When Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore is meaningless..

July 02, 2007 | Nestor Aparicio

While we appreciate the most sincere form of flattery — imitation — and we’re certainly not unique in being pissed off at baseball and the disgrace of the game in general (see Barry Bonds’ HR chase this week), the Pittsburgh baseball fans’ walkout on Saturday night was certainly not a very high bar as far as standards for having your voice heard.

After our successful march last Sept. 21, you knew there’d be more walkouts — geez, it’s not like we hold a patent — but I find it fascinating that this time, it was "yinz from don’ton" doing the "walkout" thing.

Because I’m expected to take a cheap shot, here goes: I wasn’t even sure the Pittsburgh Pirates still existed, to be honest with you.

Seriously, I’m all for awareness to the cause, which is the plight of baseball and how the fans are getting screwed and the cities are getting bilked after building Taj Mahal stadiums in honor of these franchises.

That’s REALLY what we did last summer with FREE THE BIRDS, amidst the "traditional media" critics who were forced to report on how pissed off the public really is and why they’re angry. (And we’ll see if we can concoct something interesting for them later in the summer with Free The Birds II).

It’s apparent that the game is truly broken and the fans want it fixed, in many places like Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

But the agents, who really run the game, don’t.

And the players, who still average nearly $3 million per year, don’t.

And the owners, like Peter Angelos, keep counting their millions of dollars while bilking the public and giving the fans the "Baghdad Bob" treatment. Accountability has never been the owners’ strong suit, going back to the Negro Leagues, free agency, the reserve clause and their precious antitrust exemption.

Take yesterday: there couldn’t have been 18,000 people at the Orioles-Angels game on a beautiful 80-degree summer Sunday in downtown Baltimore! The stadium looked painfully empty, which made the Inner Harbor empty.

BUT THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH BASEBALL IN BALTIMORE, RIGHT????

The baseball stadium in Pittsburgh is the rare "new one" that I haven’t personally been inside to see a game. Mind you, prior to the Orioles’ idiocy, I routinely did weekend trips that included baseball almost as my most significant reason to go ANYWHERE! I booked every summer trip into Chicago when I worked there around the White Sox and the Cubs. Every trip to San Diego included a stop at The Murph. You get the idea — most "new" stadiums I saw the year they were actually built, because it gave me a reason to go to that city.

But because I’m disenchanted with baseball in general — especially considering "the product" they’re allowing to exist here — I haven’t made it to PNC Park in Pittsburgh, although I stand outside of it every fall when the purple fever hits me and I grudgingly trudge up I-70 with "yinz and ‘at" to see the annual Steelers-Ravens grudge match.

Going back to Clemente in 1971 and Moreno in 1979 (and that bitch with the whistle!), these two cities have been the Hatfields and the McCoys since I was two years old. And that stadium looks to be as fine as any that’s been built since 1992, when Camden Yards set off a national rush to have the best urban stadium in the land.

Pittsburgh and Baltimore are both towns that have manufactured a large amount of civic pride and reputation over the last half century through sports. It’s how we’ve chosen to bring our communities together — the championships, the losses, the parades, the heroes.

And while both municipalities see it from August through February in the NFL — we love the Ravens, they love the Steelers — we ALL wonder what in the world these idiots in Major League Baseball are thinking that they can’t find a way to make THEIR sport somehow palatable, interesting and/or exciting or compelling for us the remainder of the year.

Like it used to be…

Both sets of fans remember and recognize what "it" is from football season, but both communities have a deep, meaningful love and respect for baseball — from Mazerowski to Stargell and Clemente to Bonds and Drabek, or from Brooks and Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer through Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken.

The amount of people walking out of a game in protest is NOT the story, either here in Baltimore where thousands will attend our next rally later this summer, or in Pittsburgh, where a few hundred walked out on Saturday night.

The real story is whether the powers at MLB even hear the people and the empty turnstiles and the empty little league playgrounds and the lack of TV ratings and the general disinterest THIS WEEK, which formerly was known as All Star week, which was always the "high point" in my summer.

I just perused the All Star rosters of the AL and NL teams for next week’s game in San Francisco and I’d honestly be hard-pressed to even recognize half of the players, whose names and faces are lost amidst a decade of ineptitude of Orioles baseball and the Angelos way here in Baltimore.

What I guess I’m saying is: I know how those poor guys in Pittsburgh who did the walkout feel!

I just hope we have a little more success in what we’re trying to accomplish here, because most national reports I saw on Saturday night were simply making fun of those who have tired of 15 years of woeful ineptitude on the part of the Pirates and MLB in general.

The goal for FREE THE BIRDS isn’t to get a story written on the internet about the rally or to see ourselves on television. The goal is to get action taken and get the team and the city and the sport fixed, so baseball doesn’t become horse racing or boxing in America.

So that 5 or 10 years from now, when the Orioles and Angels meet on an 80-degree Sunday in July in Baltimore,  people feel compelled to support their city, their downtown and their community by coming together and cheering for a team that represents the metropolis with pride and authenticity.

I personally will not rest until that goal is accomplished or completely extinguished.

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