Rejuvenated Orioles fans can't wait for home opener

The losing became so persistent that Martha Macgill pulled herself from the rotation of Episcopal clergy who regularly attended ball games at Camden Yards.

She remembers one defeat in particular; it was Mother's Day 2007 and Jeremy Guthrie pitched eight sparkling innings only for the Orioles bullpen to squander a five-run cushion in the ninth against the Boston Red Sox. Her son Jack Kelleher fell to the floor in despair.


"It just got so depressing," says Macgill, the rector at Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill.

Which perhaps explains why her smile comes so readily as she pulls her black and orange Orioles jacket over her white clerical collar, two days before the club's 2013 home opener. Macgill, a freshly committed season ticket holder, can't wait to see the unmarred green of the field Friday afternoon as her team emerges to pursue a second straight run to the playoffs. This all feels so ... new.

When the Orioles open their home schedule against the Minnesota Twins, they'll be greeted by a fan base that was reborn through the tense drama of the 2012 season. Among the expected sellout crowd will be a generation of fans, college-age and younger, who have no memory of rooting for a winning team before 2012. They'll be joined by fathers and grandfathers who wondered if they'd ever share the joys of postseason baseball with their kids and grandkids. And there will be many, like Macgill, who rediscovered the joys of believing through last year's team.

You can look at numbers to measure an audience that grew throughout the Orioles' improbable run. Last year's attendance was the club's largest since 2007. Orioles merchandise, which sold negligibly in previous seasons, suddenly occupied a market share similar to that of the Boston Red Sox. As many as 450,000 Baltimore-area viewers tuned in to watch the team's playoff games on national television.

But you have to dig into the individual stories to understand how much it meant to people, how much they're looking forward to this season. The Orioles bring a 2-1 record into Friday's home opener after Thursday's 6-3 win to the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Don Crocetti's grandfather took him to Orioles games during the team's first golden age in the 1960s. The Arnold resident loved the game so much that he plotted ideal roster configurations for the kids in his neighborhood. He idolized Luis Aparicio, master of the shortstop position Crocetti played in Little League.

His passion held for decades until the club's fortunes dwindled at the same time Crocetti's work responsibilities mounted at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"Let's not talk about [Orioles owner] Peter Angelos," Crocetti says, wearing an orange Manny Machado jersey on a sunny morning four days before the home opener. "Being an Orioles fan hurt for a good 10 years."

Crocetti had fallen to attending one or two games a year. He wondered if he was a fair-weather fan, unable to maintain hope through the tough times. But as he watched early last season, glimpsing Buck Showalter's deft hand with a youthful roster, something rekindled in him.

"It's so joyful, it brings tears to your eyes just watching it," he says, grinning through his whitening beard as he reflects on 2012. "I probably watched more Orioles games than I have in 15 years."

He enjoyed it so much that he bought into a full season-ticket plan with seven friends for 2013. When he goes, he'll take one of his three eldest grandchildren with him. They're too young to care deeply about the wins and losses, but Crocetti hopes to indoctrinate them in the charge atmosphere that has returned to Camden Yards.

"If they like it," he says, "I'll get my own season-ticket plan next year. I'll do what my grandfather did and always have a ticket for one of the kids."

Ralph Watson remembers snatching the newspaper off the stoop of his boyhood home in Highlandtown to check the previous night's Orioles result. A future mathematician for the Department of Defense, he fed his love of numbers by combing freshly updated league statistics every Sunday. As a child of the 1970s, he had no idea his hometown team could ever be a loser.


By contrast, his 16-year-old son, Dakota, had never known a winning Orioles team before last season. Watson still took his boy to games, usually Friday nights when the weather was nice. "One of these years, you're gonna see what it's like," he'd tell Dakota, imagining a pennant race returning to Baltimore. "Every night will matter. You'll be checking the box scores every day. There will be 40,000 people in the stands. It's electric."

And then, when a lot of folks had given up, it happened. The Orioles kept winning, often in hard-to-believe fashion. There was no urge to give up in June and look ahead to the Ravens. "It was great just to see him go through that," Watson says of sharing 2012 with his son.

In anticipation of this season, he not only bought a 13-game plan but made sure to secure Opening Day tickets for the first time since he was in grade school. Dakota, a sophomore at Severna Park High School, will be beside him as the Orioles take the field.

"After last year," Watson says, "we just have to be part of that excitement again."

Orioles fever has already invaded Kristen Myers' home in Linthicum, where her seven-year-old son, Andrew, spent Tuesday evening watching and rewatching the club's season-opening win in Tampa Bay.

Myers watched Andrew fall deeply in love with baseball last year. On some nights, long past his bed time, he bounded down the steps to share his excitement after sneaking a glimpse of the Orioles on an upstairs television.

His parents couldn't complain. They had gone on some of their first dates at Camden Yards and loved seeing his enthusiasm for players such as Nick Markakis and Chris Davis. As an offseason surprise, they bought 10-game Orioles dugout plans for Andrew and his sister, Kayla. That will guarantee a significant increase in live baseball for the family.

"We're just looking forward to being out there at the games," Myers says.

It's a sentiment Macgill shares as she sits in the back of her church, describing her 13-year history with the Orioles. It's not uncommon for Memorial Episcopal to be led by a baseball devotee. Some parishioners still refer to the first Sunday of the church calendar as "Opening Day" because former rector Barney Farnham loved the game so.

Macgill and her husband, Gilman math teacher Bryan Kelleher, grew up rooting for sad-sack teams, she the Washington Senators and he the Atlanta Braves. But they thought they were moving to a prime baseball town when they arrived in Baltimore in 2000.

Little did they know the Orioles were two years into a 15-season run of losing that would turn their son Jack into a pure baseball skeptic. He and his Gilman buddies fantasized about buying the club one day just so they could make things right.

So it was a welcome surprise when Macgill and her husband found themselves ducking out of a Broadway musical last fall to check the score of a meaningful late-season game. Jack, now working in Atlanta, would call home during particularly dramatic contests. And he flew up for a playoff game at Camden Yards. For the first time, Macgill knew how it felt to be deeply invested in a successful baseball team. With that came a deeper attachment to the Baltimore community.


For Christmas, she received a card with Showalter sketched on the outside, telling her he expected her at Camden Yards in 2013. Tucked inside was a 13-game season-ticket plan.

"I can't wait to get to the ballpark," she says. "I grew up as a Washingtonian so I never quite felt like a Baltimoron. Now, I feel like I belong."

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