ORIOLES FANS are frequently described as passionless, Chablis-sippin', brie-sniffin', shop-talkin', cell-phonin' interlopers who go to Camden Yards to hobnob with clients, not root for the Birds. This has been rendered a cliche by now, largely because it's true, at least in certain sections of the park, where Washingtonians and corporate suits rule the roost, and where you're more likely to hear talk about an IPO than about an ERA.
Did you catch the recent display ad in this newspaper for US Airways MetroJet commuter service? It included a New Yorker-style cartoon of a guy in a polo shirt at Camden Yards, his back to the game, cellular phone at his ear. And he says: "Everyone in Baltimore is crazy about your proposal, sir. Can't you hear them cheering?"
Ha, ha. Very funny.
But on time.
Orioles fans are said to be too distracted, too complacent, too quiet. They just don't cheer with gusto anymore.
Rising to disturb the peace is one David Fang. Fang went with his wife and two children to an Orioles game against the Athletics during Memorial Day weekend. The Fangs had nice seats, too, right behind the Orioles dugout.
The A's sent a young fireballer to the mound, a kid named Tim Hudson. Hudson allowed one hit in seven innings. It was a wonderful pitching display but, of course, bad news for the home team. Late in the game, the Orioles trailed Oakland, 4-0.
But something happened.
The Birds loaded the bases against a relief pitcher. There were two outs. The batter was one of our favorite guys, B.J. Surhoff.
"The scoreboard is trying to pump up the fans with, 'Let's Go Fans,'" says Fang. "So while B.J. walks up to the plate, I stand and clap. No screaming. No yelling for other fans to join me. I was just standing and rhythmically clapping, exhorting our potential hero on to greatness."
But Fang's enthusiasm was not appreciated. He says an usher tapped him on the shoulder.
"I need you to sit down," the usher said.
"I was dumbfounded," says Fang. "But since we were with the kids, I decided not to challenge authority. The usher told other people who were standing and clapping to also sit down. I finally said, 'Let me get this straight. The home team is down by four. We have bases loaded and two out, and you're telling me not to cheer and to sit down?' And his reply was, 'You can cheer sitting down as good as standing up.'"
When his kids made plans for the funeral of Reds Wright, an original Baltimore Colt from 1947, they decided the requiem music should include, "Let's Go, You Baltimore Colts," the fight song of Baltimore's bygone team.
As Richard Baker, Wright's son-in-law, discovered, there's only on recording of the song with the old Colts Marching Band. It was made in 1964, a 45-rpm disc that's hard to come by and, given the disappearance of turntables in the age of the compact disc player, to hear.
But Baker was tenacious, and he enjoyed the kindness of strangers in his quest. A receptionist at the Babe Ruth Museum was helpful, and so was a guy named Bunkie, from one of the old Colts Corral fan clubs. John Ziemann, a longtime band official who is president of the Ravens marching band, had a copy of the 45 - and a record player. He made a recording for Baker on cassette the night before Reds Wright's funeral in Salisbury, on the Eastern Shore. "We played it at the start of the funeral," a grateful Baker says, "and there was not a dry eye in the house."
Date, not age
I goofed on an important date in this space the other day. The Cal Ripken bobbing-head figure giveaway night at Camden Yards is July 17, not July 14. (You have to be 14 or younger to get one.) I don't want to be responsible for anyone missing this opportunity. I'm going to boost a Cal-bobber off a kid and glue it to my dashboard.
MacNelly will be missed
My favorite installment of Jeff MacNelly's "Shoe" was published a few years after the comic strip first appeared in 1977. A clipped-out copy of it, which became in time clouded with coffee-cup rings and soy sauce stains, remained taped to my desk in the old Evening Sun newsroom until the company bought new furniture. Even then, I managed to remove the tattered work of art and take it with me. Alas, it survives now, like the Evening Sun, only in happy memory:
P. Martin Shoemaker, the curmudgeonly, cigar-chomping old bird who was editor and columnist of the Treetops Tattler, bangs away at his typewriter. His words appear in Times Roman in the strip's bubbles. "People often ask me," the bird writes, "what do you on days when you have nothing whatsoever to write about? ... Well, today, dear readers, we'll explore that subject at length."
That particular strip touched a nerve on the way to the funny bone, which is what MacNelly managed to do routinely as the most prolific editorial and comic-page cartoonist in the country.
He handled those dual roles beautifully - to the amazement of others caught up in the daily demands of the newspaper trade.
I've got to believe that, by producing so much, MacNelly packed twice the laughs into a lifetime that ended too soon. He died yesterday of lymphoma at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 53.
Ol' Shoe, I'm sure, is crying in his beer.