The fans react


Harry Wallace lives and works in Columbia, attends several Orioles games per season and said the National League presence of the Washington Nationals will not inspire him to drive south to watch major league baseball.

But the addition of superstar slugger Sammy Sosa to the Orioles' roster could compel Wallace, who admittedly has lost much of his passion for the game, to go to Camden Yards a little more often.

"Baseball has lost a lot of its flavor. The games are too long and it's not the bargain it used to be. The strike [in 1994] still bothers me," Wallace said over lunch yesterday at Champps restaurant at Columbia Mall.

"But I might go to two or three more games a year because of Sammy, just to see him play, to say that I saw him play. You hope somebody like Sammy comes in, with a new venue, new coach, new players, new fans, and he finds himself and gets back into a groove. That could be exciting."

Fans at Champps and Damon's Grill at Arundel Mills, from the casual to the more diehard types, agreed bringing in Sosa, 36, the former Chicago Cub who ranks seventh on baseball's all-time home run list with 574, makes sense for the most part.

Sure, they said, the move is as much about ticket sales and countering the return of Washington baseball as it is about increasing the team's on-field production.

Sure, they said, Sosa, coming off an injury-marred down year in which he hit just .253 with - for him - a paltry 35 home runs and 80 RBIs, might not be able to recapture his glory years. Sure, they said, the Orioles have yet to upgrade their most glaring need, namely their starting rotation.

But the addition of Sosa, who needed a fresh start, also came at a relatively modest price.

"I think he's going to bring a lot more to the table than Jerry Hairston would bring. [The Orioles] know they're getting a 36-year-old with back problems, a la Glenn Davis," said Dan Pyle, a bartender at Damon's who describes himself as a huge Redskins fans with no desire to watch the Nationals. "But they're not giving up Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley. They're not giving away their farm system this time.

"They flopped on everyone else they went after. The pitching still bothers me. I'm a little worried about the defense Sosa brings to the outfield, but the offense looks as solid as it gets."

The way Steve Matz, an insurance broker in Columbia, sees it, Sosa's presence might get him out to a few more than the "one or two" games he typically sees each season in Baltimore.

"I don't think there's any question that it's about marketing. That's what all of sports is about these days," Matz said at Champps. "I'm more interested to see who else they're bringing in besides Sammy. Who are their pitchers going to be?"

Added Wallace: "There's another team 40 miles away that's going to have some pretty good players pretty quick. [The Orioles] have to compete for market share. This is a way to get a leg up. It's like if Randy Moss came to the Ravens. It's a name. It's a draw."

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