Bad weather? Bad outlook? No problem

The Baltimore Sun

Some came because they believe Andy MacPhail is a man with a plan. Some came hoping to see Adam Jones' first step to greatness. Some came because they love baseball and Opening Day is just a habit.

For those and many other reasons, an announced crowd of 46,807 ignored a chilly drizzle and even chillier predictions for the Orioles' season to watch yesterday's opening 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Though few fans predicted even a .500 season, they arrived at Camden Yards in Nick Markakis jerseys with baseballs painted on their faces and hope in their hearts.

"You've got to love your hometown team," said Tito Aracia of Lanham. "It's one of the few things you can rely on in this world, coming out to see your team on Opening Day."

"Yeah, and MacPhail's kicking butt," Aracia's friend, Kristin Harding, said of the club president.

"He did make some great offseason moves," said Aracia, who was eager to see Jones, the new center fielder, and utility man Scott Moore.

"It's the feeling you get here," Harding said in explaining why she came from the Eastern Shore 32 times last year to watch a losing team. "Camden Yards is a special place."

She and Aracia predicted a surprise 81-81 record in 2008.

Jim and June Royer of Lutherville, season-ticket holders since 1967, were less optimistic.

"They're not going anywhere right now," June Royer said.

"Last place for the first time in a long time," her husband said.

Jim Royer worked as a cashier at Memorial Stadium during the club's first championship season in 1966. He attended 29 games a year during the glory days, and he'll keep doing the same no matter how long the Orioles extend their run of losing seasons (now 10).

"I just like baseball," he said. "It's how I like to spend a nice evening in the summer."

His wife hopes the Orioles don't trade All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts.

"He's a good player," she said. "How many do they have?"

The Royers' stance - pessimistic about this year's record but still in love with baseball - seemed widespread.

"Opening Day is a national holiday as far as I'm concerned," said Bob Smith of New Market.

He wore an orange T-shirt with the club's 2008 slogan "This is Birdland" across the chest. Smith will probably make the drive 20 times this year, though he harbors no illusions about the quality of baseball he'll see.

"They're terrible this year," he said.

The more hopeful fans said the Orioles will lose plenty of games but with some purpose as they test the young players acquired in deals for shortstop Miguel Tejada and ace pitcher Erik Bedard.

"They were losing with those guys," said Brad Ardinger of Hagerstown. "So why not try something new?"

He and his friends showed up in Markakis jerseys with orange socks pulled high in imitation of their hero.

"He's our future," Teddy Winters said.

Markakis and Jones, the key building blocks, drew two of the three biggest pre-game ovations along with Roberts. Despite the announced sellout, many seats in the upper deck were unfilled, perhaps because of the damp chill.

For the most part, fans said they're likely to be back throughout the season, no matter how many games the Orioles lose.

Winters, Ardinger and friends said they'll attend five or six games in support of a team they expect to win 75 games.

"If they win more, we come more," said Winters' father, Ted Sr.

Yesterday's game brought the Orioles face to face with a team that might be further along the rebuilding track. Though the Rays have finished out of last place in the American League East only once, many expect them to supplant the Orioles this season.

Aracia refused to believe it.

"Tampa Bay doesn't have the pitching," he said, perhaps overlooking the Orioles' own abysmal numbers from the mound in 2007.

In the Baltimore clubhouse, players and team officials had little time for dire predictions.

"One, I don't read it," said manager Dave Trembley. "Two, I don't listen to it. Three, with all due respect, we haven't played any games yet."

Trembley, about to manage his first big league opener, emphasized the importance of keeping faith with the club's fans. He said he and MacPhail have done that by describing their rebuilding plans in the clearest terms possible.

"That's who we really need to try and get to buy into this," he said, "the players and the fans."

For his part, MacPhail walked through the clubhouse before the game, shaking hands with each player and wishing each a successful season. Among the people in the seats, his name was golden.

"We know we're not going to do too good this year," said Jennifer Schilpp of Glen Burnie, who brought her young son, Ron, to Opening Day. "But in five years, maybe we'll be in the World Series."

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