There’s a lull. It’s the second inning of a scoreless Orioles game at Camden Yards and the sea of orange, which filled in handsomely this particular weeknight, hasn’t fully engaged in the duel yet.
Enter Merrill Heim, sensing the early-inning lifelessness.
He rises from his season ticket seats of seven years near first base eager to provide resuscitation.
He starts with a simple, yet effective, “Let’s go O’s” chant with first baseman Ryan O’Hearn at the plate that quickly catches on in nearby sections. Heim then shares a good-natured back-and-forth with the opposition’s first base coach.
Turning back to the crowd, Heim flares his arms wide, beer in hand, to deliver his signature line: “I’m fired up! You fired up?”
Now, the Orioles faithful stir when O’Hearn rips the next pitch into right field — the team’s first hit of the night.
The energy snowballs when Heim, still on his feet, offers to treat the visiting All-Star first baseman to pancakes in the morning but is met with a laugh and a reluctant shake of the head.
It’s the sort of cheerleading that galvanizes section regulars while piquing the interest of unfamiliar nearby spectators.
Who is this equal parts comedian and emcee of the first base side, sharing full-bellied laughs with fans, players and coaches alike?
The short answer is he’s the “Fired Up Guy,” a name and catchphrase he popularized by hollering through countless Orioles games. Empty stands during years where casual fans might have soured on the team or packed-in crowds like those expected this week as the O’s play the Nationals and Red Sox in their quest to clinch the division, it doesn’t matter. Heim, a Parkville graduate who owns the shipping company Alumni Logistics, always brings the energy.
But the saying ‘I’m fired up! You fired up?” which has since been freely printed on T-shirts by third-party vendors and become a greeting among Orioles fans, wasn’t started by Heim.
“Not many people know that,” he said.
A nearby season ticket holder who was maybe 8 at the time named Cooper Schmidt-Phippen, offered the remark to Heim merely because he was fired up to see the Manny Machado- and Chris Davis-led Orioles. Heim raised an eyebrow and told him: “Kid, that’s got legs.”
For “Fired Up Guy,” his relationship with his favorite baseball team runs much deeper than an ardent six-word tagline.
Heim was raised in Memorial Stadium, attending games with his parents starting in the 1970s. He used to help his dad carry coolers of alcohol into the park — a common practice until 1985 — so the adults, including one of their Edgewood neighbors who was an usher at the stadium, could drink postgame screwdrivers together.
When the Orioles won the World Series in 1983, the usher let Heim tag along to the then-named Baltimore-Washington International Airport before dawn to greet the team. The 11-year-old had greater plans. He sneaked onto the tarmac, vying for a closer view until a television reporter foiled the plan by asking whose kid he was.
Heim has been there for it all since.
He has a vivid memory of an upper-deck grand slam by Eddie Murray — the most electric he ever saw at the team’s former home on 33rd Street. After Trey Mancini’s legendary two-homer game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017 at Camden Yards, a game-tying shot in the ninth inning, then the winner in the 11th, he spent the whole next day at work rewatching highlights.
“Look at this stadium,” Heim said. “It’s a beautiful atmosphere. You can just let go and you give the players energy. Let them know I’m still here, I don’t care. I’m going to cheer for the Orioles. … Even when we had three seasons of 100 losses, I’m still here screaming, ‘I’m fired up!’ It’s all from my heart.”
Spend time in the lower bowl along the first base line and it’s clear how Heim’s energy permeates. Watching him move about and work the crowd is a spectacle in and of itself.
One woman comes over to say hello after meeting him during a series against the Tampa Bay Rays last season. A group of people say they deliberately buy tickets in his section. Others request pictures or simply share in his infectious laughter.
He’s easy to spot with his well-kept burnt orange beard, team bucket hat and signed jersey of Jonah Heim — a similarly named former Orioles minor leaguer who now plays for the Texas Rangers.
“He has created a value that other people want to come and be present with him even when they’re coming to see their team,” said Alexis Lothian, an associate professor at University of Maryland, College Park, who studies fandom. “And the social media age has given a way for fans to be in the conversation. … It makes there less of a big division [between teams and fans].”
Now in Heim’s sixth decade of life and fandom (the two go hand-in-hand), his allegiance hasn’t wavered. Ask his wife, Sherry, who is almost always there with him. Each time Heim, 51, is at the ballpark he’s like a kid on Christmas morning, she said — “You can see the twinkle in his eye.”
Perhaps it’s more than a twinkle, considering his nickname.
He frequently wakes up with a scratchy voice having led the Orioles fan choir the previous night, which he learned to manage, quipping, “I open up my diaphragm like Whitney [Houston].”
The morning after the Orioles downed the Rays in dramatic fashion on Sept. 17 — and after he was treated with the same “Take October” shirts as team personnel — Heim offered a simple yet telling reaction via text, “voice is hurting.”
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Heim’s fandom reached its apex at this season’s home opener with a chance to run the orange carpet and be introduced alongside the team. That was a privilege earned in 2022 for helping start the Orioles’ home run chain — a prop he bought in Las Vegas while at a ballpark usher’s wedding, which he initially gifted to first base coach Anthony Sanders’ son.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde warned Heim it was a long run, one that can even leave pitchers winded. But Heim conquered the trot from the 410-foot mark all the way to the infield.
“I was fired up,” Hyde told reporters. “I had no idea the Fired Up guy was going to be right next to me for the national anthem. That fired me up!”
“It’s like the line from that one movie,” said Heim, referencing “Fever Pitch,” a 2005 romantic comedy starring Jimmy Fallon as a Boston Red Sox-obsessed teacher who falls for a powerful corporate executive played by Drew Barrymore.
Barrymore’s character famously asks, “You love the Red Sox, but have the Red Sox ever loved you back?”
Pretty clearly, the Orioles — and a fair share of their fans — have loved Heim back.
“I would call it a mutual respect that they know that I’m there for them no matter what, through thick and thin,” Heim said. “The connection is genuine. It’s a genuine feeling that they are just as happy to see me as I am to see them.”