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Sunny opening day for local baseball fans

April 11, 2006|by TARA REILLY

Al Nuzzi lives in the Baltimore area, but the miles don't stop him from driving to Hagerstown to cheer for the Suns.

Neither does a bigger ballpark along Interstate 70.

"We go right past Frederick (Md.) on 70," Nuzzi said, while wearing a Suns baseball cap. "We don't even look at it. We keep on going."

Nuzzi, a member of the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club, made the trip to the city Monday for the Suns' home opener.

He likes the team, the stadium and the baseball atmosphere.

"This is baseball like it was in the old days," Nuzzi said. "It's a great old place, and these are dying breeds."

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Many of the 2,119 people who attended the game arrived wearing the Suns' orange and black colors. Some donned team-colored balloon hats and yelled to Woolie B., the Suns' human-sized caterpillar mascot.

The Suns are a Class A affiliate of the New York Mets.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who received an arm-in-arm escort from Woolie B. onto the field, threw out the first pitch.

Zach Spedden, 13, was one of the fans wearing Suns gear.

He said he's been a fan since he was a baby.

"It's just great," said Zach, who turns 14 in July.

Suns General Manager Kurt Landes said the organization has a packed promotional schedule, including a "Bode Miller Guaranteed Loss Night" next week, "Woolie's Da Vinci Code Scavenger Hunt" in May and 14 nights of fireworks.

"Every year, I think we outdo ourselves as far as the number of promotions ..." Landes said.

Landes described this year's team as being stocked with young talent.

"The Mets continue to send us their top, top prospects," he said. "From a pure talent standpoint, I think this team is better than last year."

While many fans in the stands rooted for their team, several could also be heard talking about an empty seat behind home plate that had been filled for years by one of the team's most diehard fans.

John Ficken, better known as "Tweety Bird," died in December.

Ficken loudly cheered for the Suns and heckled the opponents at nearly every home game. His seat was painted yellow in his remembrance.

"He was like a brother to me," said Wilbur Zimmerman, who lived two doors down from Ficken on South Cleveland Avenue, behind the stadium.

"I was at his house almost every day," Zimmerman said. "I miss him so much."

Zimmerman is a season ticket holder and attends about 40 Suns games a season.

Ficken's brother, Bob Ficken, said his brother talked about the Suns every time they spoke. Many Suns players have visited his brother's house, Ficken said.

"He lived for the baseball team," said Bob Ficken, who attended his first Suns game with his wife, Betty, on Monday.

"I sure miss him, because when growing up as kids, there was only a year's difference between us," Ficken said. "We did everything together when we were kids."

Everything, except maybe root for baseball teams.

"I'm more for football," Ficken said.

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