BALTIMORE -- In baseball, the goal is to get back home -- home plate, that is. So to leave home to watch the local team might seem a bit extravagant. But a weekend trip to an out-of-town game lets fans experience another city and ballpark and gain a new perspective on the old team.
When I flew to Baltimore for a game, I discovered that even though you are away, you can feel very much at home. The Boston connections are frequent and sometimes surprising.
Near the park, the Wharf Rat offers no-nonsense seafood. Page E5
My trip began at the Hartford airport, where 10 other passengers, adults and children, wore Red Sox gear. There were more Sox fans on the plane, and when I met my friend Brian at the Baltimore-Washington airport, he said the same had been true of his flight from Providence.
For the rest of the day, the sight of families, couples, and groups of friends clad in Red Sox caps, sweatshirts, or jackets became almost laughably common. They were everywhere -- on city sidewalks, in restaurants and shops, and in our hotel, where in one elevator, all eight people inside sported the Red Sox logo.
On game night, Boston fans predominated in the outdoor seating at both the Wharf Rat on West Pratt Street and at the Downtown Sports Exchange next door. Although the Orioles were in first place, where they have been for most of the season, I still felt for the occasional orange-clad Baltimore fans in the crowd. After all, we had barged onto their turf. And I was cheered by one patron who looked chagrined in her Yankees cap and T-shirt.
A large part of the appeal of an Orioles game is just being at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Opened in 1992, it signaled a change from the 1970s-era stadiums, which contained rather than celebrated baseball, toward more distinctive parks like Jacobs Field in Cleveland and Safeco Field in Seattle. And there's even a hometown connection. Larry Lucchino, Red Sox president, and Janet Marie Smith, vice president for planning and development, were involved in planning Camden Yards when both worked for the Orioles.
To get to our second-level, right-field seats, we had to pass through a corridor that was more in keeping with an office building than a stadium. The surroundings left us mulling the power of business in baseball.
On television, the park looks like a classy, fun place. But from our seats the whole seemed less than the sum of the parts -- the Baltimore & Ohio Warehouse beyond right field, the standing area and Eutaw Street concessions concourse between the field and the warehouse, and the bullpens lined up one in front of the other, rather than adjacent. To make matters worse, my full-price $40 seat had an obstructed view, thanks to two raised bars at the end of the stairs that blocked my sightline to home plate. And the seats faced center field instead of home plate. That's been a criticism of Fenway's right-field seats, but here in a model ballpark, we expected better.
Sox fans, who almost entirely filled our section, were a more appealing reminder of Fenway. ''Let's go, Red Sox!" cries enveloped us and echoed throughout the park.
When they're hungry, fans in the ''club" sections here can stay in their seats and be waited on by a park employee offering items from a hot dog ($4.50) to a crab cake sandwich ($10.50), plus desserts, snacks, soft drinks, beer, and wine. I found that odd, preferring to get my own food (beef barbecue) from a Eutaw Street concession, eating it while watching the game from the picnic tables on Eutaw, then moving to Eli Jacobs Plaza, the standing area between the right-field wall and Eutaw.
While section 208 was our home away from home, the plaza was a minefield, at least psychologically. Two young guys in Yankees caps and T-shirts printed with unmentionable insults directed at Boston fans wandered around grinning inexplicably. Any other year, I would have been infuriated by their attire. On this night, I waited until I had their attention and then -- with an explicable grin of my own -- doffed my cap at them.
At one point, a young, beer-sloshed Orioles fan shouted ''Get this Boston [stuff] outta here!" That ''stuff" included all the Sox fans lined up against the wall, watching the action -- including a game-saving play at the plate that prompted a surge of Red Sox cheers and led to a 1-0 win -- and a first-place tie with the O's.
Of the roughly 40,000 people at the park that night, a report on ESPN estimated that ''30,000 of them were wearing Red Sox caps and shirts."
The Boston-Baltimore connection popped up elsewhere during our stay. In the city we saw signs reading ''BELIEVE" on several buildings. According to Kristin Zissel of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, they are part of a ''civic pride" campaign started more than two years ago. To us, it seemed more like last season's Red Sox mantra.
Other hometown ties: a Legal Sea Foods in the Inner Harbor area, and in the harbor itself, the USS Constellation, a sister ship to Boston's USS Constitution.
We also ran into a pair of former Massachusetts residents working at Fader's tobacco store on South Calvert Street. Phil McLaughlin, who previously lived in Marshfield, described Maryland as ''Massachusetts south. Baltimore is on the water like Boston, you go west and Frederick is Worcester and Hagerstown is Springfield, and the whole Eastern Shore is the Cape." McLaughlin grew up in Maryland as an Orioles fan but switched his loyalties to the Red Sox when he was in college in Maine.
Boston native James DeMarco, who moved to Maryland in 1980 to work on Senator Edward M. Kennedy's presidential campaign, recommended some cigars and noted that he was heading to Fenway the following week for a game. His brother is a longtime season-ticket holder, DeMarco said, ''since box seats were six bucks."
The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum on Emory Street, a short walk from Camden Yards, is a recognized attraction for fans of both the Sox and the Yankees.
''Boston or New York, they draw our biggest crowds," said Lois Matthews, a 17-year employee. One of the museum's intriguing displays is a missive left on Ruth's grave by a 9-year-old girl on Oct. 9, 1995: ''Yesterday we left a note for you to help the Yankees beat Seattle. We lost the game good try. You are still special to me."
That left me thinking: If the ghost of Ruth couldn't help a young girl, how could it have hurt a whole team -- for decades? Yet the museum seems to have bought into that idea, prominently displaying a ''Curse of the Bambino" placard.
The museum will be renovated beginning this fall, and I have one suggested improvement: Pitch that sign into the nearest Dumpster. As the fans of Fenway can attest: It's no longer an issue.
David Maloof is a freelance writer who lives in Belchertown.