Players react to first contest in big league history without fans
By Paul Hagen
BALTIMORE -- Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez struck out White Sox leadoff hitter Adam Eaton in the first inning and the home crowd cheered in approval.
Except that the crowd in this case was maybe a hundred people gathered outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, peering in from afar through the iron-grilled gate on Camden Street behind left-center field.
This was a day like no other in baseball history. Civil unrest in the wake of the passing of Freddie Gray, an African-American man who died while in police custody, touched the park on Saturday night, and it caused the postponement of Monday and Tuesday night's scheduled games against the White Sox. The series finale was moved up to Wednesday afternoon, and in an unprecedented move to allow police resources to be deployed where they were needed most, fans weren't allowed to attend.
Orioles broadcaster Jim Hunter opened the telecast, saying, "This is in no way a normal day in the ballpark. The lifeblood of Major League Baseball, its fans, will be missing."
As a result, the game was played before three scouts and 45,968 empty forest green seats.
Before the game, several players said they expected the atmosphere to be similar to morning "B" games on a back field in Spring Training. And that turned out to be about right. The chatter from the dugouts, the fielders calling to each other, the umpires -- all were easily heard across the diamond. O's manager Buck Showalter said he could hear the bullpen phone ringing when he called from the dugout.
"It was different," Showalter added. "I think everybody was real careful what they said in the dugout, because everybody on the field could hear it, [including] the umpires."
The Orioles made noise early, though, scoring six runs in the bottom of the first and cruising to an 8-2 win.
Five-and-a-half hours before the first pitch, a handful of fans were lined up at the ticket windows outside. But they were there exchanging tickets, not buying them for the game that would start in a few hours.
Since there were no fans, there were no ushers. Foul balls hit into the stands eventually rolled to a stop and then remained there.
The scoreboard was operational, and the public address announcer introduced each batter. John Denver's "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" played as usual during the seventh-inning stretch, but the O's mascot, the Bird, didn't dance along on top of the dugout.
Nobody was allowed on the main concourse, where all the concession stands were closed. So was Dempsey's restaurant and the other businesses in the iconic warehouse behind Eutaw Street, which was also shut down.
This announcement was made in the press box in the bottom of the seventh: "For record-keeping purposes, today's official attendance is zero." Normally the number is based on tickets sold, not turnstile count.
Outside the park, it was quiet, with the exception of the hardy souls who strained to follow the action. One was Jake Trout, who carried a black-and-orange sign that read "We Are All One Baltimore" and wore an Adam Jones jersey.
"I'm here to cheer on the team," he said. "I think the biggest reason is that it just shows -- everybody who's here shows -- that we're not afraid. Just because there are people who are trying to take advantage of a terrible situation, we're not going to hide. We're not in fear. We're not going to slink away."
Trout said he would have liked to have watched from a seat inside.
"It's unfortunate," he said, "but it makes sense to try to keep the police personnel and everybody like that in areas where it's needed more."
Across the street, popular watering holes Pickles and Sliders were open for business. At Pickles, the game was being shown on the numerous television sets, but the crowd was sparse despite the Game Day Special: a foot-long hot dog smothered in nacho cheese with bacon, jalapenos, diced tomatoes, onions and a side of sweet slaw.
Showalter's pregame media availability started with the usual injury updates but quickly took a more serious turn. The manager was emotional when talking about a meeting with owner Peter Angelos on Tuesday morning.
"Everything he talked about was about what's best for the city of Baltimore and the safety of our fans and our citizens. Not once did anything about revenue or money arise," Showalter said. "The other thing was that he wanted to make sure that all resources … that the city needs are in the city and not here at Camden Yards."
Showalter said Angelos also expressed concern for the gameday employees and the area businesses that were impacted, not just from Wednesday's action but the fact that the next three home games will be played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg instead.
There were no fans in the stands, and yet there was a sense that the whole world was watching.
"I talked to the players about the people who were going to be sitting around our city -- I understand about the country and whatever -- but who were sitting around our city watching our game," Showalter said. "How many things have gone normal in the last few days? So that's kind of what I took out of it."