zone, where tickets must go for face value or less.

George A. Fuhrer, aka "Bird Man," waited in line to get his $13 ticket in the scalp-free zone. He was wearing a plastic bird beak, an old-fashioned O's uniform and an orange and black pom-pon on his head, secured with an O's cap.

"Last year I waited for three hours. This year, I only waited 2 1/2," he said. "I'm one of the fans who gives back to the game. That's why I dress like I do."

Guy Shepherd got to the field at 8 a.m. and waited five hours for a seat.

"It's not that bad," Shepherd said. "There are guys who have been here since 6."

John Goode, a 33-year-old Crofton construction salesman, and his 26-year-old sister, Robin T. Goode, stopped to get beer before they got in line. At 1: 30 p.m. they were last, but said they were determined to get in for the game.

"We're getting them someway, somehow -- even if I have to jump the fence," said John. "There is no plan B."

Others went straight to scalpers, who were selling tickets for as much as three times their face value.

Charisse Lee, 26, bought a pair of $35 tickets for $230 from a man selling outside the stadium. She and her husband sat right behind third base.

"We just got married and got a load of cash and thought why not? It's just a couple of hundred bucks," said Lee, who is a waitress. "This guy was selling a lot of tickets. He made a couple of thousand bucks today. You gotta do what you gotta do. This country wasn't made on lawful means."

She said she and her husband felt lucky to find tickets because scalpers were scarce around the stadium, where police enforcement was tight.

Late in the game, police had arrested one man for scalping.

Luca Brazzi, a 39-year-old commercial contractor from Northeast Baltimore, decided at noon to go to the game.

"I couldn't just sit in my office and think about how it was Opening Day," Brazzi said. "I saw the sun and said let's go."

He and two friends paid twice what their $20 seats cost.

Thousands of other fans who couldn't get tickets partied at the bars across the street from the stadium, where it was like a mini Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

"I saw a girl who flashed somebody for a shirt. I know because I was the one who gave her the shirt," said Martin Jones, 32, with a smile. "She was beautiful. I'm the victim here."

Cindy March, a 26-year-old Federal Hill resident, and her friends were partying in the street.

"God love the O's and all that," said March. "But this is all about having fun. It's spring in the city."

Darren Geary, 39, lives in Reston, Va., but says he makes it to 45 games a season.

"That means going to work hung over in the morning," said Geary, who had Orioles boxer shorts peeking out from the top of his pants, and at 2: 05 p.m., said he was on his 13th beer.

Crowds came from far as Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia for yesterday's game, with some people renting limos and tour buses so they could celebrate without worrying about drinking and driving.

Mike Gayhardt, a 29-year-old Laurel cook, was with a group of about 30 people who had rented a bus for the occasion. "Nobody wanted to drive," he said. "But we all wanted to be here."

Inside the stadium, the party wasn't quite as fraternity-esque.

In the concession area just up from left field, Michael Kurman, 22, sat at a green picnic table wearing an Orioles tie and busily typing away at his gray laptop while he took orders on his Nokia phone.

"I can't miss Opening Day but my customers need food by tomorrow," said Kurman, a food distributor for Sysco Corp. "I feel like an idiot sitting here. I shouldn't have a computer at a ballgame but I have to."

The crowd cheered loudly and Kurman jumped up, threw off his mirror sunglasses and sighed in frustration.

"I'm trying to rationalize this," he said. "Since I was born, I've always been in Orioles gear. I bleed orange."

And he wasn't alone.

Jim Wiburn, who owns his own janitorial service, was checking his messages on a cell phone during the second inning. But, as he looked at the scoreboard, he said, "There's nothing more important than this."

The stadium was also filled with fans who were playing hooky on the year's biggest day.

Angela Hamm knew better than to call her bosses at Legg Mason. "I had to take a vacation day. They would've known," she said as she snapped pictures during batting practice. "My desk looks like a shrine to the Orioles."

Ari Brownstein, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, took the day off from school so he could sell $3.50 lemonade in the stands. His parents signed him out of school early so he could work.

"My parents said it was OK because I had two free periods at the end of the day," he said.

Two teens from Bethesda got lucky. "Today is report card day," said Neal Dorfman, 13, who was with his friend, Joe Gore, also 13. "We had a half-day of school."

For many, Opening Day is the best game all season.

Pam Revie, a 38-year-old cafeteria worker in Harford County, said it's her favorite. "I love it. The smell of the ballpark after the winter -- the barbecue, the peanuts It's like Cal [Ripken] said today on the radio, everyone is tied for first place."

"It's a day of hope," said Jon H. Williams, a retired Social Security worker from Catonsville. "When you're a kid, you always look forward to Opening Day, the fresh start. I'm 53, and I still look forward to it."

Brent Burton, a 7-year-old from Cockeysville, said he was born an Orioles fan. Yesterday was the first Opening Day he had attended. "I really liked it," he said, his legs dangling in a pile of peanut shells. "I got to see the Oriole bird this time."

His father, David Burton, had taken a half-day off from his job as a systems manager for Giant supermarkets so they could see the game together. "I remember the ones I went to with my father at Memorial Stadium. I hope [my son] will remember the games, too."

For many, watching the opening game is a long-standing family tradition. But few can say they've been Orioles fans longer than sisters Catherine Williams and Lois Butler. Butler is 93 years old. Williams is 90.

The Hamilton natives have been watching opening games for decades. And for the last 12 years, they've attended the games. "We love it," said Williams, who was hopeful about the O's season. "I think the boys will do OK this year."

At least one fan was rewarded for his loyalty to the Orioles even before he got to the game.

Calvin Coolidge, 47, of Alexandria, Va., said he avoided getting a speeding ticket from a Maryland State Trooper in the Laurel area.

"Police stopped me going 70 [mph] in a 45 on my way to the game," said Coolidge, who drives a silver BMW convertible.

"He asked if he should take me down to the station or give me a warning. He told me he was letting me go because I was an O's fan."

Pub Date: 4/04/00

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