“Happy Opening Day,” a customer shouts to Themar, the owner of a cafe on Pratt Street, as he heads out to door and into the spring morning. Themar waves back from behind the counter, smiling.
“Where are you working today?” Themar asks a woman in orange knee-high socks who is pressed up to the counter. Behind her, people who look like they are on their way to work eat breakfast and check email on laptops.
“Sliders,” she replies, taking hold of a carrier full of coffee. “We’ve been in since 6:30 this morning.”
Outside, fans slip into the last few available spots of street parking in the area, arriving for the 3:00 game. Just after 9 a.m. they’re carrying cases of canned beer toward the stadium. They’re carrying cups of coffee in their free hands. They’re in orange and white jerseys, black and orange shoes.
By 11:30, traffic crawls on Pratt Street, backed up a quarter mile from the stadium.
A cool breeze, a spring breeze, blows through the lot adjacent to Camden Pub, where a guy in aviators and a backwards cap is already chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A.” A dyed-blonde woman spilling out of her low-cut Scores strip-club tank top hands out cards for free admission to the club, and she is already getting dirty looks from the ball cap wearing bros whose game of corn hole she is ruining by picking up beanbags and saying that she won. The 1995 single “Roll to Me” is already being danced to.
By noon, crowds pack the bar at the corner of Portland and Emory Streets. The block party on the tree-lined, cobble-stoned roads of Ridgley’s Delight, the neighborhood that buttresses Orioles Park at Camden Yards, is in full swing. The Scores women have found their way here, piling out of their GEM electric vehicle driven by an cigar-smoking bouncer type, to join the Marine Corps recruiters who are out with their Humvee and pull-up bar. With the game still hours away, the Scores blonde who asks the uniformed Marines if she can do a pull up is enough of a spectacle to draw in the tipsy-at-noon crowd.
“God loves America,” says a the middle-aged man in a turtleneck as he hoots and ogles. A moment later, when his wife isn’t looking, he asks another woman in a Scores shirt what time their place closes.
By noon, a cover band plays “Talking in Your Sleep.”
By noon, teenagers turn away from from the block party when they see a bouncer carding people to get in.
By noon, an Orioles-orange, knit scarf adorns the neck of the nine-foot-tall statue of Brooks Robinson, who is looking over the scene across from Camden Yards. Already, 150-foot lines of people wait to get into the barricaded areas below Robinson, the drinking pens closed-off on Washington Street, outside of the popular game-day bars that line the street. Inside the pen, there is a sea of jerseys and ball caps. Women in orange skinny jeans. Wrap-around and aviator sunglasses. Beer, lots of beer.
“We’re really coming out just for the scene,” a group of twenty-somethings without tickets to the game tells a woman standing beside them in line who just wants a few drinks before the opening ceremonies begin. “We’re hoping the crowd clears out once the game-goers leave.”
A reveler in wrap-arounds confirms the sentiment as he leans casually onto one of the barricades with a can of beer in this hands, “I came for the party and the people-watching.”
Ruth and Billy are people-watching from their spot outside of the hotel on the corner and smiling from ear to ear. They travelled from California for the event, their first ever Orioles Opening Day. Billy has been a huge fan since he was a kid, when he started his fandom because the team shared the same name as the one he was on in little league. They spent a year planning the trip, which may account for their stadium-facing room, a stadium that seems to mean a lot to them.
“He almost cried when we pulled into the city and saw the Camden Yards for the first time.”
“She asked me if I wanted to get out and kiss the ground before we checked into our hotel, but I told her that I would have plenty of time for that.”
Like most fans here, Ruth and Billy are decked out in black and orange, but for them it was a matter of necessity: they bought most of their outfit at the vendors outside the stadium this morning after their luggage was lost during travel. If they mind, the smiles they are wearing don’t show it.
“This game, it has been an adventure, but well worth it.”
It is perfect weather for baseball, 61 degrees when the game starts. Perfect weather for drinking outside of the stadium, a fact made clear when the majority of the crowd doesn’t budge as the fireworks go off and Baltimore’s ‘O’ can be heard from inside the stadium where the national anthem is being sung.
“I’m out here unless somebody comes by and flips me a ticket,” a man inside the pens says as only a fraction of the crowd shifts toward the stadium. “Otherwise, I’m happy just to be out here drinking and watching. It’s like Mardi Gras out here, only cleaner.”
As the game starts, the choir of scalpers lining the corners in every direction seems to be at its most active.
The scalpers tell the crowd that they are “Selling! Selling!”
They say “Tickets! Tickets!”
“Need Tickets! Need Tickets! I’m buyin’!”
“Selling tickets,” a man with grayed hair scratches out more quietly than the others from behind a wheezy voice.
“Who’s sellin’? Who’s sellin’? Who’s sellin’?”
The best are the messages that lack clarity, like “Selling tickets! Selling tickets! … Is anyone selling tickets?”
As the speakers blaring from the scene on Washington add Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” to the cacophony, a cast of characters fills the walkways both inside and outside of the stadium.
The newspaper-box mascot is here.
Captain Morgan is here in his signature red coat and accompanied by a shot girl. The two are marketing his signature rum.
A man in a Orioles-patterned lucha libre mask is here.
A figure in tights, wearing a long-nosed bird mask, is here, in-line skating up Pratt Street and playing “Good Morning Baltimore” out of a saxophone.
“Wait,” another jersey-wearing fan tells his friends. “Is that a guy or a girl?”
The Mardi Gras comparison is most apparent after the game, after an eighth-inning grand slam clenches a win. After the game when the stream of intoxicated fans are spewing out of Orioles Park at Camden Yards. It is most apparent when the workers at the front desk of the nearby Hilton are checking in sloppy guests who decided to wait until after the game. It is most apparent when the group of guys in the polished lobby are chanting “Vic-tor-y! Vic-tor-y!” Seen most clearly in the waves of slightly drunk people guiding very drunk people to their buses, cabs and cars. It is heard in the ‘F*** Yous.’
“F*** you, you pushed me.”
“F***you, you’re just a crossing guard.”
“F*** you, buddy.”
“F*** you too.”
It is seen in the act of throwing up. Throwing up outside of the front gate. Throwing up in flower beds. In the street. In porta-pottys. Throwing up while smoking a cigarette and talking on a cell phone.
Back down Pratt Street, east of the stadium, an man overwhelmed by the day is chatting happily on his phone as he walks away from The Yard. “I brought $150 with me; I got 13 bucks that I hope will get me out of the parking garage.”
Walking away from the stadium, a man in a ball cap is kissing the woman under his arm on the top of her head as the evening sun dips below the buildings. It has been a good day.
At Camden Pub, the crowd that had packed the adjacent lot throughout the day is gone, leaving only a few stragglers outside of the bar. An older man is taking off his grubby apron, shaking his head but smiling as the place that has been selling pulled pork all day closes-up shop.
“Opening Day, man. That’s what we do.”