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Orioles welcomed home for long-awaited playoff date

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They clinched their post-season berth in an airplane over Florida and secured their spot in the divisional series in Texas. But for a town awash in orange and fans beyond thrilled, the Orioles are now fulfilling what the late comedian George Carlin said, in a routine about the sweetness of the sport, is the object of baseball:

To come home.

The Orioles have done just that, to fans who are welcoming not just this particular team but the long-awaited return of playoff baseball to Baltimore. The O's host the New York Yankees in the first game of the American League East Division Series at 6:07 p.m. Sunday night at Camden Yards.

"We didn't get to be with them to celebrate Friday night," Don Ferguson, 48, said of the Orioles' Wild Card victory in Texas. "And had they lost, we wouldn't have been with them to thank them for the season and to say goodbye.

"So now I'm just really, really glad we get to see them here," Ferguson said Saturday after picking up two new Orioles sweat shirts at a Camden Yards shop to keep warm in his upper-deck seat Sunday night.

Ferguson and Linda Weaver, 52, of Catonsville, co-workers at Southwest Airlines, were among the fans who spent Saturday in that wonderful in-between state: basking in the day-after glow of an Orioles' victory and reveling in the day-before anticipation of the team's chase of the divisional title.

Weaver thought she might be able to pick up tickets at the box office – there were none to be had – and plans to try her luck online.

"I'd hate to miss out on this," said the lifelong fan, who remembers her parents taking her out of school for Opening Day, where she'd wear a little Orioles uniform her mother had sewn for her.

As both teams worked out on the field and workers prepped the park in advance of the playoff opener, fans readied themselves as well.

"No time to be cheap," Brian Airey said after wincing a bit at the price tag on the Orioles postseason hoodie on the rack at Dick's Sporting Goods in Glen Burnie. Seventy dollars, but then again, it's the one you saw worn in the dugout of Friday night's game. And, after all, it's been 15 years since the Ferndale resident has had an opportunity to wear "Orioles" and "postseason" on his chest.

"I was 12 years old the last time," the longshoreman said on his way to the cash register.

Given that he was wearing a Vladimir Guerrero T-shirt that now seems from a distant past — it was only last year, actually — Airey needed something new for the playoffs. He has tickets for Game 2 on Monday, for himself, his wife and "whoever gives me their first-born child."

It'll be a long and glorious weekend of Baltimore sports, from watching the Ravens and Orioles games on TV on Sunday, and then no work and all play at Camden Yards on Monday, which happens to be the Columbus Day holiday.

"Yep," Airey said, "good times."

Jerry Grahe, 58, decided to pass on the current postseason gear at Dick's and hold out for shirts or hats that, oh, just maybe will declare the O's Division or League champs. When you've been "starved" this long, as Grahe, a federal auditor put it, what's another few days or weeks?

"It's all good," said Grahe, who lives in Greenland Beach in Anne Arundel County. He didn't get tickets but will be watching the divisional series, and beyond, he hopes, on TV. "When you reach this level, it's just all good."

For his son, also named Jerry, the season has been a revelation: So this is what it was like for his elders who regaled him with tales of past Orioles glories that seemed quite the contrast to the Orioles of most of his own era.

"My father and grandfather would talk about the old stuff, so I knew there was another side to the Orioles," said the younger Grahe, 23, a customer support rep for Verizon. "I just didn't know when that would happen."

On a sunny, wind-swept Saturday, joggers, errand runners, balloons at car dealerships all seemed to have gotten the orange-and-black, color-coordination memo. Even Halloween pumpkins, Hooters waitresses, autumnal mums and babies too young to pick out their own attire became inadvertent parts of an Orioles landscape.

"We're happy for him because he gets this in his first year," Sarah Parsons said, chuckling as her orange-bedecked 1-year-old son Brandon played with his hat.

With husband and dad James, the Locust Point family headed Saturday to the Fort Avenue Starbucks, reveling in the morning-after glow of the Orioles Wild Card victory. Topic A: Baby-sitter for Brandon so Mom and Dad can go to the long-awaited Division Series.

"It's been rejuvenating the city," said James Parsons, 33. "It's been rough because it's been 15 years since they've been relevant."

Throughout Orioles Nation, one sentiment continually emerged: how lovably scrappy this team is, and how great it is to cheer them onward.

"This team, they're something special," said Brian Kartel, 41, of Federal Hill, who followed up watching Friday night's game at Mother's with a Saturday shopping trip for his daughter's Halloween costume.

"They exemplify the best of baseball," said Susan Kaiser, 57, who with her brother Robert, 55, and poodle, Benny, 5, walked around Camden Yards' legends sculpture garden Saturday afternoon. "They sacrifice for the good of the team."

"They pick each other up," agreed Robert Kaiser, a geriatrics physician. "This is just an amazing team, and they're so much fun to watch."

With the Eutaw Street plaza open, a sprinkling of fans shopped souvenir stores and watched the team workouts, many seemingly blissed out to have the park largely to themselves in the calm before Sunday's storm.

But already, area businesses have started enjoying the bounty that the postseason will bring. Bars have been packed for the games, and hotels and stores are getting some action as well.

"We don't have hard numbers, but what we do have is a lot of buzz," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. "There is a buzz and excitement in hotels, restaurants, and even in the retail shops in and around downtown as we anticipate the playoff games."

The city typically receives an economic boost when the Orioles play Boston or, as they will Sundayand Monday, New York, said Tom Noonan, president & CEO of Visit Baltimore.

"Rates go up $20 to $50 a night for Red Sox games and up to $70 for Yankees games," he said, referring to data from the past five years of regular season games. "I guarantee you that hotels were really excited that the O's won. That means that people are going to come."

The uncertainty created by the Orioles' end-of-season win can only help businesses such as hotels and airlines who can now charge a premium for last-minute bookings, according to Noonan.

Tina Lavelle, general manager of the newly opened Townhouse Kitchen and Bar in Harbor East, may be a New York native, but even she is pulling for the O's.

"Our bar was packed 10 deep all night," Lavelle said. "The bar was literally chanting 'Orioles' the whole night. The energy was crazy.

"The friendliness and good energy is what we all needed in Baltimore," she said. "Our business is booming. We're expecting to ride this wave with the Orioles until they win the World Series."

Sun reporters Erica L. Green and John-John Williams IV contributed to this article.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jean_marbella

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