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Fans Have the Fever for Orioles

The Baltimore Evening Sun

In suddenly baseball-mad Baltimore, the fans certainly have noticed the Orioles.

And the Orioles have noticed the fans, too.

“The people are really getting into it,” Orioles infielder Rene Gonzales said. “The other day I stopped at a red light in Towson (Md.) near where I live, and a cab driver pulled up next to me. He just looked over and said, ‘Do it!’ ”

Things like that didn’t happen to the Orioles last year. Especially not last year, when the Orioles lost a club-record 107 games.

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But even then, they did talk about the Orioles, as Gonzales points out.

“Last year,” he said, “people used to say to me all the time, ‘What’s going on with the Orioles?’ Now they ask me the same thing -- ‘What’s going on?’ -- only now the question has the opposite meaning.”

Even after Thursday night’s 11-1 loss to Toronto at Memorial Stadium, the Orioles are in first place in the American League East by 6 1/2 games. That’s still the biggest lead in the majors.

That sort of thing -- a rise from last place to first -- would ignite the fans of any town. But several of the Orioles are quick to point out that the people of Baltimore have not just discovered the Birds.

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“These people supported us well even last year,” said pitcher Jay Tibbs. “But I can see how excited they are now. I live in an apartment complex in Timonium (Md.), so I get to see a lot of my neighbors. They’re always telling me, ‘We saw the game last night,’ or they just say, ‘Keep it up.’ Basically, they’re just happy with our success. That’s very noticeable to us.”

One Oriole who has not sensed any difference, as far as the fans’ reaction is concerned, is Joe Orsulak.

“I’m not that recognized,” he said, “so nobody says anything to me. I live in Mike Boddicker’s old house in Timonium. They all recognized Mike.

“About the only person I see the change in is my dentist,” Orsulak said. “He’s a big Oriole fan. He’s really excited this year.”

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Most of the other Orioles see evidence of the fever, though.

Curt Motton, an Oriole outfielder 20 years ago and now one of Manager Frank Robinson’s coaches, says you don’t have to look far to see proof of it.

“You can see it in the stands,” Motton said.

And indeed you can. The crowd of 39,528 Thursday night brings the total for 13 dates in June to 463,606. The average for the month so far is 35,662, more than the club record of 32,935, set in August 1980.

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For the season, the Orioles have now drawn 1,052,568. Clearly, they have a good shot at setting an all-time Oriole attendance record. The record, set in 1985, is 2,132,387.

None of that is lost on the players, either.

“When you see crowds of 35,000 and 39,000 out here on weeknights, you know these people are really turned on,” Traber said. “The players realize it.”

“It makes you feel great to see so many fans out here,” said catcher Mickey Tettleton. “The players love having all this support.

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“I haven’t personally experienced that much contact with the fans,” Tettleton said. “But a few times, when my wife and I have gone out to eat, we’ve heard people saying the Orioles are playing well. Stuff like that. The people don’t say it because of me. They don’t know who I am. They just say it.”

Tettleton, a relative unknown last year, is one of the Orioles’ biggest heroes with his 17 home runs.

When Elrod Hendricks took Tettleton to his baseball camp the other day, the kids mobbed the O’s slugger. Mickey knew what he’d be asked. It had to do with Froot Loops.

“Which came first,” a youngster asked Tettleton, “the home runs or the Froot Loops?”

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“All I can tell you,” Tettleton said, “is I’ve been eating Froot Loops all my life.”


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