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  •   Some Still Cheer, but the Roar Is Muffled

    By Rochelle Riley
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, April 24, 1988; Page B1

    BALTIMORE, APRIL 23 -- At the crowded Inner Harbor, in the neighborhoods surrounding Memorial Stadium and in the city's most popular sports bars, there was nary an Orioles baseball cap or a bright orange O's T-shirt to be seen today.

    As a matter of fact, when several people were asked if they were Baltimore Orioles fans, they looked as if they'd been queried about a beloved uncle who drinks too much.

    Dale Kearns, who had stopped in Balls, The All-American Sports Bar downtown, to pick up some lunch, pondered the question of his Orioles loyalty for just a second, a sheepish grin on his face.

    "Uh, yeah," he said finally. Then, with more spirit, "It's a part of being a Baltimorean."

    That appeared to be the sentiment of fans across this city where there seemed a dogged sense of obligation to root for the once-powerful team that now looks more like a pathetic new franchise than a former World Series winner with the best overall team record in all of baseball in recent years.

    Many fans seemed to say that despite the astounding feat of being outscored by 111-33 in their historic 17-game losing streak, the Orioles remain their team. These loyal O's boosters know in their hearts that Frank Robinson will pull the guys together -- even though the Orioles continue to lose with mind-numbing regularity to start the season.

    "I think they are pulling together," said Cam MacLachlan, 32, who describes his house as a "stone's throw away from the stadium." He said that before the Orioles lost 4-3 to the Kansas City Royals this afternoon.

    But MacLachlan is a true fan, one who wore his full Orioles regalia to Yankee Stadium many years ago to watch the New York team play the Orioles.

    "Here is this little kid, wearing my Orioles uniform in the middle of Yankee Stadium, the pants, the shirt, the whole bit, and Mickey Mantle hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth to win. And I cried," he recalled today.

    Those who love the Birds range from the older fans who were there when Boog Powell and Brooks and Frank Robinson led the team to glory in the 1960s and early '70s, to the newer fans who are growing up rooting for the likes of Joe Orsulak and Rene Gonzales.

    And Aynsley Fendler, 2 1/2, can name the players, right, Aynsley?

    "She knows," said her mom, Terry Fendler, who was walking with her daughter and husband Jim along 33rd Street near the stadium.

    "Joe Ripken," shouted the blond toddler. Well, she was close.

    Instead of the fanaticism previously associated with the Orioles and now belonging to fans of the Redskins and other winners, these fans appear to have a subdued loyalty to the team. It's a sort of "sure-I'm-a-fan,-but-we-don't-have-to-talk-about-it" attitude born out of the pain of a seemingly terminal losing streak.

    Most of the sports bars were empty today, partly because the 2:35 p.m. Orioles-Royals game from Kansas City was not televised, and partly because attendance has been sparse to watch the games since about loss 12.

    "They are die-hard fans, but this is ridiculous," said Tony Sager, manager of The Original Sports Bar at Market Place. Sager stood in the cavernous cafe that seats nearly 1,200. The televisions were tuned to the Pittsburgh Pirates-Chicago Cubs game, but the radios were tuned to the Birds. The bar's latest offer was to give away free draft beer for 15 minutes when the Orioles win.

    "We don't have anybody to give it to," he said. He didn't have to worry about it. The Orioles blew a lead to the Royals, and chalked up No. 17.

    For anyone who wonders how these fans keep the faith, there is another reason: an undercurrent of fear that if the agonizing slump continues and attendance sags along with it, the Orioles will leave. The team is as much a part of Baltimore as the Washington Monument is to the District -- but not as immovable.

    Several people interviewed today said they didn't want the Orioles to pack up in the middle of the night, referring to the stealthy departure of the Colts four years ago to Indianapolis. Some folks still haven't gotten over that.

    "They have a tremendous impact on the state. A lot of people are disgusted. I'm disgusted. But I'm sticking with 'em," said Ferdinand Smith, 60, who was sitting outside Bertha's on Broadway.

    Over his shoulder, another older man who refused to give his name, offered an obscene gesture and said, "Show this to the Baltimore Orioles. They can leave at midnight just like the Colts."

    The Orioles management has exercised an option to keep the team in Baltimore through 1990. The team and the city are negotiating a lease that would trigger construction of a new downtown stadium.

    Louis Barnes, 53, who was manning the counter at Fitzgerald Meats, echoed Smith's comments.

    "What else have we got? We don't have anything else," he said. "They're not clicking yet. It'll click soon."

    Not all Baltimoreans are Orioles fans and not all Orioles fans are as loyal as the die-hards. Strong disgust was evident at Pat's Homemade Sausages in Harbor Market, where Larry Grembocki and Vic DiAngelo were visiting with owner Adrienne Fochrkolb.

    "They stink. They should be paid about $100 a month," said Grembocki, a Baltimorean for 35 years.

    "They're going to win their 25th game, when they're 0 and 24," said Fochrkolb, a Baltimore native.

    "They'll be in the cellar by the end of the season," said DiAngelo, who was wearing a New York Yankees cap. "We gave {Washington} the Bullets. We'll give you the Orioles now. If you'd been here sooner, we'd have given you the Colts."

    There has been an up side to the embarrassing losing streak. Strong shows of support from around the region and across the country have buoyed fans' hopes and given a frustrated team something to win for.

    Most of America has seen Bob Rivers. The WYYY 98-ROCK radio disc jockey has been on the air since 5 a.m. Tuesday and pledged to stay until the Orioles win. But there are others -- radio personalities who have volunteered to wash cars, other bars that are holding giveaways. New fans are helping to hold up old fans, who need a little encouragement.

    "It has really drawn a lot of attention," said Jim Fendler, who can't wait for the next home game. "I just hope they win before they come back home."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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