Up in Section 40, high above the emerald green field on which the Orioles and Royals pirouetted, they were calling Jack Gray "the projector director."

Gray and his buddies had the last six seats in the third-from-topmost row before you get to the wire mesh fence where Memorial Stadium ends. The fence is up there for a reason: so the beer drinkers who normally occupy seats won't fall overboard and make a mess in the parking lot. It's a couple hundred feet straight down.

"Whew," say the ladies upon arriving. "I can't breathe."

Gray, a small, gray-haired fellow, was named project director in February when he was put in charge of obtaining opening day Oriole baseball tickets for his small circle of friends.

"He ordered lower reserved," said Mike Yobaggy of Silver Spring. "They were sold out, so he asked for mezzanine. And here's what we got. Upper reserved, four rows from God.

"That's okay, Jack runs his business the same way," Yobaggy added. He dipped a fist into a grocery bag of popcorn, hoisted a paper tumbler of whisky sour and squinted down at the game, far below.

Two rows behind Gray and two rows from God said Scott Corey in a blue blazer, oxford cloth shirt and gray slacks. He is not your standard top-row-in-the-grandstand type.

"How did I get here?" he sighed. "Well it's a long story. Almost as long as it is high."

More than 50,000 jammed Memorial Stadium on a heaven-sent baseball day. The paid attendance, 50,317, set a record for opening day here. They came from New Jersey and North Carolina and Washington ad Havre de Grace.

They basked in warm west winds and saw the team with the best record in baseball over the last 25 years slip by the league champion Royals, 5-3.Almost to a one, they had a story to tell about hard it was to get here at all.

"I asked for box seats March 13," said Corey, sniffing at the scent of marijuana smoke from the fellows in the last row. "They sent me general admission -- the last row out there," he said, waving at an evergreen tree beyond the right-center bleachers.

"They finally upgraded them after I reminded the box office people that they were a no-class operation, just like the Colts.

"A few years ago they couldn't sell out day games in the World Series.This year they told me they had 25,000 season tickets sold."

"A little over 5,000 actually," an Oriole spokesman said.

However it shakes down, the Orioles are catching on. And they did nothing to hurt that trend in a perfect game on a perfect day today.

"It's my first time here," said Rich Parisi of Fairfax. "I'm getting ready to come back in October for the Yanks. I guess I'd better write in for tickets now."

And judging by many fans' experiences today winding through downtown Baltimore on the way to the park, we'd better leave home sometime in August. It's construction time here and nothing works right.

"Worst I've ever seen," said an Army enlisted man from Fort Meade. "I sat for an hour in traffic and then got detoured around a fire. Good thing I brought this six-pack."

Back in the grandstand Bill Schneider of Edgewood camped out in Section 34 and waxed on the wonders of Oriole fever. "I'm a diehard. I listen to the games on the radio. I'll tell you what's good here. They let you bring your own beer. Now if you bring smoking stuff, they jump on your case. But beer, that's okay. I like it up top here. You get your freedom."

And so it went in general admission, the diehards and the newcomers side by side, soaking up the spring sun and the sweet allure of the Birds of Baltimore.

One thing they all agreed on. It's not cheap anymore.

"Three dollars for this, can you believe it?" asked Lee Chartock of Washington, hoisting a magnum beer.

And $3.75 for upper reserved seats that not too long ago cost $1.50, $1.60 for a Polish sausage and $1 for a pack of cigarettes.

So what doesn't cost in this world? And this is baseball, the game that comes closet to lasting forever.

Before the first pitch young Craig Smith from New Jersey sat behind the Oriole dugout waiting for his man to show.

In his lap he cradled a black and white photograph of Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio together, circa 1950.

Feller had signed his half. DiMaggio was to throw out the first ball of this Baltimore season. Smith had his pen ready, looking for gray-haired Joltin' Joe.

"Why don't you just go to New York?" someone asked Smith.

"Because," he said. "I hate New York."