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More than 3,400 watch Suns win home opener

April 09, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

John Ficken is convinced batters from the opposite team can hear his heckles from his seat behind home plate.

"You are toast! Now you're going to strike out," shouted Ficken, who is known to Hagerstown Suns fans as "Tweety Bird."

Ficken, 75, wearing a black and orange jacket with "Suns" written across the back, said he loves to see the Class A South Atlantic League team play ball.

"I love them better than any team in the world," Ficken said. "Our Suns are No. 1."

Ficken wasn't alone Monday night, as 3,418 fans packed Municipal Stadium for the Suns' home opener against the Charleston (W.Va.) Alley Cats. The Suns won the game 9-4. It is the first full season under new owner Andrew Rayburn.

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"This is the best opening day I've ever seen here," said Ficken, who said he missed just five Suns games in the last 15 years. He lives on South Cleveland Avenue - within walking distance of the stadium.

The crowd started filing through the entrance gates well before the first pitch was thrown.

"We always come out to the first game," said George Hartle of Sharpsburg. "It's a family thing. I enjoy it.

"They do play good ball - lose or win. We'd like to see them be top dog, though."

Just after the players were introduced, 6-year-old Bradley Mills took to the field and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Clear Spring kindergarten student received cheers from the crowd when he finished.

When asked if he was nervous while he sang before the packed house, Bradley shrugged his shoulders and said "No."

"I practiced every night," he said.

"This morning, he got up and said this is going to be the biggest night of my life," his mother, Wendy Mills said. "He sings all the time, morning to night. He likes Elvis."

Bradley won a karaoke contest at the Valley Mall, and his prize was singing the national anthem at the game. He said his pregame experience was enough to turn him into a baseball fan.

Suns fans stayed involved, even when the team was down by two runs early in the game. Between innings, fans stomped their feet and clapped their hands to Queen's "We Will Rock You." Woolie B., the Suns human-sized caterpillar mascot, walked through the stands to wave to children and adults.

When Woolie B. got to Ficken's section, Ficken hurried down the bleacher to dance with the oversized caterpillar.

"I told you, I love the Suns," Ficken said just before a sixth-inning surge by the team.

The Suns scored nine runs in the inning, including a grand slam.

Ficken's friend, Billy Boyer, said he drives from Frederick, Md., to watch the Suns play, rather than cheering on his home team, the Frederick Keys. The Keys are also a Class A team.

Boyer said he likes the environment at Suns games.

"I'd rather watch this team than the Keys," he said.

Lou Jurena said he drove from Gaithersburg, Md., for the Suns' home opener.

"I like the atmosphere. I like the people," Jurena said. "I like the small-town environment."

Ficken, who said he predicted the Suns would win the home opener, said he thinks the team is going to have a winning season.

"I think we're going to be good this year," he said. "I'm telling everybody to come out to the games. They don't know what they're missing. This is fun."

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