Fans pack chilly Camden Yards for playoff return

Orioles fans waited 15 years to see a playoff game at Camden

Yards, so enduring a rain delay wasn’t all that much of an

imposition.

Even if it was snowing, nothing was going to dampen the

enthusiasm of the crowd for the opening game of the AL division

series between Baltimore and the New York Yankees on Sunday

night.

”I want to see the Orioles beat the pants off the Yankees,”

said 57-year-old Carol Pounsberry, who was the first in line at

Gate A, three hours before the scheduled 6:15 p.m. start.

A steady rain delayed the first pitch for nearly 2 1-2 hours.

Those in attendance knew that no matter when the first pitch came,

it would be worth the wait.

After 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles pulled off a

stunning reversal by winning 93 games to earn a wild-card berth.

Then, after beating Texas 5-1 on Friday, Baltimore returned home to

host the hated Yankees in Game 1 of the first-round series.

This is the time of year when the stadium is usually locked shut

and the field is blanketed with a tarp. Instead, the fans flocked

into the park while the Orioles took batting practice. The Major

League Baseball logo with the word ”POSTSEASON” was painted on

the outside portion of the first- and third-base foul lines.

When the Orioles last played a playoff game at Camden Yards,

Baltimore lost a seven-game AL championship series to Cleveland,

4-2. The series ended with Armando Benitez giving up the winning

run in the 11th inning.

Jim Thome, now 42 and a designated hitter for Baltimore, was

Cleveland’s first baseman that day.

”I was here in `97 with my wife when Benitez lost the game and

probably the World Series,” said 58-year-old Rick Lynch, who was

wearing an Orioles hat, a jersey and a coat.

Since that time, the Orioles headed home after the final

regular-season game. Without fail. Until now.

Stephanie Brooks was 11 years old in 1997. She arrived Sunday

with her fiance, Justin Sucuiletti, who was wearing a Derek Jeter

jersey and a Yankees cap.

”My dad was an avid Orioles fan. He grew up in Maryland and he

raised me to be an Orioles fan,” she said. ”I have never seen

them in the playoffs, so this is really exciting for me.”

Sucuiletti wasn’t sure whether the couple could survive the week

without an argument.

”It depends on who wins tonight or the next few games,” he

said. ”Whoever advances to the ALCS.”

Since 1997, the Yankees have participated in the playoffs every

single year except for one. Brooks figured it was about time for

the Orioles to show their superiority.

”I think it’s really important because the Yankees win so

much,” she said. ”It’s really special for us to be here. I would

love to have the opportunity to brag over him about it.”

Orioles manager Buck Showalter could only hope his team would

appreciate the moment, but not be affected by it.

”It’s impossible to tell your players to take the emotion out

of an at-bat or a pitch or a throw or whatever,” he said. ”That’s

why we’ve tried to do as much as we can, everything the same with

some exceptions, with the schedule. We’re trying to stay in

routine.”

Ah, but nothing about this was routine. On a wet, chilly Sunday

in October, the Baltimore Ravens’ home stadium across the street

was empty and Camden Yards was buzzing.

”I’m glad they’re back where they should be,” Pounsberry said.

”I have been waiting 15 years to see this.”