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Warm welcome fit for seasons past would be great present for Orioles


I WAS LIVING in Southern California in 1988, but that doesn't mean I don't remember what happened May 2 of the worst season in Orioles history.

The Orioles had just set a major league record with 21 consecutive losses to open a season, and they had just come home from a discouraging road trip with a frightful 1-23 record.

I remember because something strange and wonderful happened that night at Memorial Stadium, and it made national headlines. The Orioles were greeted by a crowd of more than 50,000 on "Fantastic Fans Night" and got a standing ovation when they took the field.

The reason I offer this little dose of perspective is that the Orioles will be returning to Camden Yards today after their first really discouraging road trip of the year, and wouldn't it be something if Orioles fans out-bellowed all those obnoxious Yankees interlopers tonight and welcomed their team back with the same kind of reception the great Orioles fans of the past bestowed on the lowly 1988 team.

This clearly is the lowest point in an otherwise uplifting season. The Orioles have gone from three games up in the American League East to 2 1/2 games down in one week, but they still hold a one-game lead over the Minnesota Twins in the wild-card race.

Of course, I realize "Fantastic Fans Night" was a pre-arranged promotion, which included the announcement by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer that the Orioles and the state had signed an agreement to build Camden Yards, but I still marvel at the affection the huge crowd showed that beleaguered team.

There has long been talk that the Orioles left a lot of their real fans at the old ballpark - that pricier Camden Yards brought out the wine-and-cheese crowd. I'm not sure that's true (even though the executive vice president went to Dartmouth), so I'll be there tonight to take the pulse of the city and see if this place really deserves a championship team.

It could be worse. Just ask the Yankees, who got knocked around by the Mets at Yankee Stadium over the weekend and come to Baltimore in a real crisis of confidence.

Manager Joe Torre benched longtime center fielder Bernie Williams for last night's interleague finale against his club's cross-town rival - and the natives are getting more and more restless about their $200 million .500 team.

If you think Orioles fans are frustrated, consider this poll on the New York Post Web site: "Who Should Steinbrenner Fire First?"

The man who brought you The Curse of the Bambino in book form, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, apparently isn't worried about placing a new jinx on the Red Sox.

Shaughnessy wrote in his column yesterday that the American League East race is over and the streaking Red Sox, who jumped the Orioles in the standings Friday night, will have an easy ride the rest of the way.

Admittedly, the Sox look unbeatable right now, and they have a 6 1/2 -game lead over the rival Yankees, but it's important to remain cognizant of the baseball adage that you're never as good as you look when you're winning and you're never as bad as you look when you're losing (though we'll make an exception for the Colorado Rockies).

The Sox had won 11 of their past 12 games when the Globe hit the street yesterday. They aren't that good.

There are a lot of big-name Washington types mentioned as possible investors in the seven groups that are interested in buying the Nationals, but one of the most intriguing is billionaire and Democratic Party mega-donor George Soros.

Soros is such a true believer that the Nationals might end up with the first lineup in major league history to feature three left fielders.

Apparently, San Francisco Giants manager Felipe Alou isn't much for excuses, because he wasn't interested in any after his team dropped three fly balls on a bright afternoon in Saturday's loss to the Oakland Athletics.

"I know the sun has been in existence for a billion years," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "So it's the same sun as far as I know, unless they changed suns."

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