BALTIMORE (AP) — The weather was more appropriate for a football game, with temperatures dipping into the 40s under an overcast sky.
Even if it was snowing, nothing was going to keep Orioles fans from showing up at Camden Yards on Sunday for the first baseball playoff game in Baltimore since 1997.
After 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles pulled off a stunning reversal by winning 93 games to earn a wild-card berth. Then, after beating Texas 5-1 on Friday, Baltimore returned home to host the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the AL division series.
“I want to see the Orioles beat the pants off the Yankees,” said 57-year-old Carol Pounsberry, who was the first in line at Gate A, three hours before the scheduled 6:15 p.m. start.
This is the time of year when the stadium is usually locked shut and the field is blanketed with a tarp. Instead, the fans flocked into the park while the Orioles took batting practice. The Major League Baseball logo with the word “POSTSEASON” was painted on the outside portion of the first- and third-base foul lines.
When the Orioles last played a playoff game at Camden Yards, Baltimore lost a seven-game AL championship series to Cleveland, 4-2. The series ended with Armando Benitez giving up the winning run in the 11th inning.
Jim Thome, now 42 and a designated hitter for Baltimore, was Cleveland’s first baseman that day.
“I was here in ’97 with my wife when Benitez lost the game and probably the World Series,” said 58-year-old Rick Lynch, who was wearing an Orioles hat, a jersey and a coat.
Since that time, the Orioles headed home after the final regular-season game. Without fail. Until now.
Stephanie Brooks was 11 years old in 1997. She arrived Sunday with her fiance, Justin Sucuiletti, who was wearing a Derek Jeter jersey and a Yankees cap.
“My dad was an avid Orioles fan. He grew up in Maryland and he raised me to be an Orioles fan,” she said. “I have never seen them in the playoffs, so this is really exciting for me.”
Sucuiletti wasn’t sure whether the couple could survive the week without an argument.
“It depends on who wins tonight or the next few games,” he said. “Whoever advances to the ALCS.”
Since 1997, the Yankees have participated in the playoffs every single year except for one. Brooks figured it was about time for the Orioles to show their superiority.
“I think it’s really important because the Yankees win so much,” she said. “It’s really special for us to be here. I would love to have the opportunity to brag over him about it.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter could only hope his team would appreciate the moment, but not be affected by it.
“It’s impossible to tell your players to take the emotion out of an at-bat or a pitch or a throw or whatever,” he said. “That’s why we’ve tried to do as much as we can, everything the same with some exceptions, with the schedule. We’re trying to stay in routine.”
Ah, but nothing about this was routine. On a chilly Sunday in October, the Baltimore Ravens’ home stadium across the street was empty and Camden Yards was buzzing.
“I’m glad they’re back where they should be,” Pounsberry said. “I have been waiting 15 years to see this.”