I’m going back to see the Orioles…who is with me?

March 25, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

As Charley Eckman would’ve said, it’s a very simple game.

I made a decision recently (and I might live to regret it) but I’m going back to Oriole Park at Camden Yards again this season and I want to encourage you to come with me.

I will not relent or recant anything I’ve said or done. It’s all the truth and I stand behind everything I’ve ever written here or said in regard to the current state of the Orioles, Peter Angelos and the civic disgrace that the franchise has become.

I want to make this clear: the Orioles are as shameful and as pathetic as they’ve ever been in virtually every department (from marketing to media relations to dealing with their employees to dealing with the business community and people in general) – it’s actually getting WORSE, not better — but I’m going back to the games anyway.

And I want you to come and sit with me in the “cheap seats.”

I want you to buy a $9 ticket (or less on several promotional nights) and come to an “old school Baltimore baseball celebration” in an otherwise empty upper deck. Pick a night, ANY night, and we’ll join you.

We’ll eat peanuts, talk baseball, watch baseball, honor Wild Bill Hagy, cheer for the Orioles and support the downtown business community all spring and summer long.

We’ll do the 7th inning stretch, we’ll wear rally caps, we’ll high-five and drink from the collective cup of despair as this group of cabbage patch kids tries desperately to not lose 100 games in 2008.

We’ll gather on game nights at different local watering holes and eateries, we’ll raise money for charities of choice, we’ll drink beer, eat wings, talk baseball, walk to the games, sit in the upper deck, cheer like hell for the Orioles, boo Aubrey Huff and anyone else who thinks Baltimore sucks, taunt the opposing players and try to enjoy what could be the worst on-field performance since 1988.

Let’s buy the food and beer on the outside, supporting the local vendors and businesses.

Gather your kids, bring them down to the ballpark, sit with us in the “cheap seats” and we’ll teach them how to keep score!

Bring your family. Bring your friends. Bring anyone you want to spend three hours with at a ballgame.

I’ve done a lot of “soul searching” during the offseason and my trip to Asia changed my perspective on a lot of things about my life and baseball and what it means to me. It’s been a rough year for me in a lot of ways, and I truly miss baseball as an outlet to have fun and connect with the world and the significant people in my life.

The first 35 years of my life, I lived, breathed, slept and ate baseball. And the last five summers just haven’t been the same for me.

There are two underlying issues as I approach my 40th birthday in October.

First and foremost, the city desperately needs people like you and I to come back downtown and spend money again during the summers. That’s just a fact, and something The Baltimore Sun won’t be writing an expose about (see David Simon’s blog here for all of you fans of “The Wire,” bashers of The Sun or proponents of free speech out there).

And second – and quite selfishly — I want to have fun again with baseball in Baltimore.

I miss baseball greatly and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Two summers ago we did Free The Birds, which I’m very proud of organizing because it was an honest outlet of expression for people who previously had no outlet. People in that group of more than 2,000 (videos here) have come to me many times and said the same thing over and over:

“THAT WAS THE MOST FUN I’VE HAD AT A BALLGAME IN A LONG TIME!”

Those who didn’t get there 18 months ago have said they wish they had come down with us that day and had fun with us.

My detractors and those on Mr. Angelos’ extended payroll called me a charlatan and said it was a “publicity stunt.”

Meanwhile, I wrote a 19-chapter book outlining the significance of baseball in my life and how WNST exists solely because of my father’s love of baseball and his passing that on to me.

If you doubt my sincerity, click here — I wrote a WHOLE BOOK about this stuff – but it’s up to you to take the time to investigate whether I’m sincere in how I feel about Baltimore and the Orioles and baseball and why it matters to me.

I’m pushing 40 and my entire life’s work (next January it will have been 25 years since I walked into The News American sports department) has been dedicated to supporting, loving and chronicling Baltimore sports.

I really miss when Opening Day was a big part of my life and something I looked forward to all winter. It was truly a holiday – right up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving in my house!

I miss going to the games with my best friends – old and new – and watching baseball, talking baseball and enjoying baseball.

I also miss having favorite players, keeping score, drinking beer before and after games and spending “extra innings” with my friends chatting about the game and enjoying being a fan.

I miss the feeling of “being downtown on a summer night.”

And the saddest part?

I actually reside and pay exorbitant taxes living in the heart of downtown every night of my life. (For the record I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch The Wire because I DO live here. I see enough guns and drug deals and blue lights just living here.)

Let me also make this clear: As one of a very small handful of credible “journalists” left in Baltimore (my definition of a journalist is someone who writes the truth and their honest, supported views and what they really feel…not what their boss or corporate conglomerate or their financial supporters tells them to write..or NOT write), I can and will rehash every miserable thing this ownership group has done over the past dozen years until the point when they change (doubtful) or sell the team (doubtful) or fix the team (doubtful).

So this reign of terror might go on forever, but for the Summer of 2008 – “The Summer of Amnesty” – I’m giving them a chance to be mean-spirited, unprofessional jerks all over again.

Or maybe they’ll change for the better. But I’m not holding my breath. And I’m not buying into the “Andy McPhail will be the Billy Beane of Baltimore” theories either.

But I’m going to don an old-school, cartoon bird Orioles hat and go back as a fan and sit in the “cheap seats,” just like I did in 1979 and 1983, long before I dreamed of having a press pass.

And I’m going to have fun this summer with this lousy team and I’m not going to let the miserable people who own and run the team do anything to stand in the way of me enjoying baseball this summer with my family, friends and WNST supporters.

The team is going to stink in 2008, maybe in a historic way. Las Vegas has them at 65 wins on the over/under. You can get even money if the team wins 66 games this year! You can get 150-1 on them winning the AL East!

But I will attempt to embrace Adam Jones and Luke Scott and Nick Markakis and anyone else who doesn’t go on a radio show and call Baltimore a “horseshit” city.  I will cheer heartily for anyone in orange and black who gives Baltimore a chance and who doesn’t make an ass of himself, publicly.

I want ground balls run out. I want autographs signed for kids. I want an honest effort. I want to feel like I’m welcomed at the ballpark. But again, I’m not holding my breath.

And I will report what I see and think and believe here on WNST.net and on AM 1570 each Tuesday from 9 to 10 a.m.

And I will do it from inside the park and I will start going to games this season with great regularity. Soon, I will post a schedule of events, games and places and beers. If you own a bar near the ballpark or want to help me organize a special fundraiser before a game, I’m all ears. This is a community endeavor, because like Free The Birds, it’s more fun with more people.

And I really hope you consider joining me!

If there’s enough interest, I’d love to do a few road trips as well, including the Wrigley Field invasion in June.

And I sincerely hope you will join me because it will be a LOT more fun to go to the games with YOU than it’s been to stay away or go alone and sit in that stadium that has become more like a funeral home than any ballpark I remember being associated with Baltimore in my lifetime (and I remember the 1981 & 82 Colts!).

What does the “Oriole Magic” song say? WHO makes the “magic” happen?

YOU do! So we need YOU to be a part of this for it to be any fun!

Last year on Opening Day when I hit the front gate of Oriole Park in search of my media credential – same as I had done every year since 1992 when the stadium opened –  I was greeted by Greg Bader (the evasive, Peter Principled Vice President of something over there) who told me that I’d been banned from having a media pass by Peter Angelos.

He suggested that I “buy a ticket to the game.”

Well, here I am.

It’s been 25 years since the last championship…

It’s been 20 years since the 0-21 debacle of 1988…

It’s been 17 years since we closed Memorial Stadium…

It’s been 11 LONG years since they’ve played in even ONE meaningful game…

And it’s now official: I’m the abused fan who is going back again for more!

Maybe there’s a subliminal message in one of those schmaltzy, Disney-era 1978 TV ads they’ve been running during the Spring Training games – “Ya Gotta Be Here” yelled out by Rick Dempsey almost makes me want to get a reverse mortgage more than it makes me wanna come back to Camden Yards – but DO I have to be there?

I HAVE been there.

And there’s nothing currently “there” that makes me wanna come back, including those Gawd-awful commercials and the brutally bush league broadcasts.

Because it SUCKS!

Every time I do go I leave saying the same thing:

It’s NOTHING like it used to be…NOTHING!

But we ALL miss it. DESPERATELY.

Even the Ravens and their front office wish that Baltimoreans would pay more attention to the Orioles so they could get a break from all of the intensity.

I recently joked with John Harbaugh that his mini-camps and no-shows were a bigger story in May than any Orioles game. He had a hard time believing that but it’s true! All he has to do this morning is check out the Chad Johnson story in Cincinnati and then tell me ANYTHING significant about the Reds?

When the Orioles have no shot of winning and everyone in the city and surrounding counties sees the franchise as a civic joke, it makes you feel foolish for spending any time or money with the team in the summer.

But when you do still care enough to go downtown for a game or two, the least you can expect is a good time.

And that’s all I want, too. I suppose I want to “make my own good time.”

Someone wrote to me recently that it’s a BLESSING that the Angelos family doesn’t want BALTIMORE on the front of the jerseys, stating “I’m ashamed to be associated with the ballclub.”

An interesting sentiment…it’s like the entire city has chosen to abandon the Orioles altogether. And don’t let me tell you that the Angelos way of doing business hasn’t earned every empty seat in that ballpark.

If Rod Stewart once sang, “Every picture tells a story,” then the story of the Orioles would be “every empty seat tells a story.”

I’m just one of thousands and thousands of expatriated Orioles fans.

But even the most cynical people who don’t care to admit it around town wish the Orioles were the “old Orioles” – the ones we grew up with and loved and worshipped and supported every night, win or lose, 1983 or 1988.

We’re the city that INVENTED blind faith!

We packed the stadium 52,000 strong on May 2, 1988 to show the Orioles that we loved them even when they totally sucked.

(For you young’ins that REALLY DID HAPPEN…sold out, packed to the rafters, swear to God!!!)

So, now this summer, I want baseball back. I’m fed up.

So, I’m going to go back.

Since it’s a fantasyland boy’s dream, this fascination with baseball – I’m going to suspend “belief” like in the movies and Field of Dreams – and just grant the Orioles a “hall pass” this summer for my own selfish benefit and for the good of the city.

I’m extending them an olive branch, no doubt one that they’ll rebuff. Because they’re mean like that, trust me.

I’m calling it “The Summer of Amnesty.”

Pick a few nights this summer, come downtown on the cheap, support the community, sit in the upper deck and let’s watch a ballgame together and have a good time!

We’re going to make it fun again by going together.

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