Baseball: The American diamond is not always forever: Rupert Cornwell in Baltimore witnesses high disapproval as baseball strikes out

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'LET it rain, let it rain,' Rafael Palmeiro implored to no one in particular as he strolled out to take batting practice. The wish of the Baltimore Orioles' dollars 5m-a-year hitter would be granted. It did not just rain. It poured. On what might well prove to be the last night of the 1994 baseball season, the Almighty had signalled he, too, disapproved of The Strike.

The Orioles and the Boston Red Sox did manage to play almost an hour of melancholy baseball, but as Palmeiro intuitively understood, the protagonists of one of the more unusual walk-outs in the history of Western labour relations were not exactly the heroes of the hour.

In the event, he and his fellow strikers escaped lightly. A few boos when they ran on to the field, the odd placard proclaiming 'Let The Umpires Call The Strikes'. 'This is about greed and money, and nothing else,' Jim Carey, a self-proclaimed 'typical fan' from York, Pennsylvania, said with a shrug. 'I blame both sides. Am I ticked off? Not really, just resigned.'

It was that kind of night. In the third inning the Red Sox scored a run but it did not matter. A few incurable optimists still huddled under umbrellas, but by 10 pm it was clear to everyone but the umpires that the Almighty was in no mood for second thoughts.

Down in the Triple Play Tavern on the main concourse, thoughts were already turning to other things. 'I can't believe the season's ending now,' someone said. 'I don't give a s--t about that,' someone else replied. 'Football's about to start and who cares about these guys?'

Well, at least the small boys do, packed in the first row along the right-field foul-line. 'Mike, Mike,' they screamed before the game as Mike Mussina, winner of 16 games this season and arguably the best young pitcher in the American League, strides by.

But Mussina has more than autographs on his mind. As the Orioles' union representative, he is about to present the major league players' case at an impromptu press conference in the dugout. 'We're the best 800 at our job. But don't tell me the best 800 lawyers, the best 800 doctors, don't get paid a lot, too. We're entertainers and we deserve the money we get.'

Tell that to Pete Walker, who makes dollars 8 ( pounds 5.60) an hour barbecuing ribs at the hugely popular grill out beyond the centrefield bleachers. If the remaining 25 home games are wiped out, he faces the dole. 'A lot of these players make more in one afternoon than I do in a year.'

And thus it goes for the real victims of the strike, the thousands of concessionaires, ushers, attendants and sundry factotums. One by one, as the rain continues to pour and the crowd drifts off, even the vendors shut up shop.

But still the game is not officially postponed. And why this stubborn defiance of meteorological certainty? Money, as usual. Only two and a half innings have been played: anything less than five complete innings and the Orioles have to refund the tickets - in other words forfeit another dollars 800,000 on top of the dollars 13m in jeopardy if the rest of the season is lost.

Finally, compassion prevails. Just a sprinkling of the 48,000 sell-out crowd are left when the umpires call the game off at 11.25.