Hours before the start of Orioles’ game against Texas Rangers, the team’s first home playoff game since 2014, the atmosphere outside Camden Yards could only be described as orange.

Crowds walking into the stadium and tailgating in the rain were sporting the color on their favorite player’s jersey, bucket hats with the Oriole Bird, and lots and lots of ponchos. Before first pitch, fans young and old danced to music, cracked open drinks and toasted to the Orioles.

Standing among the tailgaters wearing a vintage Orioles bomber jacket was Mike Minner, who sipped on a Bud Light at Hilton Baltimore Block Party, just across from the stadium. He’s been a fan for more than six decades.

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He remembers the exact date of his first Orioles game – June 25, 1957 – when he watched his team win 5-0 against the Kansas City Athletics with a crowd of more than 9,000 fans at Memorial Stadium. Minner hopes today’s playoff game, after a season in which the team defied expectations and “proved everybody wrong” to become American League East campions, will be even more memorable.

“I’ve been very excited all year long,” he said. “I figured this might be my last opportunity to see a playoff game because I’m not getting any younger.”

He has been with the Orioles through “thick and thin,” cheering them on when they were awful, then “really good,” then awful again. And now that the ballclub is back in the postseason, Minner feels a buzz building for Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

He didn’t let the rain stop him and his son from trekking from Salisbury, Maryland.

“I’m not a fair-weather fan, I’m a true fan,” Minner said, the raindrops building up on his glasses. “It’s a nice opportunity to relish what living in Maryland is all about with ups and downs like everybody else, and we appreciate the good times.”

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Longtime Orioles fan Mike Minner watches tailgaters outside Camden Yards on Oct. 7, 2023. For the first time since 2016, the Orioles secured a spot in the playoffs and faced the Texas Rangers in the first playoff game. (Abby Zimmardi)

A few hours before the game, Declan walked to the Camden Yards with his parents Jim and Courtney Jolley to get his first taste of playoff baseball. His mother, who grew up in the Baltimore area, said the 10-year-old has been going to games since he was a baby. The Orioles are the one team the entire family cheers for, Courtney Jolley said, as her parents are long-time fans.

“I’m really excited,” Declan said of the game. “I think we’re gonna do really well.”

“I think they’re gonna hit the ball,” he added.

Declan, who has played catcher for a few years now, was excited to see the team’s star backstop Adley Rutschman.

Of the team’s prospects this October, Declan said, “I think they have a chance [of winning the World Series].”

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The energy before the game reminded Courtney Jolley of when Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992 and there were always sell-out crowds. She was part of her high school marching band and paraded downtown when the gates of the downtown ballpark first opened.

She hopes it is not just a temporary comeback.

Towson native Laney Cornelius flew back from the University of Mississippi to see the Orioles in action. Cornelius and her family members and neighbors were all clad in clear rain ponchos protecting their Orioles gear underneath.

She said she’s been an Orioles fan her whole life, attending games throughout childhood. It’s always been a bonding experience with friends and family.

“This year in general [the Orioles were] bringing the community together — they’re pretty important in the city,” Cornelius said. “It’s something everyone can kind of get rallied behind.”

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Cornelius’ group of six scored tickets to the game, but it wasn’t easy, she said. They divided and conquered, buying tickets in pairs of two.

She flies back to college on Sunday and is pretty confident she’ll go back with an Orioles win.

Merrill Heim battled the early rain near Camden Yards at a block party. He sported an Orioles jacket with orange flames, a nod to his nickname as the “Fired Up Guy.” It began around seven years ago, he said, when an 8-year-old fan hit him with: “I’m fired up! You fired up?!”

He enjoys the good atmosphere of a baseball game, which he says is one of the only sports that no one can master. The best hitters succeed only 30% of the time.

“It just keeps you humble,” he said.

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He never cusses at games or “boos” a player. The one thing he doesn’t want is a lifeless game. If the game feels like a “golf crowd,” he is going to do something about it. He stands up, often with a beer can in one hand, and hollers what he now refers to as the bird call.

He looked around amid the rain and blasting music.

“I’m fired up! You fired up?!” he said.

One person, a few feet away wearing a white Orioles jacket, recognized him.

“I’m fired up!” they said. “You fired up?”

Soon, you could no longer listen to the music.

abby.zimmardi@thebaltimorebanner.com

clara.longo@thebaltimorebanner.com

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