"I think people around (Baltimore), if something doesn't happen, are going to learn the hard way. They just might be saying to themselves - after the (Orioles) are gone - 'We should have gone to the park. We should have supported the team . . .'"

Doug DeCinces, April 11

"The Orioles are off to their best attendance start (with 473,580 fans for 26 dates) since 1954, when the team moved here from St. Louis. We are up 116,454 over the same number of dates as last year."

The Orioles, June 10

Two more arms and a knee injury, or perhaps one road-trip mugging and one Yankee surge, could clip the Orioles once again - on the field and off. Just when some hard decisions must be made about the team's future, though, the team, the town and outside forces are making a strong stay-it-home pitch.

The night DeCinces became so frustrated, the Orioles were playing wonderful baseball. But attendance was woeful, even by Baltimore standards. Two months later, almost to the day, the team still is playing exceptionally well - and the town is beginning to find its way once again to Memorial Stadium.

And word comes of the imminent sale of the team, to Washington interests captained by Edward Bennett Williams, with speculation of split schedules or perhaps an entire shift here.

Washingtonians long ago stopped panting breathlessly every time hints of a return of baseball surfaced, though if Williams is not actively tyring to arrange a purchase his silence on the matter offers compelling evidence to the contrary.

If a Williams-led group - or anyone else - did buy the Orioles, the most unlikely move would be an immediate shift here. Or that would seem to be extremely foolish, for although Washingtonians insist the area would be lavish in its support of a new team, that remains uncertain.

Economically, it also would seem foolish for the present owner, Jerold Hoffberger, or any future owners not to at least test Washington's inclinations with a significant number of games. The Oriole lease on Memorial Stadium expires June 30.

The message to Baltimore would be clear: Snap up or you might lose the franchise entirely. Equally clear would be the signal to Washington: This is your last chance. Of course, both areas could say: Go to Helena.

That is not likely. If ever a team demanded to be loved, it is the Orioles. With management that could not afford not to be stubbornly old-fashioned, they have managed to whip the every serious threat of free agentry and remain among the major leagues' elite teams.

When the Steinbrenners, Autry and Corbetts of baseball were opening their wallets at a horrific pace the Orioles seemed destined to fall from their lofty perch of mid-'60s to the early-'70s. And quickly.

But they survived. And now they offer perhaps the best combination of treats in baseball: pitching and power, managerial brilliance and one or two genuine zanies. And that major hear grabber: the very real possibility of penny pinchers striking down the megabucks Yankees.

Baltimore just now seems to be catching that drift.

Memorial Stadium is alive with unmistakable symptoms of pennant fever. The intensity of the faithful in the upper deck behind first base has begun to spread. For the Rangers this weekend, the Orioles had the third-best attendance for a three-game series in their history, 101,003.

Even without Friday's Tankard Night, the series would have been wildly successful.

And when the team and the town suddenly are in love with each other again comes an outside force to draw them eve closer.


Or the lack of it.The fuel crunch ought to benefit the Birds. It ought to keep more and more potential customers from choosing long-distance leisure-time alternatives. A trip to the park is going to seem more appealing than a trip to the beach.

And baseball, or at least Bird baseball, is the last of the traditional major-league sports to attract families. Pro football, pro basketball and pro hockey long ago priced themselves out of the range of regular family entertainment.

The Orioles still are approaching ticket prices Bob Short demanded of Senator fans a decade ago.

Still, there is a knot of Washingtonians with a fierce dislike for the Orioles. They take time to phone the radio talk shows, insisting they would rather wait for a National League expansion team than share the Orioles.

So the intrigue builds, with the deadline for significant action 19 days away. At a time Hoffberger is hanging out his for-sale sign again, Baltimore shows signs of allowing him to turn a profit.

But Baltimore has a history, in fair weather and foul, of not being generous enough to suit any dollar-oriented owner. For this reason, new management or old cannot afford to immediately ignore Baltimore or explore Washington.