The Orioles' annual FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center emits a festival atmosphere, complete with face-painting and bingo corner. Held just weeks before spring training begins, it springs the baseball season into motion. Players come to town to sign autographs and pose for photos. Even in the darkest years, optimism and excitement rules the day.

But while Saturday's announced crowd of more than 18,500 marked a single-day FanFest record — the event used to run over two days in the 1990s — the day revolved around remembering Earl Weaver, the Orioles' Hall of Fame manager who died late Friday night at the age of 82.

Wearing his custom-made Earl Weaver jersey, lifelong Orioles fan Rick Gaetano made the three-hour drive to Baltimore from his home in Mountain Top, Pa., on Saturday morning to attend FanFest when he received a text message from his wife and learned of Weaver's death.

"It was a complete shock," Gaetano said. "I wear his jersey. I never got a jersey until I found this one. Obviously there are some heavy hearts. In fact, I discussed with my son coming down, whether I should even have this jersey today? Should I take it off? Should I put a black arm band around it? How should I react to it? But after thinking about it, I decided I'm going to stay with it."

The modern-day Orioles are coming off their finest season in 15 years, their first trip to the playoffs since 1997. That's brought a renewed excitement to fans, and when vouchers for Saturday's autograph sessions went on sale earlier this month, they sold out within an hour.