On Friday night Brian Roberts said things that really ticked some people off. A few of the hosts at this station, Mark Suchy and Drew Forrester among them, really took exception to Roberts’ indictment of the fans and their failure to support the Orioles.
His tirade came on a night when the Orioles put together a terrific win against the Red Sox amidst a Camden Yards crowd that, once again, was turned into Fenway Park South. I’m sure as a player it’s tough to look in the stands and see the place filled with your opponent’s colors. Remember, baseball players are human beings- many of them kids- and being cheered on at home makes the game more enjoyable particularly on a hot night in August when all you’re really playing for is pride. Bedard pitched brilliantly and, even with another bullpen implosion, the Orioles rallied for the win- a win people are still talking about three days later.
While I agree that Roberts’ complaint about the lack of support should’ve also included an indictment of the ownership and its’ ineptitude, I also believe that, as the warden proclaimed in the movie "Cool Hand Luke", that "what we have here is a FAILURE to COMMUNICATE".
The marriage between the Orioles organization and the fans has gone sour with everyone blaming everyone else. Maybe it’s time for both parties to sit down and talk. We need baseball to matter in Baltimore. It should matter. As I’ve said before Baltimore is a baseball town with a rich tradition dating back to the late nineteenth century. Baseball is not only good for the soul of the city, it’s good for the city’s economy as well.
I understand the fear that Orioles fans have- that sense that if they make their way back to the stadium hopes will once again be dashed as they have been every year for the past decade. It’s scary to reinvest your time, energy and enthusiasm into something that’s irrevocably broken.
However I don’t think the Orioles are permanently broken. I think they’re rebuilding. I believe that Angelos has gotten the message and that with guys like Andy MacPhail (although I’m still a littie skeptical about his tenure in Chicago) and Dave Trembley leading the charge, the Orioles have a team in place that can truly compete. Bedard, Markakis, Roberts, Guthrie- all of them are coming into their prime. The minor league system is improving. There’s reason for optimism. In other words, maybe the marriage can work.
It’s got to be "give a little, get a little" though. As fans let’s not turn our backs entirely. Football is here and many of us will turn our attention to the Ravens. But the Orioles still need us. The players need us. We can help rally them to victory and maybe even spoil the celebrations of some of our rivals. And then next year, assuming the right off-season moves are made, look out.
I’m also not convinced that a bad product is the only reason for the fans’ lack of support. I think enthusiasm started to wane, sell-out crowds aside, the day Camden Yards opened.
Win or lose, Memorial Stadium was a place that felt like baseball. Camden Yards never had that feel. It seemed fake to me. It’s as though Disneyland built a theme ride called "Baseball Game". From the time I first started going to games there it was always more about what food to eat and how impressive the skyline looked out in centerfield than it was about events on the field.
People showed up late and left early. Loud cellphone conversations were heard more often than "baseball talk". Discussions about stock investments took precedent over debates about when to steal a base or who should pinch hit.
Although I lived away from Baltimore during the playoff years of ’96-’97 my assumption is that very little was different. I’ll bet many of the old, hard-core Memorial Stadium baseball fans couldn’t even get tickets during the playoffs. Camden Yards is corporate America at its worst. Always has been. It’s just not a fun place to watch baseball.
The relationship between the Orioles and the fans certainly needs work. Management needs to make the fans feel safe in returning. But we as fans have an obligation as well. Let’s get back to supporting this young and talented baseball team. Let’s force out the Red Sox fans and the Yankees fans and the big shot Baltimore business community who only shows up when a corporate client hands them box seats.
Over the next month and a half let’s go back and make the place a rock a little bit. Why not? After all, it’s baseball and on a hot summer night or a bright Sunday afternoon, with a hot dog in one hand and a cold beer in the other, baseball can always be fun- win OR lose.
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