Should Orioles fans who have stayed away, stay away?

March 10, 2011 | Drew Forrester

Having experienced first-hand the new found enthusiam for the Orioles during my week in Sarasota, I’m as curious as anyone when it comes to the issue of attendance at Camden Yards this season.

For years, particularly from the period of roughly 2003-2006, the ballclub lacked sizzle in the promotions department, marketed their product without imagination and, of course, failed to provide the fanbase with a competitive team.  Those issues, along with a perceived “stuffed suit” aroma coming out of the Warehouse, led hundreds of thousands of people to say – with their wallets and credit cards – “I think I’ll find something else to do during baseball season”.

It wasn’t until the Nationals showed up in Washington DC that the Orioles seemingly got the message:  ”We need to start taking care of Baltimore.”

They made the big splash in 2009 with the re-introduction of new away uniforms that featured “BALTIMORE” on the front and the club quietly once again allowed their on-air announcers to use the word (Baltimore) when discussing the team during broadcasts.  Earlier in the decade, the edict was simple:  ”You call them the Orioles and that way, no one in Lancaster or Fairfax or Salisbury or Smyrna is offended.”

One final theme as it relates to attendance has seeped out of The Warehouse time and time again over the years.  Rather than acknowledge their disconnection with the fanbase through poor marketing and advertising, the powers-that-be have always repeated one mantra that takes them off the hook – sort of – and puts the onus on the players:  ”Those people (fans) will all come back when the team wins.”

“Those people will all come back when the team wins.”

Maybe they will.  Maybe they won’t.  This season should be a decent barometer of that theory, because I suspect the Orioles will be much improved in 2011.  I’m not saying they’ll go to the World Series, but I think the games in August or September will matter this season.  And when they do, the big question is this:  Will 35,000 or more show up for those games on a Wednesday night in August or September?

I recently stumbled onto another topic that directly relates to the attendance issue and is the real genesis for this piece I’m authoring today.  Neal Shaffer runs The Loss Column, a local blog site that is essentially a gathering place for Orioles apologists.  I realize that word – apologists – has a negative conotation in most circles because it basically stands for “someone not willing to hold someone or something accountable for their mistakes or shortfalls”, but in Baltimore there are thousands of fans with that big “A” on the left chest of their orange sports coat.  That, by the way, doesn’t make them bad people.  Not at all.  It just makes them apologists.

Neal recently offered THIS OPINION at The Loss Column.  You’re welcome to read it.  Or I can sum it up here for you by simply saying this:  Neal – and others at TLC – are worried that once the team starts winning again, fans who have previously abandonded the Orioles during this 13-year run of awfulness have no right to return now — just in time to experience the windfall of success that many of us are predicting might be forthcoming in the next few seasons.

I call shenanigans on that concept.

The Orioles have to earn the right for fans to return to the ballpark.

This mess, the empty seats, the ridicule, the diminished sponsorship dollars, the complete and utter thrashing the Ravens have given them over the last decade or so…the Orioles have done ALL of that to themselves.

And any fan in town who has “abandoned” the club because they’ve felt that disconnection and no longer wished to plunk their hard earned money down without the promise of something on the back-end had every right to do that.

People sometimes think the professional sports teams in their town have a divine right to draw customers without the need for the proper service that it requires to show appreciation for their support.  There are those who think that about the Orioles.  ”We should just support them because…”

Shenanigans again.

You, as the person paying the freight for the salaries of the players and the staffers and…you, as the person making sure the owner’s winter home in West Palm Beach gets that new $90,000 built-in swimming pool, are under no obligation to do anything for the team (any team…not just the Orioles) until they’ve done something to warrant your support and blood-money.

And that’s a fact.

So for all of you who have abandoned the team over the last decade…go back to the ballpark whenever you want.  And don’t feel ashamed to do it.  Don’t let the apologists shoo you away with silly nitpicking crap like, “You weren’t here for the down times, you have no right to be here for the good times.”  That line of thinking might be in order if we’re talking about the Ravens, who have a bad season once every five or six years.  But when you’ve gone in the dumper for 13 years and essentially chased people away, abandoning the team is often the one result that might make those in charge say to themselves, “Holy hell, we better patch this thing up before NO ONE shows up.”

People like Neal Shaffer should actually THANK those folks who gave up on the team and said, “I’m not coming back until you fix this stinkin’ mess.”

Those people might be the reason why Shaffer and other Orioles diehards like me get to see good baseball in Baltimore this summer.

Maybe it took a city-wide abandonment — and 35,000 empty seats for about 60 of the home games — for the Orioles to wake up and smell the coffee.  Perhaps if the apologists had their way and the sheep would have just entered the ballpark night in and night out to graze on the taste of spoiled baseball and rotten service, none of these recent changes to improve the product would have been made.  It all makes sense, right?  The folks who STAYED AWAY might be more responsible than anyone for the rebirth of the franchise.

I’m thrilled to death that the Orioles have apparently learned their lesson and have done something to show the city that they’re actually going to try and win again.

And I’ll be equally thrilled if the stands start to fill up again this season.

“Stay away” you fair-weathered fans who only want to be there now to celebrate the good times?

Nope.

I say — “Welcome Back” to anyone and everyone who wants to show up at Camden Yards in 2011.  And if you’re returning now after a lengthy hiatus, I might just applaud you for sticking this thing out and standing firm.

Anyone and everyone who goes to the ballpark this year should be treated with appreciation.

And those who abandoned the team when they weren’t providing value to their customers?  I say “it’s good to see you again”.

And if the Orioles are smart, they’ll say the same thing too.

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