They had been waiting in their seats for an hour, the denizens of Section 34, when Patrolman N. R. Hesley finally shouted, "Clear the aisle, here he comes."
With that introduction Wild Bill Hagy, the Baltimore Orioles' most famous cheerleader, climbed the steep steps into his favorite $3 seat in the upper deck of Memorial Stadium and proceeded to sign autographs for his adoring fans.
A year ago Hagy was just another overweight cabdriver from Dundalk, the working class suburb east of Baltimore. Today he is one of Baltimore's most famous celebrities, and a symbol, however unlikely, of the success the Orioles now enjoy in the town that once spurned them.
Despite periods of rain that sent spectators scurrying under the stands, the largest opening day crowd in the team's history -- 50,199 -- was on hand to watch Jim Palmer and his teammates crush the Kansas City Royals by a score of 12 to 2.
For now, the fears that the team will be moved within the hated boundaries of Washington or to a new stadium in the suburbs were put aside. The love affair that began last summer -- and which was dampened only slightly by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series -- was resumed.
Mayor William Donald Schaefer decreed that all students in the public schools who wanted to attend the game would be excused from classes. Businessmen took the afternoon off and politicians returned from Annapolis.
And, following last year's pattern, Hagy was in the middle of things.
Hagy waved an Orioles towel, the latest accessory in his growing collection, as the game began and was cheered wildly.
Then, after it had taken Jim Palmer less than a dozen pitches to retire the first three Kansas City batters, Hagy rose from Seat 12, Row 11, bounded down the steps and led the stadium in the cheer that made him famous.
"O-R-I-O-L-E-S," called out the crowd.
Hagy, who came to his first opening day game 26 years ago as a teen-ager, began using body language to spell out the name of his favorite team about three years ago, but no one except ballpark regulars really noticed.
Then last year, as the crowds grew and the Orioles started catching on, Hagy became a national celebrity, shown on television twisting his not-so-lithesome body and shaking hands with the president of the United States.
"Success hasn't changed him at all," said Fred (Derf) Settan, 28, a fellow cabdriver from Dundalk who has known Hagy for 12 years. "He never, well almost never, gets upset with all the requests for autographs and interviews," said Settan.
"This is the best part," grinned Hagy, as a young woman planted a kiss on his hairy face.
Ray Waldron, a Boston-born dentist who credits Hagy with switching his devotion from the Red Sox to the Orioles, said, "Bill saved the franchise. A year ago we were all in a deep depression [because of fears that new Orioles' owner Edward Bennett Williams would move the franchise to Washington.] But Bill made coming here more fun than anything in town."
"The Orioles drew 1.7 million last year and if Wild Bill wasn't responsible for 700,000 of them, Popeye's a punk," said cabbie Settan.
Down in the bowels of the aging red brick stadium, businessman John Benson, one of the new season ticket holders among this year's record 4,000, also credited the "infectious enthusiasm" of Hagy for the growing financial stability of the Orioles.
Benson and his wife, Carolyn, were eating a pregame lunch in the Hit and Run Club, a restaurant reserved for the exclusive use of season ticket holders. They were recruited into the club by Jack Bateman, one of 28 team boosters who are called Designated Hitters because they signed up at least 40 new season ticket holders this year.
Fame has brought a measure of financial success to Hagy. He led the cheer by waving the "official Wild Bill Hagy Orioles hat," a straw hat with a feather and Oriole emblem on it, $12.00 at local retail stores; as the authorized plastic Wild Big Hagy megaphone heaved from his ample chest, which was covered by the official Wild Bill Hagy T-shirt.
But it was apparent that Hagy is "still the kind, fun-loving, warm guy he's always been," said his friend Settan.
"Yeah," grinned Hagy. "Somebody give me a beer."