Before every Orioles home game, PA announcer Ryan Wagner congratulates and reminds Baltimore that we have the "best fans in baseball," and to be courteous to those around you. If you have gone to any games this season, you know exactly what shpiel I’m talking about.
And now that the Orioles have embarked on a 9-game road trip, we, "the best fans in baseball," get a break to reflect on what has happened thus far, as well as to prepare ourselves for the final regular season home-stand against the Blue Jays and Red Sox.
After many complaints of low attendance despite the Orioles having their most successful season in 15 years, fans finally packed the Yard against the Yankees. The stadium sold out two of those four games, including the Sept. 6th matchup in which the Orioles honored Cal Ripken, Jr. for his years of consistent service to the franchise. A few days later against the Rays, however, attendance did not even reach 30,000. The Orioles even encouraged fans to come out by offering tickets for only $4 and $8.
Yes, many fans jumped on the opportunity for cheap seats, me included. And yes, those cheap seats sold out in an instant. If only the entire stadium was as full as the left-and-right field bleachers. If you were at any of the Rays games, you saw the numerous sections on the Upper and Club levels that were nearly empty.
But this is not another editorial about how Baltimore always promised to come back when the team started winning. This is about what goes on in those seats.
When the gates opened at 5pm, a sea of orange and black began to storm Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Most people began to gravitate towards the courtyard beyond the visitors’ bullpen area, where the festivities were about to begin. Within 20 minutes, there was no room to move. Standing room only was an understatement. There were people looking over the edge from the upper deck, people gathered together on the new deck in center field, and even more trying to look over each other’s heads to get a glimpse at the podium ahead of them. In the minutes prior to the start of Cal Ripken, Jr.’s ceremony, many Orioles players rode on golf carts around the stadium to watch a Baltimore legend become immortalized in bronze.
The ceremony went much as everyone had expected. Gary Thorne provided his usual insight, with a slightly comedic and dramatic tone. Brady Anderson told his own quirky stories, dropping a few off-color remarks in the meantime. Billy Ripken gave a rousing speech about Oriole baseball, and the Ripken Way. Then, ironically enough, just as Cal took the stage, Alex Rodriguez stepped into the batting cage for the Yankees. Cal spoke in his usual mild-mannered way, encouraging Baltimore to get behind their Orioles, and support the "Oriole Way." It was the perfect start to what Orioles fans knew would be a memorable night.
After the mini-ceremony on the field just minutes prior to first pitch, the Orioles took the field in front of a sold-out crowd. There were undoubtedly more Oriole fans in attendance than what has come to be expected when the Yankees come to town.
The stage was set. This was the single most important game at Camden Yards in 15 years. The crowd was electric. When the Orioles jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, it felt as if we were on top of the world.
But then, things in the stadium began to change. No, it didn’t get any louder. No, the Orioles weren’t giving up the lead (yet). But the fans sure were changing.
Chants of "Yankees Suck" began to ring throughout the stadium, replacing those of "Let’s Go Orioles." Suddenly, Orioles fans were failing to support their Orioles.
When the scoreboard flashed "Let’s Go O’s," fans were reluctant to join in. It just never caught on. But, when someone started a "Yankees Suck" chant, the crowd joined in without any hesitation. I could hear Wild Bill Hagy weeping from his grave.
How could you possibly think that you are doing the right thing by not supporting your team? We, as Oriole fans must remember to be pro-Orioles, instead of anti-everything else. Do I dislike the Yankees? Of course. Could the Orioles have gone to the World Series if it weren’t for Derek Jeter and Jeffrey Maier? Possibly. Was this series about getting revenge on the Yankees for our 14 years of trouble? Absolutely, positively not. This series was about helping our team get back to post-season play.
Chanting "Yankees Suck" did not motivate our Orioles to play any better. They would have been motivated instead if they had heard "Let’s Go Orioles."
Did Orioles fans chanting against them motivate the Yankees? You bet it did. My evidence? In the top of the 8th inning, trailing 6-1, the Yankees scored five runs, all with two outs, to tie up the game. I’m not saying that it was directly the fault of the Orioles fans that the Yankees mounted their comeback. That would be ridiculous. Much of that blame, however, could be put on Pedro Strop.
When Strop entered the game with two outs in the 8th, the score had already been cut to 6-2. Strop then proceeded to facilitate the rest of the Yankee comeback by giving up two walks (one with the bases loaded), a passed ball, and two singles (one of which tied the game). Without a doubt, Strop could have single-handedly blown the game for the Orioles.
But as Strop was being taken out of the game by manager Buck Showalter, he encountered an extreme display of bad sportsmanship was shown by a usually welcoming Orioles crowd.
The boos began to rain down on Strop like cats and dogs. At one point, it looked like he was about to run straight off the field. Ever seen the Southwest Airlines commercials? Pedro Strop desperately wanted to get away.
The midst of a pennant race is when players need the support and understanding of their fan base more than ever. With the exception of a few true fans behind the Orioles dugout who continued to applaud the Orioles righty for his efforts, Orioles fans abandoned their own kind. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not the Oriole Way.
Maybe we’re just rusty. This was the single biggest baseball game in Baltimore in 15 years, and it seems as if we have forgotten how to act in such a situation. Fans during a pennant chase must cheer on their team more than jeering the other. Let the opponent play their game with no third-party motivation. Give your team everything you’ve got. Make the Orioles hear you; not the Yankees fear you.
When one of the Oriole players doesn’t play well, tell him he’ll get them next time. Don’t put him down so he will feel even more pressure the next time he gets out there. In the words of the great Yogi Berra, "Ninety percent of this game is half mental." These guys have enough to deal with against good teams, don’t add to their burden.
I hate to be cheesy, but most of all, have fun. This is the first real baseball we have experienced since the Clinton administration. Take full advantage of this time, and don’t mess it up because you want to see the opponent lose more than to see the Orioles win. We are very, very pro-Orioles, not anti-Yankees.
You make the magic happen, the magic of Orioles baseball.