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Fantastic fans; Mears joins select group; white elephant returns

Fortunately for the Orioles, Baltimoreans are not about to give up on their team. Even after practically going 0-for-April, the Birds were greeted by a crowd of 50,000 in a triumphant return to Memorial Stadium - triumphant because the club had just broken into the W column with a victory in Chicago. Furthermore, ``Fantastics Fans Night'' has been followed by continued solid attendance, creating an average to date of 18,000-plus - only 1,000 or so below that for the same period last year, when the team was playing better than .500 ball and only a few games out of first place. Undoubtedly, one aspect of all this is the public's desire to guard against any more major league exits. Several years ago, the football Colts shipped out to Indianapolis under the shadow of darkness in a very unpopular exodus. And about a decade before that, the city's National Basketball Association team, the Baltimore Bullets, was renamed the Washington Bullets when it relocated about halfway between the two cities.

Obviously, Baltimore residents feel a bit protective these days, especially with baseball-hungry D.C. so close by (Washington, of course, lost the Senators to Texas in 1972). No one appears to be thinking of a move, though, since one highlight of Fans Night was the announcement of a 15-year lease between the ball club and the Maryland Stadium Authority. The plan calls for a new, open-air park near the Harbor Place urban renewal development, with 1992 the target date for the team to move in. Indy's big winners

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Rick Mears's victory in this year's Indianapolis 500 put the veteran driver into some elite company as one of only eight drivers to win the race three or more times. A.J. Foyt and Al Unser are the all-time leaders with four each, while Mears, whose previous victories came in 1979 and '84, now joins Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, Bobby Unser, and Johnny Rutherford in the three-time category.

The result also continued the recent domination of the Penske racing team, marking its fourth Indy win in the last five years and a record seventh overall. The Penske victories in addition to Mears's three triumphs were by Mark Donohue in 1972, Bobby Unser in 1981, Danny Sullivan in 1985, and Al Unser last year. Baseball's pachyderm returns

Although this is an election year, there is no political significance to the elephant worn on the uniform of the Oakland A's, a team that once had a mule as a mascot. It isn't that the A's are Bush-leaguers, it's simply that they decided to reactivate an old friend - the Athletic Elephant that for many years was featured in the club's eye-catching logo.

During the early 1900s, Connie Mack, owner and manager of the original Philadelphia Athletics, decided to employ the animal in the team insignia. This was in response to a disparaging remark by New York Giants manager John McGraw, who looked with suspicion upon the formation of a new league (the American) and such teams as the A's, who represented ``white elephants'' to him.

The elephant was used on and off for the next half century in Philadelphia, and also for a while after the team moved to Kansas City. But when Charlie Finley acquired the team in the early 1960s, he switched to a mule, which was nicknamed ``Charlie O.'' The current ownership, however, felt the elephant should be returned, indicating the club's tradition of looking to the future without forgetting the past. Touching other bases

``Gambling'' is an ugly word in college sports, especially basketball, where several point-shaving scandals have occurred over the years. Most coaches are vigilant about keeping bettors at bay, not allowing them to cozy up to their programs, either to extract useful betting information or possibly to bribe players into illicit activity. High school coaches are apparently less concerned with their image in this regard, since at next summer's National Conference of High School Coaches and Officials in Louisville there will be a Monte Carlo-type ``Riverboat Casino Night'' hospitality party. This perfectly legal activity is no doubt viewed as a tame, just-for-fun version of real casino gambling, but it's hard to imagine that another, more suitable form of entertainment could not have been found for this group, which is also scheduled for an afternoon at Churchill Downs.

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