The bullpen gates swing open at Camden Yards, and the starting pitcher begins to make the long, slow walk to his team's dugout. Fans who aren't standing immediately jump to their feet and scream in support, raising the decibel level to rock-concert proportions without the amplifiers.
The scene wouldn't have been so unusual yesterday if the reception were given to Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. This is his ballpark, his turf, and these are supposed to be his people. But the ovation greeted Boston Red Sox starter Josh Beckett, one of the leading candidates for the American League Cy Young Award.
The seats behind the visiting dugout - and pretty much everywhere else you look - are occupied by someone wearing a Red Sox jersey. It's like a roll call from the past and present, in a thick New England accent.
Shirts bearing the names Ortiz and Schilling belong to the children in a family sitting at the railing in a section in front of the lower-level press box. The mother clearly favors Manny Ramirez. In the next section, a woman in a Carl Yastrzemski jersey sits with her two children, the names Beckett and Matsuzaka scrawled across their backs.
Not long ago, you couldn't flick a peanut shell without hitting a Cal Ripken Jr. shirt. But over the weekend, you had a better chance of bouncing one off a throwback Jose Canseco Red Sox jersey.
'It's like we're home'
Going into the weekend, the Red Sox's average road attendance was 39,095, the highest total in the majors.
Red Sox Nation continues to spread beyond the New England area. It reached the West Coast again this year for interleague play. And it washes over Baltimore like a tidal wave.
"It's been unbelievable," said Jerry Remy, a former Red Sox second baseman and current television analyst. "This place in particular is an easy trip. People are able to get nonstop flights out of Providence and good rates out of Boston, and they know tickets are available for them. And it's a nice stop for them because everything is convenient. The ballpark's within walking distance of all the hotels and restaurants. It's a great destination for families."
Joel and Linda DeSisto of Taunton, Mass., made their first visit to Camden Yards and couldn't believe how easily they blended with the masses, and how badly Orioles fans were outnumbered. It's evident as soon as the gates open and streams of red and blue jerseys paint the aisles.
"It's like we're home," Linda said. "I haven't seen much Orioles stuff."
Joel proudly displays his Jason Varitek T-shirt, but he left it at home when taking in a game at Yankee Stadium.
"It's very friendly down here, he said. "But everyone you see has on Red Sox stuff. It's weird. I almost feel sorry for the Orioles people."
Red Sox Nation
Many of the fans are transplants, some of them making the drive from Virginia. The A Lot at Camden Yards, reserved for season-ticket holders and the media, is filled with vehicles bearing Connecticut license plates.
Frank Strawderman, 72, and his son Tony, 39, drove 2 1/2 hours from their Virginia homes. They have the Sunday ticket package, and usually the same rooting interest, but Frank wore a Red Sox jersey and cap yesterday as they downed a few cold beers at Sliders Bar and Grille before relocating to their seats.
"They give me hell for wearing this, but I give the Yankee fans just as much," he said. "I think Red Sox fans might be more obnoxious overall. It didn't used to be that way. But it seems like this Red Sox Nation thing has exploded, and it's brought a lot of people out of the weeds."
His son would like to see more Orioles fans leave their homes.
"I remember reading an article from [former Sun columnist] Ken Rosenthal a long time ago, and he called Baltimore the best baseball city in the country," Tony said. "I don't feel it anymore. I'm sorry. They pack Wrigley Field every day. We've got a shrine right here. Where's the support?"
People of varying ages block the entrance to the home plate plaza while waiting for autographs, the vast majority dressed in the opposition's colors. An elderly woman with a cane wears her Red Sox visor. A woman's Red Sox T-shirt is partially hidden by a baby carrier. It's husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters.
Most of the people lined up at the scalp-free zone are wearing Red Sox shirts and caps, and they're sellers, not buyers. During batting practice, a single row of fans seek autographs and souvenirs behind the Orioles' dugout, while on the opposite side, Boston fans are six or seven rows deep.
Kevin Youkilis steps to the plate in the second inning and a sound fills the air that resembles booing, except it's "Yoook." And it's loud enough to jar the senses.
Mike Lowell grounds a two-run single into center field in the third, and the place erupts again. Close your eyes, and you'd swear this is Fenway Park. You can almost smell the chowder.
Boston mounts a rally in the eighth, and fans chant, "Let's Go Red Sox," their voices and enthusiasm incapable of being drowned out. There's strength in numbers, and it multiplies when Coco Crisp lines a two-out single off reliever Chad Bradford to give Boston a 3-2 lead, and again when closer Jonathan Papelbon strikes out Freddie Bynum to end the game.
"That doesn't affect us one bit," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.
Perhaps not, but it can't be ignored.
Yesterday, the video board in center field flashes scores from the NFL's opening weekend, and the New England Patriots' two-touchdown lead over the New York Jets is greeted with another rousing ovation. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers-Cleveland Browns score - a game of significant interest to Ravens supporters - barely draws a response.
Banners are unfurled, all of them containing a Red Sox logo or reference to the visiting team, most of them pleading with Remy to give a shout-out on the air.
"You really don't have this interaction at home with them because we're much higher than we are here," he said. "Here, they can see you and talk to you and do whatever they want."
Like take over the place for another weekend.
It's their ballpark, their turf, and these are Josh Beckett's people.