From Jeff Zrebiec’s Q and A with Buck Showalter in Sunday’s Baltimore Sun:
Q: What have been your early thoughts about Baltimore the city, and Orioles fans?
A: Basically, my knowledge of Baltimore was coming here, checking in the hotel, getting up the next day, walking over here, game, walking back late at night, getting back up and doing it again. You hear players talk all the time about St. Louis. There’s not a culture, but there’s a tenor. There’s not a meanness. They are not pulling for somebody to fail. I don’t know how to put it, but it’s kind of the St. Louis fans of the East so to speak. I love the feel and the energy. You see the look of the fans, and you have to see what you can do to maintain that. They sincerely want the Orioles to do well, and I take that very seriously. I know somebody is living and dying at home with everything we do. I go through the mail once a day here with somebody, and I do read the letters. They care about the Orioles, and I do, too. It’s a precious commodity that I take very seriously.
There aren’t many higher complements than that from someone who has seen as much baseball as Buck. St. Louis fans are widely regarded as one of the most passionate fan bases in the entire country. Along with Boston and New York, St. Louis fans are revered for their acumen. Baltimore has that type of pedigree, but it has taken a hit because of attendance numbers in recent season. That, of course, isn’t entirely your fault. The team has put a lousy product on the field for over a decade now. Attendance numbers would dwindle anywhere with that kind of performance, including New York or Boston. The important and flattering sentiment from Buck’s statement shows the fans here are appreciated and recognized.
Television numbers are up. Fans don’t want to spend hard earned money in a down economy to watch a loser at Camden Yards. But they still care. Buck can recognize it by reading your letters. I can recognize it by listening to the callers on WNST and hearing the fans desire to see their players play up to their abilities when I attend games at Camden Yards. I have never had the opportunity to watch a game at Busch Field in St. Louis, but have heard of the overwhelming support they give to anyone who dons a Cardinal uniform. I didn’t realize that I was hearing that same support from the sparse crowds in Baltimore until Buck brought it up.
Oriole fans really do care. I believe the fans will come back like they did when Camden Yards was rocking and the team was winning in the 90′s. Home field advantage is an underrated part of any sport. It isn’t a coincidence that almost every team in every sport plays better at home than on the road on an annual basis. From great teams to wretched ones, being at home brings out the best that they have. Fans are a major part of that equation.
The Orioles have done a great deal of damage to attendance, revenue, and brand perception over the last decade. But they haven’t changed the way a city feels about them. That is a testament to you. That is a testament to the fans who still show up at Camden Yards and the ones that watch every night at home. The team will improve eventually and you will notice. Sometimes it is nice to know that the recognition goes both ways.
Bucks sees it. I see it.
St. Louis fans of the East? Be proud, Baltimore.