Of all the Orioles who jogged down the orange carpet during player introductions yesterday, only one was greeted with a chorus of boos. And the reception didn't grow any kinder as the game moved along.
If this were Aubrey Huff's welcome-back to Baltimore, he would gladly settle for a gift basket.
Huff braced for the worst after drawing the ire of fans and team officials for derogatory comments he made about the city during a Nov. 13 appearance on a Tampa, Fla.-based satellite radio show. And he got it.
Over and over again.
Beginning his second season with the Orioles, Huff was jeered before the anthem, before the first pitch he saw and after every out.
"It was expected," he said afterward while standing at his locker. "If I'm in their situation, I'd boo me, too. [Making the comments] was a stupid thing to do. But I've moved on from it. Just put it behind me, go out there and concentrate on baseball."
Batting fifth as the designated hitter, Huff received scattered applause after lining a single to center field in the fourth inning. He probably would have won over the crowd if his long drive to right in the sixth hadn't hooked foul. But the reception was harsh when he flied to left in the first, and when he shattered his bat on a bouncer to the mound that produced a double play in the sixth.
"The fans have every right to receive anybody here in the ballpark any way they want," manager Dave Trembley said. "I'm not concerned with it. I really don't have any comment on it. Huff's here to play baseball. Fans are here to watch the game and support their team any way they want."
Huff's teammates had a little fun at his expense, most notably first baseman Kevin Millar, who ignited his own controversy in the fall by throwing out the first pitch for the Boston Red Sox before a playoff game at Fenway Park. If anybody could feel Huff's pain, it was Millar, though he was cheered during introductions and after giving the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the first inning with a two-run double.
"Guys were laughing at it," Huff said. "Millar actually thought he was going to get a little bit [of booing], but he got off light."
"Hopefully, all that's over with," Millar said. "Aubrey Huff obviously made a mistake on the radio. Hopefully, the fans got it off their chest, and we can all be a family now because Aubrey Huff is part of the Orioles."
Huff wore a long-sleeved T-shirt to FanFest on Saturday that read "I Heart Baltimore." He says his remarks on the radio show were made in jest. Now it's up to the public to forgive him.
He just wonders how long it will take.
"It might die down a little bit," said Huff, who reached on an error in the ninth after first baseman Carlos Pena made a lunging stop of his blistering grounder. "I'm sure fans have been itching to get at me the whole offseason for that. But it was a mistake on my part to make those comments. I'm human, and I made a mistake. You've just got to move on from here."
Huff assumed that most fans had done so after he made it through six weeks of spring training without being subjected to their wrath. The occasional insults that he heard in the field or while jogging on the warning track during games were aimed at his bleached hair.
But it's not quite as laid-back in Baltimore on Opening Day, as Huff soon learned.
"From what I heard, it was a pretty big deal up here, which I didn't realize that much until the next morning after the show was over," he said. "In Lauderdale, I didn't get anything, so I figured, 'OK, it'll be all right,' but whew."
Maybe he will hear more applause tomorrow night. Otherwise, he will at least provide more entertainment in the dugout.
"I thought it was hilarious, to be honest with you," Millar said. "I was booing him, too."