This spunky, underdog town is pitched for an old-fashioned barn-raising, a wild and woolly celebration of a baseball team that so aptly reflects the city's character.
Never mind that the muscle-bound Pirates from Pittsburgh are here with sluggers who outhit the home-town heroes by 11 percentage points.
The Baltimore Orioles, like the town they own these days, have been overlooked before.
No force seems powerful enough to dispel the autumnal baseball madness known as the World Series that has transformed this usually distracted, busy city into a compact, one-industry village.
Every entrance to Charm City is marked by banners and signs, nearly every cabbie and hotel clerk decorated with an Oriole baseball cap. A stripper on The Block balances an orange-and-black Oriole pin on her ever-so-slight G-string, while bartenders have taken to naming drinks after their favored players.
At Mercy Hospital last week, the 70-year-old wife of former mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr. entered major surgery a day after the Birds slithered away with a 9-8 playoff victory. As she lay back on a stretcher being wheeled into the operating room, she glanced back at her husband and said, "This guy (Don) Stanhouse (the Orioles' sometimes erratic reliever) drives me crazy."
One day earlier on the morning after the Orioles' first dramatic playoff win, radio sports commentator Charlie Eckman was called as a character witness in federal court. As Eckman alighted the stand the judge leaned over and said, "I didn't think you'd have a voice this morning."
The Birds of Balteeeemore are on everybody's tongue," said Eckman, a poor man's Howard Cosell who places a special spin on the town's second syllable. "You can't go down the street without hearing it."
Indeed, in the hours leading up to tonight's rainout in Memorial Stadium, the dank bars of Baltimore were dizzy with baseball talk. Lunch-time crowds forced into one deli on Corned Beef Row and cheered to recorded highlights of the Oriole season. Here, the only four-letter word considered too profane is "lose."
The baseball fervor in this xenophobic city on the Patapsco River was not even diluted by a discomfiting reminder of the brewing rivalry with neighboring Washington. An editorial in yesterday's Washington Post, noting that the Orioles were recently purchased by Washingtonian Edward Bennett Williams, referred to the Birds as "our team."
"Washington's so great it can't even draw a million people to see the pope," sneered a morning radio commentator. "How are they supposed to support a ball club?"
The Baltimore News American, an evening newspaper that has all but declared war on Washington and made it its mission to keep the Birds here, reprinted a Washington Post editorial under its own headline: "HUMPH!"
It is altogether fitting that Baltimore should take to its bosom a team so perfectly suited to the town. Where else could such unheralded names as Dauer and DeCinces play starring roles than in a city often remembered as a bottleneck between Washington and Philadelphia?"
There are no noisy, millionaire New York Yankees here, nor cold, patrician Boston Red Sox.Instead, the Oriole squad of mostly modest commonplace men blends together like a Dundalk factory line.
The slavish devotion to detail and teamwork gives these 1979 Orioles the same equilibrium as Baltimore's cluttered, tight-knit neighborhoods of marble-step row houses and hand-painted window screens.
The Birds of Baltimore are Orioles that hop, not peacocks that strut.
"We don't have any of the lace-curtain guys," observed Eckman. "It's a blue-collar city and we relate to these guys because we feel they're blue-collar ballplayers."
The team's familiarity with its town is matched in perfection by the timing of this World Series. Like the Orioles, the city has struggled with small treasures and unglamorous standings for years, only to slough off its near-miss reputation in recent times.
This year of Oriole successes coincides well with Baltimore's new "hey-look-me-over" attitude, the completion of much of its sparkling Inner Harbor and its neighborhood revitalization programs. The town and the team seemed to jell at once, giving dual meaning to the ubiquitous banner here, "We're On Top Where We Belong."
"This Series is a tremendous coming-out-party," exclaimed City Council President Wally Orlinsky. "We're a 250-year-old dowager who suddenly got kissed by the fairy prince. The last time we played a series (1971), the Inner Harbor was flat. Now there are office buildings and restaurants and . . . "
The public relations gains of a World Series have not been lost on Orlinsky and fellow city leaders. The greatest care has been taken to accommodate the squadron of sports writers who often inject a bit of city life in their baseball copy. There are nightly parties, and a vacant storage room at the stadium has been converted into a western-style tavern with banjo and piano players. Each reporter received a canvas bag of goodies -- maps, favorable press clippings on the city and a lexicon of the town's strange tongue, or "Baltimorese."
(The home team is pronounced "Oryuls.")
"It's a great chance to put your best foot forward," explained Sandy Hillman, director of the Baltimore office of promotions and tourism.
The cash registers already have begun ringing for the tavern owners, restaurateurs and hotel keepers. The local papers are filled with ads boasting special Oriole package deals such as drinks and dinner and of course, a free bus ride to the stadium's Babe Ruth Plaza.
The regulars at the Green Door tavern in workingman's Waverly are planning to cut out pictures of Pirate players and paste them alongside such fictional counterparts as Captain Hook and Blackbeard. At the right moment, the art work will be set to flames in the same manner as a pennant of the vanquished California Angels.
On the Block where dancers at the Oasis Club will dress in suggestive baseball costumes (at least for a while), owner Pam Gail is bracing for the hordes of out-of-towners who believe, she said, "if you can't let your hair down here you can't do it anywhere."
"The series means money in motion, "said Bill Beasman, president of the Savings Bank of Baltimore. "For every bag of peanuts sold, and every bottle of beer sold the money turns over in barbershops and cabs and hotels and everywhere else.
"This is just one more way of putting Baltimore on the map. It's longer lasting in importance than having the pope visit a city like Baltimore."
The battle lines for the series began forming early at some of the downtown nightspots where visiting Pittsburgh fans met enemy forces for the first time.
Almost from the minute he took his seat at the bar of the downtown Holiday Inn Monday night. Pittsburgher Ernie Jacko had a nonstop jousting match with a barmaid who is a stalwart Oriole booster.
"We won't rub it in," said Jacko, a boat builder. "We're compassionate people from Pittsburgh. We have mercy."
After several rounds for several hours, the barmaid responded with a crushing blow. "Here," she snorted, handing Jacko a large red towel. "Take this to the stadium and fill it with tears."