My take on what Free The Birds represents

May 10, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Free The Birds.

What’s it mean?

That depends on who you ask.

But I figured – with the May 17 date having now been announced by Nestor – I’d take this opportunity to present MY own personal viewpoint on what Free The Birds stands for…and how I feel about the upcoming event we’re putting together at Oriole Park.

For starters, if “Free” the Birds is meant — loosely or not — to somehow convince Peter Angelos to sell the Orioles, I can say with nearly 100% certainty that effort will wind up failing.  Peter Angelos is not selling the Orioles.  For starters, no one in town has the $425 million check it would require to buy the club.  Next, and maybe just as importantly, I doubt anyone in town WANTS to buy the club at this juncture.

Peter Angelos isn’t getting rid of the Orioles, no matter if WNST takes 100, 1,000 or 10,000 people to the game on May 17.

In my mind, “Free” The Birds should be changed to “Fix” The Birds, because that’s really what the rallying cry should be these days.

Fix the team.  Fix the front office.  Fix the way you treat the fans.  Fix the media relations policies.

Fix it.

And by going to the game on May 17, those who decide to do so will be sending a loud message – in my mind, anyway – to Angelos, Andy MacPhail, Greg Bader and all the rest of the stuffed suits at The Warehouse who’ve been getting it wrong for the last decade.  The message goes like this: “We’re here today to watch the Orioles play the Royals and to have a great time watching OUR team play baseball.  We’re here because we want you to know there’s still a large contingent of Orioles fans who would come to more games — no matter if the team was in first place or last place — if you would just treat us right and make your organization more accountable to the people who buy the tickets.”

For years – and even Scott Hoffman of Orioles Hangout had the balls to write this last week – the Orioles front office brass would put their feet up on the desk at OPACY, look out at 30,000 empty seats, and snarl, “All those seats will be filled when we win again.  You’ll see.  These people not coming now will be back as soon as we start winning.”

Well, the team stinks right now and they’re probably not going to be playing a whole lot better by May 17, yet we’ll all be there to see the O’s take on the Royals.

Would the team winning make us all feel BETTER about them?  Sure.  One of the reasons the city adores the Ravens so much is because they’re successful.

But at this point, 13 years into this baseball-ulcer we’ve all been forced to endure, we mostly just want to feel like the Orioles are REALLY trying to treat us right.

That’s all.

Charging fans more money on the day-of-the-game?  Asinine.  Whatever genius came up with that new concept at The Warehouse should be on the ballot for “Dummy of the Year”, right next to the kid who got tasered in Philadelphia last week.  After 12 years of meandering around like a lost lamb, on and off the field, the Orioles decided NOW was the right time to start whacking folks for a few extra bucks when they decide on a whim to come to the ballpark? Jerks…

Fix that policy, for starters, and you might get more people out to the games.

Stop lying to the fans and the media by telling people your players and executives aren’t allowed to talk with the media unless they’re part of the team’s rights holders list.

That’s a lie.  Period.

Tell Andy MacPhail to start talking to the BALTIMORE media or, at the very least, give the Baltimore folks equal time with the people in New York who seem to have MacPhail on speed dial.

Allow your players and front office folks on the radio in Baltimore to help spread the word about the team.  You never see the Ravens restricting their players on the radio or on TV.  Why?  Probably because they’re smart.  That’s my guess.

The sooner Bader and any of the other media experts affiliated with the club give in and admit that all they’re doing is hurting themselves with this silly cold-war with the Baltimore media (unless you’re with CBS Radio or MASN or The Sun — and all three of those entities write the team a check), the more quickly the media can actually be an asset instead of a fist-fight.

It’s not really “Free” The Birds on May 17…in my opinion.

It’s FIX THE F**KING TEAM, NOW, PLEASE on May 17.

The on-field product this year has been sub-par for the most part, but I still believe when the dust settles in September, the team has a decent chance to hit the 70-win mark (or higher) if they don’t blow up the roster and ship out the likes of Wigginton, Tejada, et al in late July.  I know they’ve stunk so far…and NOTHING would surprise me, including a 55-60 win season, but I honestly still feel like they’ll have a stretch where they win 14 of 20 at some point in the summer and get themselves leveled off a bit in the win/loss column.

But for me, the franchise is MUCH more than winning and losing.

If they wind up winning someday but they’re still acting like pricks in the front office, they’ll be missing out on thousands of fans who won’t support the franchise until the ticket-buyers are treated fairly.

And if they keep on losing – and that’s DEFINITELY possible for an extended period of time – they can either continue to throw salt in the eyes of the fans or they can come to grips with reality that they MUST loosen some of their archaic, silly policies in order to reward people who will still pay major league prices to see a half-a-major league team.

I bought 28 tickets to opening day this year, primarily to take Ethan to his first ever Orioles game and enjoy that occasion with some other mom’s and dad’s who brought their child to his/her first game.

But I won’t buy 28 tickets again – total – until the team gets their act together OFF THE FIELD.

If they win in the meantime…Glory be to God.

But even if they continue to lose, I’ll gladly go out and support the organization if they make the necessary changes that prove to the fans that the club truly cares about the Baltimore baseball community.

I’ll go on May 17 to simply sit there and be recognized as someone who would come out much more often if I got the proper treatment from the club. And I have to assume there are thousands — tens of thousands, maybe a hundred thousand — of folks in the marketplace who feel the same way as I do.

Fix things and I’ll come back.  Fix things and the fans might come back too.  They won’t ALL come back, of course.  Lots and lots of people have written off the Orioles forever.  They’ve taken their “baseball money” and invested it in other things like golf club memberships, summer homes at the beach or Deep Creek — or a boat, perhaps.  Winning won’t bring back every lost fan and neither will treating the ticket buyers the right way…but they’re LOSING fans these days, not gaining them, with their silly policies and defiant public relations posturing. 

I know Peter Angelos isn’t selling the team.  Who’d buy the damn thing at this point, anyway?  Still, it’s worth gathering next Monday just to say “you guys have to fix this thing…and we’ll come out tonight just to remind you we’re still aware that you haven’t done the work necessary to bring us all back here more often.”

For starters, the people making the decisions in The Warehouse have to chew a couple of reality-pills and understand why people aren’t coming to the games anymore.  And the reality-pill isn’t just “when we win, the fans will come back.”  No, no, no.  You’re discounting the intelligence of the sports fans in this town if you think it’s JUST about winning and losing.

Winning and losing?  Sure, that matters.  No question about it.  That’s where Andy MacPhail’s expertise comes in.  It’s his job to fix the on-field product.

But while Andy-the-mechanic is getting grease under his fingernails putting in the team’s new engine, the erudite know-it-alls in the front office should re-examine what they’ve done to drive people away and take steps to repair those fractures.

You can make “Free The Birds” about anything you want if you plan on attending the May 17th game.

Some of the apologists on the local internet message boards think it’s “self promotion” and “Nestor trying to get his name out there” and a bunch of other malarkey…anyone who thinks that is a nitwit — and if that offends you, I’m sorry in advance, but that’s the truth.  I believe everyone’s entitled to an opinion and all – hell, I’m the guy whose opinion is The Beatles are overrated – but you have to be a little smarter than just piping off about self promotion and such if you’re going to engage in a discussion about fans gathering together to show their displeasure for the way the baseball team has wrecked themselves.

Some dude with an Oriole bird tattoo on his right hip – Heath from “Dempsey’s Army” – wrote a piece over the weekend titled, “Nestor smells blood, looking to capitalize again”, and went into a full-length explanation about how WNST is once again trying to gain some kind of promotional or financial advantange because of the O’s woes.  It’s those kinds of maudlin expressions of apologizing that make me laugh harder than watching Wedding Crashers again.  “Capitalizing”…that’s funny.  How can you capitalize on the team when they’re horrible and no one goes to the games? 

People are going to the game on May 17 – however many that is, who knows? – to say, “This is a joke…fix your damn organization and stop embarrassing Baltimore.”

I’ll be there on May 17 to simply say, “You still have us here, Orioles.  We want to come out.  Really, we do.  And once we feel like you really want us here, we’ll come out more often.  Win some more games, treat the fans right…and the people will respond by reaching into their wallet to buy tickets.”

Until then…enjoy the empty green seats.

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