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Baltimore Orioles

‘It’s a holiday’: Orioles fans flock to Camden Yards for Opening Day, filled with cautious optimism

Three hours before first pitch, Kristen Swader, her husband, Mike, and their 4-year old son, Michael III, stood in line awaiting entry to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Mike, 28, has been to every Orioles Opening Day since he was a newborn, Michael III has yet to miss one, and Kristen’s passion is so permanent that she has a classic Orioles logo tattooed on her side.

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“It’s a holiday,” she said of Opening Day, holding Michael III in her arms.

The Orioles have always held importance for the Swaders. Mike remembers skipping class in high school to go to games, and Kristen used to work as an usher.

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“There’s something about it,” Mike said. “It’s an escape.”

Despite modest at best expectations for the Orioles in 2022 and a season-opening sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays to begin the season, fans remained fervent for Opening Day — the first untethered by attendance limitations since 2019.

There were some open seats in the upper decks for the game’s 3:05 p.m. first pitch, but it was officially declared a sellout with an announced crowd of 44,461 in attendance to watch as the Orioles earned their first win of the season, 2-0 over the Milwaukee Brewers.

As the Swaders and hundreds of other hopeful fans waited for the gates to open Monday afternoon, Clarence “Fancy Clancy” Haskett was inside the stadium, icing hundreds of beers. Haskett has been a beer vendor at Orioles games for 48 years, and the animated salesman greeted everyone — people in the stadium, people on the phone — with the same exclamation: “Happy New Year!”

He began Monday the same way he often does, with 50 pushups in the vendors’ room, partially for exercise and partially to energize himself for the game. Haskett is known for his enthusiasm and for his sales pitches, which include remarks such as: “Hey, folks, did you know it’s OK to drink a cold beer at a baseball game?”

The Orioles have seen attendance dwindle each year since 2014, including to just over 10,000 fans a game last year during a season affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Attendance this season could be hurt by the ongoing pandemic, as well as this offseason’s bitter 99-day lockout of the players by the club owners, which potentially eroded baseball’s general popularity.

The last time there was an extended MLB work stoppage, from 1994 to 1995, attendance dipped 20% around the majors the following season. There appears to be less animosity from fans this time, but even still, a recent AP-NORC survey found that 47% of baseball fans said the lockout had at least some impact on their view of MLB.

Recent lack of success — Baltimore has lost 108 or more games the past three full-length seasons and has one of the lowest payrolls in the majors this year — has also resulted in lack of interest from some fans.

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“If they want me to spend my money, they need to spend some of their money,” Daniel Contesti, who used to attend Orioles games but hasn’t in several years, wrote in an email.

Of course, that sentiment wasn’t felt Monday, as fans eagerly did the wave for much of the fifth inning and cheered on Bruce Zimmermann, the Orioles’ starting pitcher and a Maryland native who attended Loyola Blakefield. Zimmermann pitched four scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out four.

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Childhood friends and Baltimore fans Eric Stout and Noah Kness also attended Loyola, and ahead of the game, the pair, wearing Jim Palmer and John Means jerseys, respectively, noted their excitement for their fellow alum and their hopes for the season.

“More wins than last year,” Stout said. “I’d just like to see some improvement. I’m not expecting a World Series, but improvement.”

In 2008, a law student named Kevin Gracie happened to walk into Oriole Park at precisely the right moment. He became the 50 millionth fan ever to attend a game at Camden Yards, winning $50,000 and five years of season tickets for being the lucky attendee.

Now an attorney, Gracie hasn’t missed an Opening Day since 2005, and he was there Monday, wearing a jersey of Luis Montañez — a seldom-remembered Oriole who had 68 career hits in the major leagues.

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Gracie called Opening Day “the best day of the year,” and said he’s optimistic for the Orioles’ future.

He’s a Ravens fan, too, but he doesn’t like that football teams play just once a week — it allows too much time for fans to stew on a loss. In baseball, the woes of yesterday can be made up for the following day; that’s why the Orioles being swept by the Rays didn’t bother Gracie.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said before Opening Day’s first pitch, “we’re gonna win today.”


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