The Foundation Of A Baltimore Sports Fan …. Part II

August 21, 2009 |

A couple days ago, I laid the groundwork for my documented definition of “how a Baltimore sports fan is created.” The first part of the blog really emphasized on the relationship between myself and my 11 year old nephew.

Part I of this two-part blog also covered our experience with the Baltimore Ravens, at their training camp, in Westminster. It regarded my nephew, Robert’s, involvement in the experience and his resulting joy.

This second part will be devoted to the remainder of this past Monday’s events, which centered around a trip to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was a great afternoon/evening for baseball, albeit, as already indicated – HOT.

Whenever I seize an opportunity to attend on Orioles game, as a WNST media member, I find my way down to the ballpark by around 3pm. And, each time, I’ve noticed a small, informal gathering of fans interacting with ballplayers, who park their vehicles and enter, through a ramp leading underground.

I’ve always appreciated this view – the ballplayers have SEVERAL hours before game time and the crush of fans is usually limited to an amount that can be counted on two hands, at most. The interaction has always looked sincere and “non- flamboyant” – if that makes sense.

So, on this day, I decided to provide Robert the opportunity I’ve seen unfolding so many times. At around 3pm, we arrived at the ballpark and found our way to the above described area. My initial reaction was the friendly demeanor of the security officers. They were dressed in Orioles staff attire, and they were as friendly as anyone could ever ask.

They spoke with Robert and offered encouraging words regarding the imminent contact with Orioles and Angels players. It was an exciting time. Moments later, Melvin Mora arrived. He left his vehicle and took time to interact with Robert and two other children standing by the entrance.

Melvin Mora
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That’s right, a total of 3 kids were there.

Melvin was gracious and accommodating of the kids’ questions and requests.

Just a few minutes after Melvin’s departure, Nick Markakis rolled in. He looked comfortable – gym shorts, t-shirt, ballcap worn backwards. He looked like a regular guy. He talked and laughed with the staff and security personnel for a few minutes, as he unloaded his vehicle.

He tossed a few bags, as well as HIS OWN CARCASS on a golf cart and zoomed past the kids, as they all yelled to him. Did he know they were there? Well, he purposely turned his head away, just as the cart passed all 3 children. Now, that’s class.

I wasn’t sure of what I just observed. Does Brad Pitt play for the Orioles? Maybe, I didn’t hear the news. Wait a minute, perhaps, it was Kenny Chesney, ballcap and all, headed inside for some celebrity batting practice.

Nope – it was Nick Markakis – and he blew off a small handful of people.

Nick Markakis (Not Actual Shot From Our Incident)

I wish there was a photo of this incident, but the golfcart was moving as if it was on the concrete banking, at Dover International Speedway. And, I was trying not to swallow my tongue, at the resulting shock of Markakis’ diss.

That’s okay, things would get better ….. we hoped.

A few minutes later, Hall of Famer, Jim Palmer, arrived while piloting a sweet Mercedes ride. He looked good – in a very George Hamilton kinda way. It’s pretty amazing to hear kids holler “Jim” to a guy who stopped pitching at least 15 years before they were born.

I found this to be very impressive. Who says our generations don’t LOVE Orioles baseball?

For the kids’ sake, I was buoyed to see “Cakes” not jumping aboard a golf cart. YES !!!! He’ll walk by the kids and they’ll have a nice moment. WRONG. Jim decided to slip out the back door – literally. He made way across the private parking lot and departed through a private gate, so as to avoid the 3 kids.

Jim Palmer
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Hey, 3 kids is a lot of work – just ask any mother. But, is it too tough for a ballplayer OR retired ballplayer?

The final opportunity came at the hands of Los Angeles Angels pitcher, Joe Saunders. As Robert offered up his pad and a Sharpie, Saunders looked at him and said, “I’m not signing that,” and kept walking.

I’m not surprised. I mean, after all, it was the GREAT JOE SAUNDERS. Isn’t he dating …… – who cares who he’s dating !!!! He’s Joe Saunders !!!!

Well, that was the extent of interaction between ballplayers and the crush of fans.

As we departed, I took the lackluster experience in stride. I wasn’t pissed off or feeling rejected – that’s the impression which usually surfaces from dudes who use their kids as vicarious pawns exercising their desire to rub up against celebrity-types.

And, to be honest, Robert, really couldn’t care less. The kid loves baseball and we were headed to a ballgame, on a beautiful summer night. It’s all good.

However, as time passed, it dawned on me ….. the actions we observed on Monday afternoon, outside Camden Yards, are indicative of the disconnect existing between the Orioles and this community. In fact, it’s probably a baseball-industry problem.

But, my concerns really do regard BALTIMORE and the organizations/athletes impacting it.

Nick Markakis is more than a ballplayer. He’s a stakeholder in the product of Orioles baseball.

Jim Palmer is more than a broadcaster and Hall of Famer. He’s a stakeholder in the product of Orioles baseball.

Do you understand where I’m headed with this ???

The Orioles have been a very bad baseball team for a very long time. The crowds have reduced to an informal gathering of embarrassing proportions, on most nights. It’s a poor product.

But, the stakeholders, such as Nick Markakis and Jim Palmer, have distinct opportunities to make people feel important. They also such opportunities to make people feel as equally unimportant.

On this day, they succeeded at the latter.

When Nick Markakis zooms past a kid and his dad, nearly 4 hours before taking the field, it sends the wrong message. It’s a couple minutes outta his day – but it’s also a moment that sticks with people for a lifetime.

It’s no different than a few people eating at a bad restaurant. They tell a few people, who tell a few people, who tell a few people …..

The positive moments work the same way. And, the next thing you know an entire family is telling friends about their symbolic evening at the ballplark. This happens whether the team wins or loses.

I know the common Nick Markakis fan might defend him by asserting the magnitude of his contributions to the community through his foundation. I’m not buying that ….. and it’s not an excuse for ignoring small collections of people at other times.

I’m glad Nick held a fundraiser event, at Patterson Park, last weekend. But, everybody was watching. Personally, I’m more impressed by the contributions of people when they’re not being watched. That’s the reality of THEM, as far as I’m concerned.

I was honored to spearhead WNST’s “Curing Cancer ….. One Call At A Time” fundraiser, last month. But, that event doesn’t define my goodwill or regard for Baltimore’s communities. My unannounced actions are much more meaningful.

Let me be clear about my intent – I don’t know Nick Markakis or Jim Palmer. And, it’s unfair to cast a clear opinion of them, based on one observation. But, I think their disposition, on Monday, was indicative of a couple guys who really don’t GET IT.

And, they might not care.

As I’ve suggested, the Orioles are a very bad team. Their cast of characters, in a Disney sense, should be doing everything possible to generate an endeared feeling among the very folks who buy tickets and walk inside the ballpark.

If the rationale of a Nick Markakis, Jim Palmer, Matt Wieters or Brian Roberts is rooted in the concept of “I’m Getting Paid Anyway,” I fear this may never get better.

Forget the prospect of ever catching the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. I’m not sure the Orioles will ever catch the Baltimore Ravens. And, that my friends, is the sad reality of our problem.

It’s also the mold from which we’re making the BALTIMORE SPORTS FAN.

I want to thank my nephew for sharing a very special week with me. It was filled with memories that will last through life’s journeys. We share a love of sports, but our love for each other is much stronger. So long as we never lose sight of this priority, life will always be rewarding.

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Thanks for reading …….