And the baseball was splendid. In '82, Cal Jr.'s first full year, the Orioles took the pennant race to the final weekend against Milwaukee. That was the most exciting thing Junior had ever felt in his life. The next year they took it up a notch and won the pennant in the playoffs in Chicago. Attendance was sky-high. All of Baltimore was on a roll. There was a working mayor in those days—guy named Schaefer, he was kind of the Oriole Way of mayors—and he'd walk into some business in town and tell 'em, flat out, they had to buy season tickets. That's when he wasn't busy building somewhere. (Hell, he was rebuilding the whole Inner Harbor, said it was going to save the city!) It was exciting just to be there. And when the O's beat the Phillies in five games in October, and Schaefer had a parade through the streets, and the fans came out by the tens of thousands, yelling, "Cal M-V-P, Cal M-V-P!"...then everything seemed perfect. Nobody knew it was over.
No one had marked as a disaster the moment three years earlier that Hoffberger sold the team. (The new owner, attorney Edward Bennett Williams, was already whining about the tight streets around the ballpark. Fer crissakes, it took him an hour to get home to Washington.) No one knew the mayor was running for his last reelection; he was building his last towers, selling his last tickets. No one—certainly not Cal Jr.—knew that would be his last pennant, last Series, last parade. No one saw it was the end of the Oriole Way—not even Senior, keeper of the code—until four years later, when Williams gave him a thoroughly diminished team to manage and then fired him because he didn't win.
Sure enough, it's a big crowd for Fotoball. No surprise: Camden Yards is always near-sold-out. The field level is almost all season tickets. The club level, above that, is all bought up by businessmen who send young waitresses to fetch their crab cakes and designer beer. And it's big business in the skyboxes, where buffets and TVs are arrayed in cool darkness, behind plate glass. The rulers of Baltimore built this pleasure playground for themselves.
In the rest of the yard it's family entertainment—parents cajoling little Kim, Lee and Ashley to keep their Fotoballs in the Oriole (promo) sports bag so they won't get cotton candy or frozen yogurt on them. It's a prosperous crowd, overwhelmingly white. The P.A. man, Rex Barney, yells his single, aged joke—"Give that fan a contract!"—whenever a customer catches a foul ball. There's the Bird dweeb, dancing with the ball girl down the left-field line. There's the Jumbotron in centerfield, flashing trivia quizzes (JeopBirdie) or guess-the-attendance or a picture of the player at bat, along with some cheery bio factoid: Chris had 3 HR in one game with Columbus. (Big deal.) The whole show is paced like a Saturday-morning cartoon: Something has to happen every 30 seconds, or else.
Oh, there is a game, too.
It isn't a very good game—though Cal puts the O's on the board with a home run in the second inning. That revs the crowd for a while. They're up in their seats, rooting...till the third out, and then the PA. speakers whine to life with a female voice like treacle: Noo-body does it better.... It's the theme song for the Jumbotron video on Cal: Cal hitting, Cal sliding, Cal high-fiving, Cal in the pivot, Cal as a kid, Cal with his kids, Cal getting a plaque, Cal in gauzy sunshine waving his cap. Noo-body doezzz it bettttter: Bayyyy-bee yerrrrr the besssst! The boys in marketing must have put that splendid tribute together. No one is rooting at all—they're just watching TV. Cal is already the favorite with all the suburban children. They wear jerseys with the big number 8 on the back and ORIOLES across the chest. (No official-and-genuine Oriole jersey, not even the road uniform, says BALTIMORE anymore. Regionalism is a Key Marketing Concept.)
Meanwhile, the O's are giving the game away—handing it over to a last-place club. On the mound Jamie Moyer has already walked in two Toronto runs. Now, two ground balls that the second baseman can't play and an error in leftfield turn into three more runs. The nearly 42,000 in attendance watch in murmurous passivity. They make noise when they're told to—though they did stand to cheer for Bobby Bonilla on the occasion of his first Oriole hit; he was 0-fer his first two games. Still, everyone seems sure Bonilla will put the O's over the top. Has to. He's worth millions! They're pleased with the team's owner, Peter Angelos (another lawyer). At least he's not afraid to spend! (And isn't it great? All they had to give up for Bonilla was a couple of farmhands—just two of their best outfield prospects. Minor leaguers!)
Middle innings: Toronto now has six runs. It's always disturbing to this crowd when their team of hired millionaires doesn't win. And it's always somewhat mysterious.
The front-row box next to the dugout, right on third base, is now held by Ripken's agent, Ron Shapiro. Those seats have a splendid view of Toronto runners rounding third, but Shapiro couldn't be in a better mood. He's gorgeous in his warmth—the kind of fellow who'll reach over and hold your arm with his hand while he tells you something nice about yourself. He's a lawyer by training, sports agent by trade; he's the man who set up Cal's charity foundation and created the Tufton Group, which handles demands on Cal in this year of the Streak. As Cal's father is father to Cal's game, so is Shapiro father to Cal's iconhood.
"To me," says Shapiro, "the bonding between a player and his community is what it's all about." Ripken, he says, has made a conscious choice to stay in Baltimore for his entire career. Yes, Cal is committed to working with Baltimore. "He wants to be appreciated for his totality as a human being...as a thoughtful, caring, committed and community human being." Shapiro is thoroughly hip to the great divide in the ballpark—the family crowd, the corporate crowd—and alive to the possibilities this presents for Cal. "Because, remember," says Shapiro, "they'll all come out for Cal. Both constituencies." He sounds like an operative sizing up a prime piece of political horseflesh. Politics is another of Shapiro's games. He is the finance chairman for the current mayor's reelection campaign. Ron Shapiro is going to remain a ruler of Baltimore.