Like a lot of people in Baltimore, Pittsburgh baseball fans have had enough…

June 29, 2007 | Drew Forrester

…and, like Baltimore baseball fans did last September 21, Pirates fans are going to do something about it this Saturday night when the Bucs host the Washington Nationals.  Fed up with the team’s 14-year losing skid (on the verge of #15) and a front office that has failed to deliver on annual promises of improvement, fans are going to walk-out after the 3rd inning on Saturday evening.

Veteran Pittsburgh newspaper columnist Bob Smizik wrote about the planned protest today(check it out here) and just from Smizik’s column alone, you can’t help but think the management team in Pittsburgh must have traded “walk-out notes” with the Orioles.

Rather than give the fans an opportunity to meet with team executives beforehand, the Pirates are going to take the some road the O’s management navigated so safely last September – they’re going to pretend as if nothing is happening.  That works well, of course, until the protesting fans show up, then leave – and team officials are left to wonder if maybe they couldn’t have done something to avoid what promises to be an embarrassing episode in their own ballpark.

Not knowing much about the Pirates organization, I can’t make a real connection between the Pittsburgh “scenario” and the one we’ve been dealing with in Baltimore.  But what I can connect is this — these teams that struggle on the field can do one of two things…they can admit that they’re struggling and throw themselves on the mercy of the court, asking the fans to understand their plight.  Or they can fight the fans, dig their heels in and say, for all intents and purposes, “we run the club the way we want and you buy tickets – that’s how this whole thing works.”  That’s Orioles Management 101.  Don’t EVER let the fans have a say.  After all, what do those who make up “the great unwashed” possibly know about running a baseball franchise?

I don’t know about Pittsburgh, but here in Baltimore, throwing themselves on the mercy of the court would have worked 3-4 years ago when the team REALLY started to lose a lot on the field and lose a lot in the stands.  A simple, “we’ve made some mistakes over the last few years and we’re going to really focus on righting those wrongs in the near future to make sure Baltimore baseball fans feel like we appreciate them”, would have worked wonders.  But now that they left their heel prints all over 395 and Russell St., very few, if any, would fall for the “mercy of the court” plea.  They even had a chance a month ago to take a small but significant step towards righting a wrong when they had the opportunity to announce they’re putting “BALTIMORE” on the road jerseys next season, but at the last minute they decided “the club is not going to allow a vocal minority of fans or media to push forward an agenda”…which is code word for:  “we don’t want the fans to have a say…and we absolutely will NOT let the media provide us with a sound marketing/PR concept.”

Pittsburgh, it seems to me, has done a decent job of marketing their club in recent years.  A look at their 2007 promotional schedule shows roughly 40 promotional nights/days at the ballpark, including a season long “coin give-away” that includes prominent members of the Pirates organization dating all the way back to the early 1900′s.  They even have a weekend dedicated to Negro League star Josh Gibson in early August…and Gibson never played for the Pirates, of course.  But the Pittsburgh Crawfords are part of the Steel City’s baseball heritage and, thus, the Pirates have included them on their ’07 promotional schedule.

I think the Pirates fans are fed up with 14 years of losing.  They’re beyond fed-up, it seems.  And Saturday night, they look like they’re finally going to do something about it.

Here in Baltimore, we’re just plain fed up.  Fed up with losing.  Fed up with the off-season promises that don’t materialize come spring and summer.  Fed up with the team’s disassocation with Baltimore.  Fed up with the fact that the team doesn’t respect their fans.

We did something about it last September 21.

Russell Smouse’s opening comments at the Andy MacPhail press conference a few weeks were something like this: “The fans of Baltimore have spoken loud and clear…they want a winner.  And the Orioles are taking steps to bring them one with the hiring of Andy MacPhail.”

I wonder if September 21, 2006 helped Andy MacPhail land his job in Baltimore?

And I wonder if June 30, 2007 will help the Pirates understand that the fans DO matter.

Without people buying tickets, these teams don’t exist.

Sometimes the team needs to have that reminder issued to them in some-not-so-pleasant ways.

Saturday night after the third inning, baseball fans in Pittsburgh will provide a reminder of their own.

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