Robin Goodwin has been to so many Orioles opening days she can’t begin to put a number on it. But this one, the start of the 2024 season, this one’s different.

There’s the excitement of last season — the unexpected success, of course — and the offseason sale of the team to a group led by billionaire David Rubenstein to give this year extra spice.

But there’s also an undercurrent of sorrow running through the crowd, despite the cheers and the dancing. The Maryland flag, blowing in the wind next to the new Coors Light Roof Deck, was at half-mast. The national anthem was preceded by a moment of silence as everyone in Oriole Park at Camden Yards honored the lives lost when a cargo ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge, sending it into the Patapsco River below early Tuesday morning.

“It’s happy, but it still puts a damper on things,” Goodwin said. “I’m glad they found two of the workers because that gives the family closure, and I can’t imagine not having that. It’s so sad; it made me cry.”

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Growing up north of Baltimore, Tom Nelson didn’t travel across the bridge much, but he felt the loss deeply.

“I just think of everyone that’s on the south Baltimore County side, and I think about the people that were lost in that collapse,” Nelson said. “That’s been a fixture in Baltimore for so many years. It’s a tragedy.”

Opening day gave the people of Maryland a reason to come together two days after the tragedy, and Goodwin came decked out in Orioles gear, including wings attached to her jacket. She honored the lives lost with writing around her handmade sign shaped like a shield: “Maryland Tough, Baltimore Strong.”

And the dominant win went a way toward lifting spirits.

“It’s awesome,” Nelson said as Camden Yards erupted in cheers when Cedric Mullins hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning. “This is the start of such a dynasty. ... It’s really reinvigorated the entire city.”

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Hope soars

Birthday boy Grayson Hundt is the embodiment of hope. He was born at just 23 weeks, one day gestation, and Hundt’s parents were told he didn’t have long. A decade later, he got to celebrate the start of what he believes will be a historic year for his favorite team.

“This is the year!” he said, glowing, while sporting a Gunnar Henderson jersey.

Grayson Hundt (right) and his father, Michael, celebrate Grayson's 10th birthday at opening day. (Emily Sullivan / The Baltimore Banner)

Goodwin has been a fan for many more decades than Hundt, and her enthusiasm hasn’t waned since her childhood, when her uncle was an usher at Memorial Stadium. She sold programs at games with her dad when she got older.

Now a partial-season ticket holder (she had to buy opening day tickets on the secondary market), Goodwin was decked out for the game. After posing for a photo with her friend, Sharon Morring, a fellow running coach and the head of the Jammin Sister’s Feed the Hungry program, she was stopped by fellow fans who wanted pictures.

Goodwin attended spring training games in Sarasota, Florida, this year and was encouraged by what she saw.

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“Their farm system is amazing,” she said. “They’re really young, and I think they really want it this year. ... I think they were so new [last season], they didn’t know what to expect. I think the pressure of being that good, that’s what got them.”

That’s the hope Zach Smith has. He and his relative Amy Kernan have been Orioles fans their whole lives. Smith has been waiting to see a World Series; that feels less like a dream and more like a goal after last season, despite the ending.

Although the season came to an abrupt close with a sweep in the American League Division Series at the hands of the Texas Rangers, it was a historic campaign for the Orioles. They went to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, won the division for the first time since 2014 and had their first 100-plus-win season since 1980.

“We’re ahead of the timeline,” Smith said. “There’s still more things to come. They’re still young.”

Brian Lesniewicz grew up a Chicago Cubs fan, but when he moved to Montgomery County, he adopted the Orioles as his American League team. Last season solidified his fandom. Although he still roots for the Cubs over the Orioles, he said he really adopted the team after attending the Cubs-Orioles series at Wrigley Field with a friend.

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“If the O’s are playing anybody else besides the Cubs, I’m going all O’s all day,” Lesniewicz said. “My MLB app, I would always get updates from the Cubs only, but I signed up for updates from the O’s and Cubs.”

The Orioles had an eventful offseason. They traded for former Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes and signed nine-time All Star pitcher Craig Kimbrel, helping to cover, respectively, for an injury to Kyle Bradish and the loss of Félix Bautista, who is recovering from Tommy John reconstructive surgery.

The Orioles rolled to a 23-6 record in spring training, headlined by exciting young stars such as 26-year-old Adley Rutschman and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson, as well as budding young prospects such as Jackson Holliday and Samuel Basallo.

Welcome to Oriole Park, David Rubenstein

Amaris Puzak, right, and Andrew Mannion, left, rally for the Orioles on Opening Day at Camden Yards on March 28, 2024.
Amaris Puzak (right) and Andrew Mannion cheer with the rest of the crowd at Camden Yards. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

The biggest offseason news of all? The Angelos family sold a controlling stake in the team to the group led by Rubenstein. That was welcome news to Goodwin, Smith and Kernan, and it gives them added hope.

“I think the Orioles needed it; they needed a new owner,” Goodwin said. “We weren’t going anywhere. Our bucket [of money] is like nothing. It’s nice. Hopefully, we’ll catch up to the Yankees and have that money to spend.”

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Oscar Rivera, who shared a similar sentiment, brought his family all the way from Puerto Rico for this special opening day. Rivera fell in love with the Orioles courtesy of Cal Ripken Jr., one of the members of Rubenstein’s ownership group. Rivera first saw the legendary shortstop play when he had a 1980s winter ball stint with Puerto Rico’s Criollos de Caguas.

“I was just a kid, and he became my hero,” he remembered fondly. Ripken caught the honorary first pitch to start the season.

Rivera believes this will be a historic season thanks to new owners and new momentum.

”I know we say it every year, but this is truly our year to win,” he said.

Although Rubenstein was just approved by the MLB owners Wednesday, fans are already crediting him with the improvements they see around the ballpark.

Boh is back

Bright orange cans sporting Mr. Boh in a baseball cap filled Orioles fans’ hands for the first time in eight years. Although it has been brewed out of state for years, National Bohemian and Mr. Boh are iconic in Baltimore.

Lesniewicz was excited to see the beer, better known as Natty Boh, back on the menu. He’s been a huge fan since he moved to Maryland in 2006.

“I wish they had it at every station here,” Lesniewicz said. “I would drink Natty Boh exclusively. It’s a beer’s beer.”

Harold Chen and Nelson agreed, even if they were drinking Bud Lite at the time. They said they ordered their beers based on what was available from the vendor who came to their seats.

A can of National Bohemian beer sits among peanuts outside the home plate entrance of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
National Bohemian beer is back at Camden Yards. (Handout / National Bohemian Beer)

“It’s a beer that tastes like a beer,” Chen said with a laugh. “That’s why I like it.”

If they had seen a stand or vendor with Natty Boh, they would have ordered it, despite the $15.49 price. That’s not too different from other ballpark beers, they said, and they know what they’re in for when they’re drinking at a game.

“You take a sip, and Baltimore surges through your body,” Nelson said.

Baltimore Banner reporter Emily Sullivan contributed to this story.

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