Oriole pitcher Steve Stone, still recovering from an elbow injury, finished his workout early today, then walked directly over to a cluster of fans behind home plate and signed every scrap of paper that was waved in front of his face.
"I didn't see any bitterness out there today," Stone said as he relaxed in the dugout. "The Baltimore fans are great; I don't think they took the strike personally."
With admission free, the sun shining and all the Orioles a fan could hope for, Memorial Stadium provided the most baseball around -- and 4,791 came out to cheer the team through its first public workout since the end of the strike.
The fans, mostly youngsters armed with mitts and pens, had help, of course: the team mascot was on hand to lead the ever-popular O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheer and to sign a few autographs using his right wing.
"I was getting a little depressed, admitted Jerry Werner, who brought his son and a friend out to the stadium. "I was just sitting around home, waiting for it to end."
Was Werner the least bit angry at the players and owners for disrupting his summer schedule of baseball?
"No, I'm just glad they're back," he replied.
The feeling appeared to be mutual.
As the players left the field they obliged those who crowded around, pens poised, for autographs. Catcher Dan Graham paused outside the dugout while his picture was taken. Ken Singleton posed with a 3-year-old boy as he awaited his turn for batting practice.
Those in the stands roared their approval each time a player wandered by to exchange pleasantries or to flip a ball into the seats.
"Did you break any bats out there today, Doug?" one youngster asked third baseman Doug DeCinces.
"Nah, I didn't break any bats," he replied, giving the boy an affectionate tug on his miniature baseball cap. The youngster reached up and held the spot on his cap DeCinces had touched, then watched him disappear into the clubhouse.
"They (the fans) view us as part of the community . . . and they knew we were just as unhappy as they were about the strike," Stone said. "Let's face it, we're here to play baseball. Anything else a ballplayer does during the summer is unnatural."
Some of those who came out to see the Orioles seemed shocked at the suggestion they might be angry at their beloved Birds.
"The post office was talking about going out on strike a while back. If they had gone out and come back we wouldn't have stopped mailing letters," said Joseph Caouette, from his second tier seat midway between home plate and third base.
"If the airlines went on strike we wouldn't stop riding airplanes when they came back."
"Strikes are just a part of life," agreed his German-born wife Maria, an avid baseball fan who went back to Germany for two weeks this summer to escape the boredom of Baltimore without the Orioles.
Oriole General Manager Hank Peters talked about the fans when he addressed a team meeting moments before the players took the field.
"I wanted to talk to them about their obligations to each other and the fans," Peters said as he watched the players taking batting practice. "I don't think we can overlook the fact that fences have been damaged and wounds have been inflicted. We just don't want these things to fester."
But as Peters looked toward the stands and the men on the field, he said the Orioles probably would fare better than other teams struggling back to normalcy. "We have a good, positive attitude among our players and that helps us immensely."
But there were some in the stadium who said they still were angry about the strike.
"I'm very frustrated," said Irwin Weiss, a Baltimore attorney and season ticket holder who moved to this city from Washington two years ago. "I remember having baseball taken from me in 1971 (when the Senators moved to Texas).
"To me, the 1981 season at this point is a farce.It's like going to the Kennedy Center and only hearing the first three movements of Beethoven's ninth or making an omelet without eggs."
Weiss, who said he was at the stadium only to try out a new camera, has given away or sold most of his tickets for the Orioles' remaining games. Except the last one.
"I might come to the last game because the last game is always a prelude to the next season. And I'll buy season tickets again next year and come out to all the games," Weiss admitted.