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Fans are revved up for a long Orioles postseason run

Orioles fans joined former O's pitcher Tippy Martinez at a midday rally Wednesday at the Hard Rock Cafe. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Frank Fried was born a few months before the Orioles won their last World Series, so the 31-year-old mechanical engineer's memories of his favorite baseball team are mostly painful.

Like many fans, Fried believes that the drought will end this month, a result that would not only thrill the city but also boost the local economy.

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A partial season-ticket holder, Fried will be at Camden Yards for Thursday's Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, as he was nearly three dozen times during a regular season when the Orioles were one of the best teams in baseball.

"I really think this is their year," Fried, of Pasadena, said Wednesday during a lunchtime rally at the Hard Rock Cafe downtown. "There's no Yankees, there's no Red Sox. ... I think they have a good enough team to get through."

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Unlike 2012, when the Orioles ended 15 years of losing to make the postseason as a wild-card team, there's more confidence that Buck Showalter's team has a legitimate chance to win it all for the first time since 1983.

There's also a noticeable shift that after years of the Ravens far outdistancing the Orioles in terms of fan interest, the orange-and-black have regained their place in what was long an endless sea of purple.

"You're seeing just an overall excitement in Baltimore lasts year-round now. You're not seeing this ebb and flow of highs and lows," said Terry Hasseltine, director of sports marketing for the Maryland Stadium Authority. "When I first got here [in 2008], there was the high that the [baseball] season was starting and then you went through this little valley and you waited for the Ravens to start. Now there's 12 months when we're talking about two birds."

The success of the Orioles helps the city financially, Hasseltine said.

He pointed to a economic impact study done in 2012 by Daraius Irani for the Division of Innovation and Applied Research at Towson University. According to the study, the city profited by around $350,000 in local and state taxes by the Orioles making the playoffs.

The impact of Thursday's game is immediate.

"It's like having Opening Day all over again," Hasseltine said. "The more substantial growth in economics globally is that you have more out-of-town visitors coming in for the playoffs than you do a season opener."

The Orioles will also host Game 2 of the best-of-five series Friday, as well as the potential Game 5 on Wednesday. Tickets to those games are sold out, and Hasseltine said that not having the tailgating atmosphere of a football game results in more spending at local bars and restaurants before and after baseball games.

Tom Leonard, a minority owner and general manager at Pickles Pub, the longtime hangout for fans located directly across from Camden Yards, said Monday that business is up about 20 percent from last year, when the Orioles did not make the playoffs.

Leonard, who grew up in Columbia, said the passion among local baseball fans has ratcheted up considerably in recent months as the team ran away with the American League East division title.

"When I'll be talking about the Ravens because we have a home game coming up, this is the first time I'll hear people saying, 'Oh, it's still baseball season for me,'" said Leonard, 46. "I've never heard that before."

The color of the bar's beer cans will mimic the prevailing topic of conversation. Rob Reddinger, who has worked at Pickles Pub for seven years, said "as long as the Orioles are in the playoffs, the cans of Natty Boh cannot turn purple."

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Michael Weiprecht, who attended Wednesday's Hard Rock rally, said he still considers himself more of a Ravens fan, but the Orioles are starting to again find their place in his heart.

"I was a kid the last time we won the World Series," said Weiprecht, 36, of Highlandtown. "Every year it seems like I'm disappointed. I hang in there. I want them to win it so bad. I've got a good feeling about this year."

Weiprecht lives by the creed that "adversity breeds strength" so much that the letters a.b.s are tattooed into the side of his neck. He believes that the Orioles are living up to that, too.

"It seems like there's been things that have been going on with Chris Davis [being suspended], Manny Machado getting injured, and we've pushed through all that, I do feel that it's our year," Weiprecht said at the rally where a couple hundred fans received orange T-shirts with the team's newly-adopted "We Won't Stop" slogan, as well as other memorabilia.

Orioles fans who converge on Camden Yards for what they hope to be a long playoff run will need to have some patience. Increased security measures that went into place in late summer will continue in the postseason, said Greg Bader, the Orioles' vice president for communications and marketing.

"We did enhance several different security measures, one of which was visible to fans, the fact that select gate entrances had [magnetic] wanding. It wasn't the entire ballpark," Bader said. "That was designed to help prepare for what we believe in 2015 will be all major league ballparks going with some sort of metal detection."

Bader said that despite the added security, the Orioles have a "very liberal" policy in terms of what fans can bring into the stadium, including food and drink as long as the drinks are not alcoholic and not in glass bottles or aluminum cans. The drinks have to be sealed, Bader said.

In terms of bulk items such as backpacks or coolers, Bader said that they must fit into a 16-inch by 16-inch by 8-inch box and must be soft-sided. Bader said the Orioles don't allow air horns, cowbells "or other noisemakers" — or what he terms "extended" items such as brooms and tripods.

"We do permit umbrellas," Bader said.

Most fans will be accustomed to those regulations, and they're also getting used to seeing their team win.

"We've got a lot more people on the bandwagon now," said Inez Wells of Baltimore, a postal employee who said she has been an Orioles fan "since the beginning of time."

Wells said the way the team has overcome the loss of three of its stars, including catcher Matt Wieters with an early season-ending injury, shows the group's mettle.

"We have a no-name team, and look where we are," Wells said, waiting for Wednesday's rally to start.

Georgenna Peters, 73, was first in line at the Hard Rock rally, wearing an Orioles T-shirt and carrying the confidence many of the team's fans have shared despite the three-decade title drought.

"We're going to win," she said.

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