Free The Birds…or SEE The Birds?

March 20, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

Baseball season is here again.

Just ten days from now, the Orioles will be coming back to Baltimore for what promises to be another ho-hum yawner of a season, where we’re all taking bets around the office about whether or not they can escape triple-digit losses in 2008.

And it sucks. It really, really does.

It sucks for my spirit. It sucks for my morale. It eats at my soul.

The team stinks. The ownership stinks. The morale stinks. The media coverage is 100% bought off (that’s just the truth and it’s indisputable). The stands are empty virtually every night. The TV broadcasts look like a sports version of the set of Captain Chesapeake, circa 1978. (I’m waiting for Moandie the Sea Monster or Bruce The Bird to pop up on Rick Dempsey’s sleeve!)

In six different stretches this summer for days at a time, the Red Sox and Yankees fans will once again take over the city like moths drawn to the lights of Camden Yards. The local bars and restaurants, struggling to make a go of it, will welcome the red B’s and pinstripes with open arms and good service.

And the team hasn’t played a meaningful game since my son was in the 5th grade. My son is now 23.

But the worst part to me – the biggest tragedy and travesty in this whole mess — is the way downtown Baltimore is left for dead on most summer nights — bars and restaurants and parking lots and the Inner Harbor left empty. It’s like some tumbleweed-strewn, boarded up scene from The Wire and that really makes me sick.

It’s a whole lot different for the merchants downtown and the vibrancy of the heart of the city — not to mention the tax base in general — when that local money is brought from the suburbs back into the city in the way of entertainment, restaurants and “fun time” for families and sports fans in the community.

The BALTIMORE Orioles (and yes, this is a team that uniformly refuses to even acknowledge its hometown’s name) have become such a civic disgrace that no one wants to come downtown and go to games.

And there’s no “second place” for downtown when the stadium was built for the specific purpose of bringing people downtown. That’s what the taxpayers of the city and the state signed on for 20 years ago.

The team legitimately lured 3.6 million people into the city for years at a time in the 1990’s, based mainly on the goodwill and turnaround the franchise felt from Larry Lucchino’s presence and the marketing of Cal Ripken and the legends of Orioles past like Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer.

This summer the ungodly “Angelos Orioles” will announce some “fantasyland” inflated attendance number, which really means there might not be more than 1 million “real” fans coming into the city this summer (minus the Red Sox and Yankees vermin that infest the city for those magical 18 dates this summer, NONE of them in September which insures an ambush for virtually every game).

And so what happens to our city?

It decays on summer nights and I’m sick of seeing it and I want to do something about it.

Here’s a simple question:

How many baseball games have YOU been to at Camden Yards over the past five years?

Just think about and say an answer out loud!

And think back to how badly you wanted to go back in the summer of the early and mid-1990’s?

And how much fun it was!

Those full, hot summer nights with a jam-packed ballpark and Boog’s blowing up Eutaw Street. Brady Anderson and Mike Mussina. Cal Ripken and Rafael Palmeiro. Every night was a civic celebration and an excuse to come downtown, spend money, have fun, bring someone you like or meet someone new who you’d share experiences with and then go home, watch the games on TV for days or weeks on end and look forward to the next time you get to go back downtown for a ballgame at the greatest ballpark in the world.

Think about the pride you had wrapped up in the ballpark, in the city and in the Orioles!

And think about how far this has fallen circa 2008.

When that guy from work or that friend or neighbor or relative or client offers you tickets and you don’t even feel like driving downtown to see the game for free. And your kids have no interest in going. And you can’t even name the players on the team. I bet most people in Baltimore don’t even know the name of the manager or what he looks like.

And when you DO go, you feel like you spent a fortune to get a crappy hot dog and a beer in an empty, depressing stadium watching the “home” team go through the motions of another lost season where the players make millions of dollars and downtown is left for dead on summer nights.

And then multiply you and your friends times the thousands of now empty forest green seats that dominate the backdrop of virtually every MASN promo for the team.

What do you think that does to the businesses downtown that previously reaped the rewards of a baseball team in our community that embraced its tradition, its fan base and its pride in our community?

It causes a lot of pain, economically, to the city of Baltimore, the fact that Peter Angelos has so woefully mismanaged the Orioles into their current state of disgrace and despair.

But what are Baltimoreans to do about it?

Free The Birds was a rousing success because it brought light to the problems facing the organization.

But what about the “See The Birds” promotion? When does that campaign kick off?

Who will be the ones to start coming back to games again?

Will it be THIS year? Probably not…

But if not now, then WHEN?

My son and Adam Dembeck here at the station seem to rally their young troops on Friday nights in April and May.

Those nights, the upper deck turns into a bawdy college happy hour with email addresses and text messages being distributed and boys and girls doing what boys and girls should be doing on a Friday night in downtown Baltimore (errrr, having FUN right?).

Sometimes, a bobblehead promotion will turn downtown into a semi-electric area again. That midweek night last summer when they gave away the Cal stuff and honored him before Cooperstown was a great example. REAL Baltimore sports fans and REAL old-school Baltimore Orioles fans responded to that promotion. It was as close to a “normal” night of Orioles baseball as we’ve seen in recent years.

So, at this point, what would it take to get you to the ballpark again?

We have an open forum for comments here…and this is probably the most intriguing thought that I’ve had in a long time.

Why don’t you go to the games and what’s the “Orioles Magic” elixir that will make you return?

As it stands, the games are NOT fun. Not in the least.

The atmosphere stinks. The team stinks. The music stinks. The crowds are lame. The ballpark is empty. The ushers are a massive pain in the ass. The prices are exorbitant.

I knew this because I tried going back to the ballpark last year, even after their creepy front office banned me from having a press pass that I used in good faith and honesty for 23 years.

I live two blocks away from the gates and I went a few times last spring. My cool neighbor gives me his tickets when he doesn’t want to go and I used them a few times. They’re right at the first base bag, under cover on hot days. VERY nice seats, the kind I’d only dreamed about owning when I was a kid in Dundalk. As a kid I NEVER got to sit in seats that good.

But it really wasn’t much fun, and the people around me didn’t seem to be having much fun either.

As the season progressed toward fourth place, it became easier to pawn them off on my son because the games just were NOT fun.

It was freaking depressing!

Everytime I went, I felt like leaving in the 6th inning.

So what’ll make it fun again?

Is it young players like Luke Scott and Adam Jones?

Is it trading Brian Roberts?

Is it the possibility that Adam Loewen and Jeremy Guthrie could win 20 games this year?

Is it the possibility that Kevin Millar might bat cleanup on the worst team this city has ever seen?

(It helps that the 1988 lost those 107 games at this point, which takes a lot of pressure off this group that they can be the worst team in the history of the franchise, although if some of the youngsters don’t perform right away they could approach that level.)

Does Nick Markakis make you want to come to the ballpark? Does Melvin Mora make you want to come downtown?

What are the Orioles offering for my money?

Where are all of the old-school Orioles fans?

There were literally HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of us. The last time we all got together was on that hill in upstate New York late last summer.

When will THAT crowd come back downtown for an Orioles game all on the same night?

Where have we all gone?

And when are we coming back?

Or are we ever coming back?

Will there ever be a “real” baseball season  again in Baltimore?

And will any of us notice if the team ever gets competitive again or are they even interested in having us come back to The Yard?

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