I was listening to some talk radio on the way into work yesterday and a caller was lamenting the emptiness of Oriole Park at Camden Yards during the season. Believe me, I know how he feels. It doesn't matter how many times I go to a mid-week game at Camden Yards at see a crowd of just 10,000, it never stops surprising me. Not surprised in the sense that I expected it to be a full house, but I always have that initial reaction of "holy crap I cannot BELIEVE how few people are here." It's always strange to me and always sad.
One thing that the caller said that got me thinking was that the line of thinking is that the fans will return when the team starts playing better, but he thinks that the team will start playing better if the fans return. My initial reaction was something along the lines of, "pshaw," but the more I thought about it, I kind of started to agree with him. Specifically I thought of Matt Wieters' debut last May.
I went to two Orioles games the week of Matt Wieters' debut. The first was on Tuesday, May 26th. It was a cold, damp night where less then 10,000 fans watched Jason Berken make his major league debut. Nolan Reimold and Adam Jones hit home runs and the Orioles won 7-2. The park was like a ghost town. The second game I attended that week was obviously Friday, May 29th. Those of us who attended both games (I know duck, brotz13, and I were all at both) can tell you that Camden Yards on Friday didn't appear to be anything like Camden Yards on Tuesday. It was hard to imagine I was even in the same place. Over 42,000 attended Wieters' debut and the crowd was amazing. Minus a few sections in the upper deck and club level it was a packed house, and for once packed full of Orioles fans. The atmosphere was crackling with excitement and energy and the Orioles responded. Brad Bergesen pitched the best game of his short career, Luke Scott hit two home runs, and the Orioles players couldn't stay seated during the game.
But so what? They won Berken's debut as well and there might as well have been tumbleweeds blowing through the outfield. In fact, their win on Matt Wieters Day was their fifth in a row and the four games prior had a combined attendence of just over 60,000. No matter. I still say the fans had something to do with the team that night. It can't be scientifically proven, it can't be written on a stat sheet, and it certainly can't turn a crappy team into a contender, but I have to believe it helps the guys out there.
The Orioles and Peter Angelos have done plenty in the recent past to keep fans away from Camden Yards in the past. The biggest, of course, is putting a completely lousy product out on the team. It's hard to want to go see the Orioles when Jay Payton is in left field, Brandon Fahey is at shortstop, and Victor Zambrano is making the start. Additionally, they've catered to out of town guests to an embarrassing degree, employed hostile ushers, and can't even keep their nacho cheese hot on multiple nights, to name a few things.
It seems that the tide is turning, though. In the past few seasons the Orioles have made strides to get their fans back in the stadium. From $1 seats to 2110 Eutaw Street to that silly "We Win You Win" promotion when the Orioles couldn't get the W on Sunday to save their lives, they're trying. That combined with an actual effort to improve the product on the field and maybe things are finally starting to turn around.
I hope for the sake of the O's young players that's true. Brian Roberts has been playing in front of an empty house for his entire career and Adam Jones and Nick Markakis have gotten their fair share as well. It has to take a toll on them the alternating between small crowds and large hostile crowds.
Take, for example, these quotes. From Adam Jones: "We're not at the new Yankee Stadium," Jones said. "We're at Camden Yards. I expect more of our fans to be here, but I understand completely why they're not. But it [stinks] that they're not." And from Brian Roberts: "I don't know why so many Red Sox fans want to be here and Oriole fans don't...You'd just like to have the support of our fans. We have a pretty darn good team. When we win, I know people will come out. But it would nice if they came out to support us when we're in the process of developing a winning team."
I don't want Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie and Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen and Matt Wieters to get used things being that way. I want them to feel the support of the fans and for them to know that we believe in them.I want them to love Baltimore and love the fans and know that we love them too. Yes, they have to show they can win before the fans will come back full force but I don't think it's out of line to hope that some of us will show them a little faith and encouragement.
There is more positive buzz around the Orioles this off season than I can remember in quite some time, and I'm not just talking about the notice from the national media. Fan Fest was an amazing display of excitement. The other day I heard a group of strangers talking about Tejada and Matusz at the deli counter of the grocery store. That seems like such a small thing but after so many years of the Orioles being largely forgotten during the off season, it's something I don't take all that lightly. Hell, even Camden Chat is feeling the effects. This past February was the second busiest month in CC's history, traffic wise. Busier than any month during the season last year than April. I am really hoping all of that translates into a few more fans in the stands to give our guys a boost.