Right Call?

Published: May 1, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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What could be better?

You’re at the ballpark of your team. A beeee-u-tiful Spring day. You’re on your 4th dog with beverage of your choice. “Take me out to the ballgame,” National Anthem, then PLAY BALL!

Ever wonder what it might be like to have the stadium all to yourself? No one getting up every five minutes for another beer. No peanut guy shouting, throwing, and catching money. No unruly fans screaming, or worse, whistling, right behind you.

Now that would be one for the books!

Actually, that’s exactly the way it was for Wednesday’s game at Baltimore’s Camden Yards when the Orioles took the field for a 2:00 PM game against the White Sox.

“Except for two scouts sitting behind home plate and a press box full of reporters, the 45,971 seats and three decks at Camden Yards were an empty expanse of green when the first pitch was thrown at 2:06 p.m. in what became an 8-2 Orioles victory,” The New York Times reports (Apr. 29).

“ ‘This isn’t the way you want to make history,’ Chris Davis, the Orioles’ first baseman, said before he hit a three-run homer in the first inning as Baltimore took a 6-0 lead.

“When Davis followed with a long blast to right field, the crowd’s usual roar of anticipation for a home run was strangely absent. So was the customary scramble for the ball as it cleared the fence and landed on the Eutaw Street walkway. Normally, the street would have been busy with foot traffic for a restaurant, a barbecue stand and the team’s souvenir shop. On Wednesday, though, the walkway was closed. Only a television cameraman stood in the vicinity of the home run.

“The stadium was so quiet that Gary Thorne, a television announcer for the Orioles, could be heard exclaiming, “Goodbye!” from his booth as Davis’s shot left the park. …
But the sound of the ball against the bat left a hollow echo in the vacant stadium.

“Buck Showalter, the Orioles’ manager, said the bullpen phone could be heard ringing more than 400 feet from the dugout. Relief pitchers for the Orioles said they could hear strikes called by the umpire Jerry Layne, a rarity in the bullpen, and could even follow the chatter among the outfielders. This only added to a sense of desolation.

“In the eighth inning, an announcement was made in the press box that apparently had never been made at a major league game. For official record-keeping purposes, the announcer said, Wednesday’s paid attendance was — pause — ‘zero.’ ”

As a result of the recent downtown violence, the Orioles organization decided to play the scheduled game that had been postponed two days earlier, but they chose to play to an empty house.

“…the public was locked out for reasons of safety and the more urgent need for the police in other areas. …

“Adam Jones, the Orioles’ center fielder and perhaps the most popular African-American athlete in Baltimore, described the turmoil in previous days as a cry of frustration by the city’s youth.

“ ‘Your frustration is warranted; it’s understood,’ Jones said before the game.

“Jones suggested that Wednesday’s game could be valuable in providing a small distraction from the city’s troubles for a few hours, saying that sports ‘unite communities in dark times.’

“But given the rawness of feeling in Baltimore and the need for a police presence elsewhere, Jones said, ‘It makes sense not to have any people here today.’

“Others disagreed. Brendan Hurson, a public defender, wore an Orioles jersey and carried a sign on Camden Street, beyond left field, that said, ‘Don’t Forget Freddie Gray.’ He said that closing the stadium was a missed opportunity to ‘show the whole world what this city is really about,’ to help raise money for rebuilding and to give disenfranchised youth a chance to see a ballgame.

“ ‘So many chances were lost by locking us out,’ Hurson said. ‘It sends the wrong message about what this city is really about.’ ”

He might be right, but Orioles’ management sided with caution and responsibility.

“John Angelos, the Orioles’ executive vice president and son of managing partner Peter G. Angelos, sent a series of tweets,” The Baltimore Sun reported, (Apr. 26).

“The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence,” Angelos said, “surveillance and other abuses of the bill of rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kid’s game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards.

“We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the US and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic, civil and legal rights and this … makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.”

The Times website carried more than 230 comments, offering a variety of responses.

Hilly19484 wrote: “I think shutting the fans out sent a terrible message from Major League Baseball. I understand the safety concerns, but subliminally the message is punishment for all Baseball fans be they African American or White. They just should have postponed the game and played it later in the season…”

Steve Fankuchen: “Baron George Wragell comments that Orioles Exec Angelos was spot on with his comments regarding the real issues having much to do with jobs sent abroad. Meanwhile, Jeff comments, ‘A lot of low wage stadium workers missed a pay check today, more collateral damage.’ Perhaps the Orioles and M.L.B., which are awash in money, would think it proper to pay for the lost wages of those workers who, unlike the players and owners, will suffer from being shut out of a day’s work through no fault of their own.”

Rid: “The decision to play this game in an empty stadium devoid of fans has got to rank as one of the most idiotic statements in the history of sports. What message does this send? No…we can’t guarantee the safety of our fans and neither can the City…nor will we try….. but we are too lazy or stupid to either postpone the game or do something creative to turn a negative into a positive. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra got it right………Bravo”

Then there was this humorous exchange –

Paul: “The perfect game for the most boring ‘sport” on the planet. I’d rather watch grass grow than be at a baseball game!”

Wally Dunn: “Paul, go to a game. You can do both!

Did the Orioles make the right call? What would you have done?

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