I get to spend a lot of time listening to sports talk radio in my car. No matter what station I listen too, it seems every caller is confused as to why people are not going to Camden Yards night in and night out. It has been said for years that once the Orioles win, the fans will return. They are clearly winning this year as they are 14 games over .500. Yet no one is going to see them live.
Time travel back in time with me to 1999. The Orioles were just two years removed from going wire to wire. Cal Ripken was still on the team. So was Surhoff, Mike Bordick, Brady Anderson and Mike Mussina. When Roberto Alomar and Raphael Palmeiro left town, then GM Frank Wren replaced them with Delino DeShields and Will Clark respectively. Wren also signed the much maligned Albert Belle that season who did bat .297 with 37 HR and 117 RBI. Harold Baines was still here and a man named Charles Johnson was our catcher. Scott Erickson and Juan Guzman were also on the pitching staff with the “great” Sir Sidney Ponson.
The team had talent and spent money. Yet I remember a game vividly in May 1999, having section 362 all to myself and a girl I was dating. We didn’t have two seats, we didn’t have a row we literally had the entire section to ourselves.
I know I know, they were not a good team and their record was not that good in 1999. They were 11 games under .500 in May of 1999. That’s my point. Fans stopped caring about the O’s long before this 14 years of losing was our excuse. Say what you want about Peter Angelos and there is a plenty of bad to be said, but in 1999 he gave him GM the check book to improve. The moves did not work out with players like DeShields or Clark or Belle, but moves were made. Talent was here. Baltimore just stopped caring about the O’s and going to games a long time ago.
Don’t get me wrong, I have Oriole fever like everyone else does, but the fact that people are not flocking back to the ball park does not surprise me. I often here people talking about how affordable it is to go to games. I disagree. Tickets are affordable, although insulting since they charge a surcharge if you want to walk up and buy tickets in advance.
However, the cost of going to the game is never cheap. Parking $20. Sure there is the light rail, but the light rail is not that convenient for people in Howard County or Anne Arundel County.
Food: Sure you can bring your own food to the game, but part of the fun of going to the ball game is to have a hotdog or Boogs BBQ. A hotdog costs $6. A beer costs $8. Soda $7. This stuff is pricey. It adds up.
Then there is the award winning staff who work at Camden Yards. You have ushers checking tickets and throwing people out of empty seats in the 8th inning of a blow out loss. A ticket taker “harassed” me about wearing a Ravens t-shirt to an O’s game. “Um, well its the only Baltimore shirt I had that was clean. Why do you work for a loser like Angelos?” These same staff members also seem to have no issue kissing the rear ends of out of town fans and allowing out of town fans to act rowdy and disrespectful yet eject Oriole fans from the park for doing nothing. A friend of mine was ejected from Camden Yards during a Yankee game. Why? Because a Yankee fan kept cursing in front of his six year old daughter and after asking nicely three times for said Yankee fan to cool off, the Yankee fan poured a beer on my friend. My friend reported it to an usher who told him to move his seat and when my friend argued, he was ejected from the Yard.
The last comment I have about Oriole attendance has to do with the Orioles commitment to the community. There is none. Who on the Orioles is around here year round? I remember in 1986 when the Orioles played the Howard COunty Youth program basketball coaches in a charity event. When has that happened? Remember when Elrod Hendricks died and almost no players attended his funeral? Who on this team is constantly out in the community? Meeting fans? Making appearances on the radio? The answer is no one. These guys do not embrace the fans and thus the fans have chosen not to embrace them. ..It’s as simple as that.