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Parkersburg’s Jeff Fox makes 26th straight trip to Baltimore for Orioles’ Opening Day


The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — While a growing passion for a game usually brings people to liking a sport, it proved to be a lost love which ignited Parkersburg City Councilman Jeff Fox’s fire to start making a yearly trip for opening day to Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

Turn back the clock to the early 1990s and Fox, who is a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan, was trying to come up with an idea to find himself a little happiness and perhaps some inner peace.

“It’s not funny, but it’s kind of pathetic,” admitted Fox, who already has his ticket for Monday’s 3:05 p.m. scheduled first pitch to watch the matchup of Toronto’s Marco Estrada taking on Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman in the season opener. “I’d gone through a breakup in 1991 and it was just one of those things. What do I really want? What do I really like that would make me feel better?”

As it turned out, the answer was quite obvious as the Orioles had left their former home of Memorial Stadium, and opening day on April 6 of 1992 was going to be the first game in the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards with George H. W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.

“I’m just going to try and go to all the opening days,” Fox recalled of his final decision. “I decided I’m going to commit to doing something so I committed to going to every opening day and so far so good. It just kind of came out of a pathetic loser breakup.”

Prior to his first opening day at Camden Yards, Fox recalled the time he went to watch an Orioles game in 1991 in the final season at Memorial Stadium.

“I’d gone down to the site of the new stadium,” Fox explained. “It was a Sunday morning. I had driven over on a Saturday morning to watch a Saturday night game against the Mariners and Ken Griffey Jr. was just a kid then. That morning I decided to go downtown and look at the new stadium.

“It was pretty empty there and another fan was down there. We got this brilliant idea. We hopped the fence and I walked out into the middle of the stadium where second base would be. I took pictures with an old film camera of the stadium under construction. It was a few minutes and a security guard hollered at us from the other side and we hopped the fence and got out of there.”

From his first opening day in 1992, which the Orioles won 2-0 against the Cleveland Indians thanks to Rick Sutcliffe’s five-hit shutout to beat Charles Nagy’s complete-game effort, Fox has enjoyed his travels to Charm City.

“It seems like every game I go to all kinds of little odd things happen, like extra innings or the snow delay one year I went to,” he recalled.

During the 1996 season opener, the game was rained out and pushed back a day. The same basic thing took place in 1997, but under a little bit different circumstances.

“The game (in 1997) was delayed due to high winds,” Fox said. “I got there on a Sunday and there was about four inches of snow on everything. Over night, the weather warmed up, but when I went to bed Sunday night and looked out my window I just saw the snow and thought I was doomed.

“I get up the next morning and the sun is blasting through my hotel room. I look out the window, the snow is gone and not a cloud in the sky, but the wind is blowing about 50 to 60 miles an hour steady and they postponed it because of the high winds.”

As it turned out, that evening he decided to check if anything else was going on around downtown and he was able to catch a Kiss concert.

Like any true Orioles fan, one team which ranks at the top of all other Major League Baseball squads to loathe are the rival Yankees from New York.

“On opening day in 2002 the Yanks are there and I’m in the upper deck,” said Fox, who noted former O’s manager Johnny Oates was throwing out the first pitch that day. “He was battling brain cancer and was terminally ill. This group of Yankee fans behind me were saying all kinds of nasty stuff and I listened to about 30 seconds of it.

“Then I just stood up, turned around and told them the guy is terminally ill with brain cancer. Why don’t you shut up and like the whole section got in a standing ovation. That’s where I found my true dislike for Yankee fans.”

Of course, the Orioles got the last laugh that day because “we beat (Roger) Clemens and knocked him out of the game. It was a beautiful day.”

Indeed it was for Baltimore fans as the Orioles scored eight runs off Clemens in a 10-3 victory, which included a Tony Batista grand slam, to spoil his debut with the Yankees.

Fox, who attends other games during the year at Camden Yards as well as making treks to various area stadiums, said the 1992 opening day ticket was the second toughest one to ever get, ranking only behind snaring a seat for the 1993 MLB All-Star Game.

“A few years ago, I believe the Pirates opened on a Monday and I went to see that and Baltimore opened up at home on a Friday and I went and saw that,” Fox said. “Cleveland opened up on the Monday after that, but I didn’t go. I didn’t want to seem obviously compulsive or anything.”

Luckily for Fox, he’s only had one issue with car trouble while trying to make opening day and he’s planning to keep the streak going for as long as possible.

“Over the years I’ve built some connections and made friends and found ways to get tickets,” he added. “It’s been a ritual road trip, a spring ritual. Baseball is my favorite sport and I’ve taken girlfriends over the years and every now and then some buddies will want to go over to see the game just for a road trip. But, for the most part it’s just been a solo trip due to the complexities of an opening day game.”

Although not part of any opening day, one of Fox’s greatest memories as an Oriole fan came during the 2001 season when he had purchased tickets for some September baseball to see Cal Ripken Jr. in his final go-around with Baltimore.

However, “9-11 hit and MLB suspended play for that week and they took those games and tacked them on to the end of the season,” Fox said. “So there I am, this unlikely Oriole fan from Parkersburg, West Virginia, and I’ve got tickets to see Cal Ripken Jr.’s last game.

“How crazy is that? That was a little bit of a twist of fate there. It was a horrible tragedy, and I hate to mention it, but it’s why it happened and by virtue of that I got to see his last game ever. It was really bittersweet.”

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