2008 Orioles: Empty seats and empty heads

March 31, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

So, now they’ve gone over the line once again – mainly because they’re so ill-informed that they don’t even know where the lines between professionalism, accountability and the media are — and their big man in charge “privately” berated Drew Forrester and told him to “pass the message on” to me that I won’t be invited back into their ballpark for the second consecutive year.

But now that they’ve called us, berated us, insulted us and pulled my media pass yet again (while I sit in a room with 32 NFL owners over the next 48 hours in Florida), they now don’t want us to write about it or be quoted “on the record” about their mean-spiritedness, vindictiveness and unprofessionalism.

They’ve essentially said to me (via Drew, because they aren’t professional enough to even speak with me): “We don’t like you and you aren’t welcome here. Go find another line of work instead of the one you chose 24 years ago. We’ve decided that you’re not allowed to write about baseball anymore or love baseball anymore or be invited to baseball and the Orioles.”

They’ve essentially told me that I’m not allowed to do my job anymore.

With a swath of empty seats on Opening Day and every day moving forward, they’ve told us, oddly enough, to “GO AWAY!”

That’s not going to happen.

Baseball is at the core of my DNA and I will not be going anywhere except into their ballpark on cheap tickets (or free tickets) to watch baseball and enjoy my summer, the way I did the first 30-odd years of my life.

And I will spend the bare minimum amount of money necessary this summer with these greedy fools, who have wreaked havoc on our sporting landscape with their continued acts of immaturity, spite and most importantly, dreadful baseball and customer and community service.

And I’m going to take my friends, family, listeners, sponsors and anyone else who wants to have fun WITH me.

And they’re not going to stop me. And they’re not going to stop you from joining me. And they’re not going to stop us from cheering at the game. And they’re not going to wreck any more of my summer nights because I’m going to have fun this summer with their lousy team.

And they can watch me…and continue this absurd, VERY one-sided feud based on their own vendetta, vengeance and mean-spiritedness, which we all sort of knew about any way.

Their message of censorship and fascism and control is legendary.

They’ve chased off Brooks Robinson, so I squarely realize my place in the cosmos, but don’t they have bigger fish to fry then fighting with me and my “insignificant” little radio station?

And don’t they have about two million tickets to sell and 64 games to win?

But, isn’t that the height of absurdity and arrogance?

Telling me that I’m not allowed to work at my chosen profession after 24 years of covering sports in every corner of the planet, let alone Baltimore for the past 16 years?

It’s Greg Bader and the Angelos family’s “assessment” that it’s OK for Peter Schmuck and Steve Davis and Roch Kubatko and Stan Charles to keep their “careers” as sports media providers but not for me and for WNST?

We’re “insignificant” and should just “go away, do something else for a living.”

I should “leave them alone and stop covering baseball and the Orioles” after 24 years of media time and 35 years of fandom.

Just like that…and here’s the reason why…

Because they said so!

And I’ll be thinking about how absurd that is tonight as I walk around a hotel in Palm Beach with all 32 NFL owners and every coach and general manager in the league here in Florida. And that’s after a day of chatting with people at the highest rung of the most popular and significant league in our country.

And why? Because the NFL doesn’t run its league or focus its attention on punishing or threatening media members with censorship of thoughts and limiting access based on what their opinions might be.

And by and large, these NFL owners will answer questions, teach me stuff about their league and sport, and be cordial and intelligent as they marry the sport to the business to the communities that they serve.

And they will be gracious and professional. And sometimes, like on New Year’s Day, I might actually disagree with their decisions and write about it or talk about it.

Matter of fact I ran into Steve Bisciotti twice last night and he couldn’t have been more cordial because he’s a professional and he respects my right to voice my opinions (even if he disagrees with me.)

Being a good civic partner and being a “transparent” company is important to the Ravens because it’s important to the NFL.

And the NFL WANTS the fans to be educated!

Those cowards who run MLB have written me to say it’s “not their call” about whether the Orioles credential me or any member of the media in Baltimore. They say it’s a “team decision.”

But MLB has made it clear I’m welcome to attend the All Star Game and playoffs and World Series this year!

And I’m welcome to get credentialed in any other MLB ballpark.

But to the Orioles, at Camden Yards I’m a pariah – a vicious “self promoter” who “pretends” to love the Orioles, loves to hate the team and its management and I’m just a “figurehead” at WNST.

After covering 13 World Series and 12 All Star Games and 13 Super Bowls? And being nationally syndicated in 400 cities around the country and doing this for a living since I was 15 years old?

I’ve got a lifetime of work invested in helping the city, speaking to groups and children, covering sports from an honest perspective and I’ve attempted to build a legitimate 21st century hometown media outlet which invites intelligent discourse on sports in Baltimore in 2008 and how the community is affected by the games that are played in our city for entertainment.

Think about how you would feel if you were me, especially given that I’m incredibly aligned and massively committed to HELP them with their cause to make the community give a damn again about their pathetic franchise in their 11th consecutive year of baseball insignificance.

When, in truth, I have two simple (and quite selfish) goals this summer:

1.    Make downtown come to life again.
2.    Make the ballpark FUN again.

Every time we’ve ever organized an event to go the ballpark we’ve sold hundreds if not thousands of tickets.

We did a “Wild Bill Night, 1983 Reunion Night” in the left field upper deck in 2001 against the Phillies and sold 1,800 tickets. We brought hundreds more to a Rangers game and a Cubs game. We did several big crowds before the 800 we had the night of the “incident” vs. the Angels in 2004, when they assaulted me and my wife and then sent me a legal form letter apology that was signed by two “people”:

The Bird # 1
The Bird #2

You can’t make this stuff up, can you?

And now they’ve decided that they don’t want WNST to discuss the Orioles ever again. They’ve expressly requested that we “go away.” They said so on Friday night.

Well, we certainly DO go away in Spring Training because we’re uninvited.

But once the city’s baseball team comes back to Baltimore in early April – as they’ve done since 1954 — we reserve the right to follow the team as journalists at a sports radio station.

We’re not going away. We’re not changing our format to gospel or music. Our audience is not going away. And our love of baseball is not going away. It’s why we exist, because of baseball.

Imagine that? They have unilaterally decided that we’re not allowed to do the jobs that we’ve done for a lifetime to feed our families?

(Believe me, Greg Bader and crew, we’d much RATHER that YOU go away since none of you seem to know what you’re doing, on the field or off the field and this ceased being fun for me and the community years ago. Check your turnstiles today on Opening Day and lie about how it was a sellout when there will be swaths of empty seats. We used to laugh at you but now we cry for the city on summer nights.)

WNST routinely went to spring training excited to cover the team every February from 1993 until the point when the players were encouraged to avoid us and the manager (Lee Mazzilli) was a disinterested no-show.

I basically abandoned the “Nice Guy Awards” after raising nearly $100,000 (mainly for Ed Block) over seven years because their players never wanted to appear. (One day soon, we’ll be doing the “Ellie Awards” in honor of Elrod Hendricks, the greatest Orioles community man there ever was!)

Every year, we at WNST talk about going back to Spring Training and doing live radio shows again, but every January we either get a cold shoulder or a flat-out “NO, we won’t accommodate you!”

Fair enough.

But you get what you get with CBS Radio and their promotion and their inner circle of “neutered” announcers. And MASN is clearly “state run” televison. And there are clearly some media members who “stay on the right side” of the Angelos family and the franchise and they get to keep the right to do their jobs, as deemed by Greg Bader and the Orioles management.

If ANY of them get out of line and criticize the team too strongly, they’ll get the “Nestor treatment.”

And if you think THAT isn’t a real threat, then you are a fool.

People see through it. ANY thinking person sees through it. Are they arrogant enough to believe that they can totally control the message and how they’re covered in the media? That nothing bad will ever be written or said about them, even when it’s the truth after 11 years of this sham?

Geez they should’ve seen the stuff we DIDN’T report about Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson and Rafael Palmeiro over the years! Or the investigations into their hypodermic department that we never did.

Baltimore has long been a benign media community. Most people in the local media are like me and everyone at WNST: we want the home teams to do well. Everyone else at the corporate level in the “traditional” media community are pretty clearly for sale.

It’s quite easy for the Orioles to create a “media partnership” with the desperate likes of CBS Radio and eliminate any chance of a negative thought, phrase or insight on those airwaves. “Rah, rah, rah” says Anita Marks and Amber Theoharris. “Ya Gotta Be Here” says Jim Hunter and Fred Manfra.

Now, they’re going to try to bail Aubrey Huff out of his offseason jam by keeping people like me from asking him questions. Questions that he SHOULD have to answer, making $8 million a year and insulting the city he makes that money in!

And yet no one seems to be listening to their message or their messengers as the stadium sadly sits empty all summer while the team plays .400 ball while trying to slip into fourth place for the 11th straight year.

Do the Orioles think it’s good business to be at war with ANYONE in the media or their dwindling fan base while they have 40,000 empty seats every night the rest of the week?

Especially with people like us who truly want to help them!

When will this bizarre ownership group stop fighting with virtually everyone in the community who wants to see them succeed? (Probably when the MASN money dries up…)

We at WNST “miss” the real Orioles as much as everyone in the city does.

This is why we’re organizing as many nights as humanly possible this summer to “See The Birds” which might eventually “Free The Birds.”

I’m at wit’s end and I’m done fighting with these mean, weird, unprofessional people over their mean, weird and unprofessional behavior and tactics.

In some ways, I’m glad Greg Bader called Drew to yell at him on Friday because there’s no telling how I might have reacted if he actually thought I was running WNST and called me. For some reason, he’s scared to death to deal with me or the reality of WNST. Despite the fact that it’s his JOB to deal with me, he’s in denial that I even exist and it complete denial of what my role is at this radio station.

It’s like a comedy and I almost have to treat it as such after all of these years!

Gawd, I wish Eckman and Steadman were alive to see this! I swear I hear their voices in my ears some nights, I really do.

Either way, I’m having fun this summer.

We’ll have no problem “selling” the Orioles to Baltimore this summer. Matter of fact, we’ll do a BETTER job of marketing their team than they will. We’ll have fun, dream up fun stuff to do before games, try to give stuff away and raise money for worthy charities in the community and watch bad baseball on the cheap – just like we did in 1988!

We’ll honor Wild Bill and Elrod every night we’re there. We’ll keep score and teach kids how to keep score and we’ll support the downtown business communities and the local vendors who feed their families with extra income and just want to be near the ballpark downtown on a summer night.

There might only be 20 or 30 of us on Thursday (I’m being optimistic but the weather doesn’t appear to be dreadful…and it is the Orioles…I’m pushing a boulder uphill here) but it’ll be fun for how ever many people post at the Wharf Rat anytime after 4:30 or so…

Whoever wants to have a fun night watching a couple of bad baseball teams on a Thursday night in April should come on downtown for beer, burgers and baseball.

Just like old times.

Empty upper deck.

Us filling it up oh so slightly.

Making noise. Loving life.

Watching baseball in Baltimore!

It’s Opening Day. Let’s play ball!

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