Demolish it, and they will come.
In anticipation of the razing of Memorial Stadium later this fall, nostalgic Orioles and Colts fans began yesterday buying up bits and pieces of the place. Seats, concession-stand signs, section railings - the old ball- yard on 33rd Street was being sold off brick by brick to help fund the demolition.
Literally, brick by brick: Fans could order stadium bricks for $25 apiece, available for shipment or pickup after the walls are torn down.
The sale began at 10 a.m., but fans had begun queuing up at the fence beyond center field well before that. These were pilgrims, seekers of holy relics.
First in line was Steve LaPlanche, a 47-year-old captain in the Anne Arundel County sheriff's office. He arrived at the stadium at 12:58 in the morning.
"I wanted to make sure I was up front," said the Pasadena resident. "I planned this for many, many months."
LaPlanche was a Colts season-ticket holder and estimated that he attended about 20 baseball games a year when the Orioles still roosted at Memorial.
He was 3 years old when his father took him to his first Orioles game, a win against the Yankees in August 1956.
The sale was "a chance for me to get a little piece of history and to keep the memories alive that I have of this place," LaPlanche said.
Joining him at the head of the pack was Stuart Miller, a 44-year-old cellular-telephone store owner from Northwest Baltimore. Miller, who showed up at the gate less than 10 minutes after LaPlanche, became a regular at Orioles games when he was 9, sometimes catching post-game rides home to Pikesville from ballplayers who lived in that area. He also had Colts season tickets.
"There's a lot of love and passion between myself and this stadium," Miller said. "I'm going to be sad to see it go. I want to be able to cherish it the rest of my life and have a piece of it."
By 9:30 a.m., more than 500 people were standing outside the stadium in a light rain. Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum and one of the coordinators of the sale, walked up and down the line, laying down the ground rules: Metal seats cost $75, two-legged wooden seats $100, four-legged wooden seats $150. The sale would take place on the playing field, so don't go up in those rickety stands or you'll get thrown out.
"You need to be patient," Gibbons said into his mobile microphone. "We are not Kmart. We haven't done this before."
A voice from the line: "Are the urinals for sale?"
Gibbons said they were, but not until the next stadium sell-off Oct. 7-8. He said this was hardly the first time someone had inquired after this particular piece of the Memorial Stadium experience: "People have called us. They want urinals, you know?"
At the head of the line, the pilgrims were restless. As the appointed hour arrived, they clamored to be let in, chanting, "TEN O'CLOCK! TEN O'CLOCK!"
Looking for treasures
When the security guard finally cracked open a narrow portal in the gate, the men at the head of the line broke for the playing field in a run.
LaPlanche quickly found his treasure, a double set of the old wooden chairs, flecked with a few yellow spots where the gray paint had peeled off.
"This is what I wanted, baby!" he exulted.
Within an hour, the four-legged wooden seats were sold out. In a large white tent in the middle of the field, a line formed for miscellaneous memorabilia - buttons, T-shirts, programs, foam No. 1 fingers. Orders for bricks were taken in the back. The most popular items in the tent were the big concourse signs that had once directed fans to restrooms, seat sections or the concession stand. These cost anywhere from $20 to $50 and were gone by 11:30 a.m.
A large sign for Section 35 was bought by Terri Foote, a 29-year-old Web site producer and photographer. Her grandfather was an usher at the stadium for 12 years. "I think he worked mostly either Section 33 or Section 35," Foote said. "I saw 35 first, so I took that one."
"I spent most of my childhood going to the Orioles games," Foote said. "I remember my dad catching a foul ball by Mark Belanger that almost hit me in the head."
Away from the rows of uprooted stadium seats and the white tent, the stadium is empty and decrepit. The field where heroes once ran is now sand and gravel. The condemned stands are scattered with weeds, mossy growths and chirping crickets.
Owings Mills resident Mike Longmead, 26, peered into the old third-base dugout, now piled nearly to the roof with rusted barrels and torn fencing.
Looking over the ruined stadium, Longmead said, "It may be all beat up, but that doesn't erase the time you spent here, the things you saw, the people you came with. That's the thing. It's the memories."