- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

BALTIMORE.

Yesterday was supposed to be Rafael Palmeiro Day at Camden Yards. The Baltimore Orioles were scheduled to celebrate his 3,000th hit, which he got in Seattle last month. There was going to be all sorts of hoopla and recognition.

Instead, all Palmeiro got yesterday was a place in the lineup against the Toronto Blue Jays.

It was more than he deserved.

The Orioles finally let Palmeiro step from behind the curtain yesterday and appear before the Baltimore fans. Manager Sam Perlozzo penciled him in as the designated hitter, and Palmeiro nearly turned his return into a dramatic outcome of steroid-inflated proportions. With the Orioles down 7-6 in the ninth inning, Palmeiro came up to the plate with two outs and two on base.

But the mighty Raffy hit a fly ball to right for the final out of the game, completing an uneventful O-for-4 day.

“I just wanted to get back out on the field and get in the swing of things,” Palmeiro said.

Perlozzo said he wanted to ease Palmeiro, who was eligible to play starting this past Thursday, back into the lineup because he doubted he did much baseball work during his 10-day suspension for testing positive for steroids.

“I think getting [the steroid testing controversy] right was his full focus,” Perlozzo said.

Of course, getting it right may not be the same as getting at the truth. Getting it right simply might be keeping himself from even deeper trouble. Getting it right may be surviving a congressional investigation.

Unlike Orioles fans, who may be suffering from a case of steroid fatigue — something the organization was counting on — Congress has no such stamina problem. They could just be getting started, despite the Orioles’ desire to put the steroid controversy behind them.

“We have had 10 days to hash this thing out on TV and radio,” Perlozzo said, though the news of the suspension actually came out Aug. 1. “How much more should we talk about it? After this, it should be about baseball.”

It won’t be though. The Congressional probe into whether Palmeiro lied at a House committee hearing in March when he testified he had never used steroids will keep it on the air and in print. And though Orioles fans may be tired of it, there are new cities with new fans waiting to voice their disgust with Palmeiro and what he represents — the damaged credibility of the national pastime.

Baltimore plays in Oakland tonight, which means the media from the Bay Area will descend on this story along with a pretty large crowd that normally doesn’t need a reason to abuse the visiting team. The fans will shower boos and possibly worse on Palmeiro, although he is not expected to play tonight against A’s left-hander Barry Zito. Then it is off to Cleveland, another tough town, and the cycle starts again.

The story won’t end there. Next month provides the most brutal stops for Palmeiro and the Orioles — Boston and New York. The New York tabloids probably are preparing back-page headlines for his arrival even as you read this. In between, there is a trip home to Texas, and that could be deeply personal.

First, though, he had to face the Camden Yards crowd — announced yesterday at 30,954. When his name was announced in the starting lineup, there was a mix of cheers and boos. And when he stepped to the plate in the first inning in the middle of an Orioles rally — they had scored two runs to take a 2-1 lead — he was greeted by a stronger mixture of cheers, with some people even standing, and loud boos. The booing calmed as his at-bat went on, and it was less sustained by the time he took ball four and went to first base.

“I thought for the most part, [the crowd reaction] was good,” Palmeiro said.

What was interesting, though, was what happened after the first the inning ended. A large number of people got up from their seats and never came back. When Palmeiro came up the second time, the cheers outnumbered the boos. It wasn’t hard to figure out what happened.

There were a lot of people who came to Camden Yards yesterday just to boo Rafael Palmeiro.

To get a true measure of the support and outrage, gauging the boos and cheers wasn’t enough. Speaking to fans, the ones who supported him for the most part did so begrudgingly because he played for the Orioles and they didn’t want to believe the worst.

“I’m going to stick by him,” said Adam Wagaman, 25, from Hanover, Pa. “I’ve always liked him. Maybe he didn’t know what he was taking.”

The ones who were against him were far more passionate because they were angry.

“It always seemed like there were a lot of players using that stuff, but when he went before Congress and said so strongly that he had never used steroids, I felt good and thought this was the one guy I could believe,” said Chris Marcantonio, 22, of Washington, who was wearing an O’s hat with the word “steroids” written around the O. “And then to find out he used them has now made me so angry, I felt like I had to come out here today just to let him know how angry I am.”

The game on the field yesterday at Camden Yards was between the Orioles and the Blue Jays, but the game in the stands was the focus of the day, and it was between denial and betrayal.

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