Orioles Host White Sox In "Eerie" Game At Camden Yards With No Fans
The Orioles yesterday hosted the White Sox at an empty Camden Yards due to the civil unrest in Baltimore, and it was baseball "played in 'The Twilight Zone,'" according to Encina & Kaltenbach of the Baltimore SUN. Nearly 100 press members, a "handful of major league scouts and the occasional Orioles staffer" were the only spectators, so it "wasn't hard to hear what anybody was saying." Infield chatter "could be heard clearly and the cheering from fans gathered outside the gates on Camden Street sounded like shouting in a church." But even without fans in the stands, a "handful of distinctive Camden Yards touches endured." PA announcer Ryan Wagner "dutifully announced each batter," and the prerecorded "Star-Spangled Banner" included a "muffled 'O' roar." John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" was also "played during the seventh-inning stretch" (Baltimore SUN, 4/30). In Baltimore, Dan Connolly notes there "was no anthem singer," and no videos "were shown on the board between innings -- 'Guess the Attendance' simply didn’t have the same intrigue." The song in the seventh-inning stretch was "about the extent of the normalcy." When Orioles 1B Chris Davis hit a three-run home run in the first inning, there was "no wild cheering," replaced instead with "virtual silence." MASN play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne's "call from the third-floor press box, 'Goodbye, home run,' resonated off the empty seating bowls" (Baltimore SUN, 4/30). USA TODAY's Paul White notes the "only visible fans -- more audible, really -- were a handful on the balconies of a nearby hotel and a group who began chanting 'Let's go, O's' from outside." Outside the gates, the crowd "never numbered more than 50, faces churning as they tired of the obstructed view." Cheers "took an extra moment as the clear pop of the ball traveled out to the group" (USA TODAY, 4/30).
ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE: In N.Y., Jere Longman notes except for two scouts sitting "behind home plate and a press box full of reporters, the 45,971 seats and three decks at Camden Yards were an empty expanse of green when the first pitch was thrown" at 2:06pm ET. When Orioles leadoff hitter, LF Alejandro De Aza, "fouled off a series of pitches in the bottom of the first before drawing a walk, one of the balls bounced back onto the field." There was "some levity on the field," as Orioles C Caleb Joseph "gave imaginary high-fives to imaginary fans, and signed make-believe autographs, as he headed to the bullpen for his pregame warm-up." Davis said that several times, he "tossed balls to nonexistent fans behind the Orioles’ dugout between innings" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/30). Thorne in the second inning noted there were three people sitting behind home plate and said, “You do see people in the ballpark. That’s about it right there. Those are scouts who are working the ballgame.” He noted there were “all kinds of media members” present, as the press box was "full, with reporters and photographers on hand and camera people recording this baseball game” (“White Sox-Orioles,” MASN, 4/29).
THE NOISE REPORT: In Chicago, Colleen Kane in a front-page piece notes all noise from inside the ballpark "was distinct -- media members’ computer keyboards clicked, foul balls rattled around the vacant stands, outfielders’ calls wafted in toward home plate." White Sox 2B Micah Johnson said that the "glare of the unoccupied seats was distracting on defense." He also could "hear the TV announcers in the booths and the Orioles in their dugout" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/30). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Brian Costa notes sounds "normally imperceptible to most people in a stadium were suddenly amplified" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/30). CBS’ Scott Pelley said it was "so quiet you could hear a ball drop” ("Evening News," CBS, 4/29). Orioles manager Buck Showalter following the game told reporters, "I could hear every word you all were saying up there." Showalter added that the Orioles "tested the bullpen phone before the game, and he could hear it ringing while sitting in the dugout." Showalter: "I think everybody was real careful about what they said from the dugout because everybody on the field could hear it, the umpires and them" (MASNSPORTS.com, 4/29). FS1's Jon Paul Morosi noted Joseph "really was cognizant of the fact that maybe people on the field could hear his conversations with home plate umpire Jerry Layne" ("America's Pregame," FS1, 4/29).
STRANGE DAYS: FS1’s Dan O’Toole said the unrest in Baltimore “gave way to one of the strangest scenes in baseball history” (“Fox Sports Live,” FS1, 4/29). ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick wrote the empty ballpark "lent a sense of eeriness to the proceedings that permeated both dugouts" (ESPN.com, 4/29). In Philadelphia, John Smallwood, a Baltimore native, writes, "This was the eeriest day of my career." There was a "hallow echo in the ballpark without 45,000 human bodies to help absorb it" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 4/30). ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said the game "was just as bizarre as we expected it to be” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/29). FS1's C.J. Nitkowski said it was "strange to watch, to sit there and watch the reactions of the players" ("America's Pregame," FS1, 4/29). ESPN's Michael Wilbon: “It looked bizarre, but I don’t want to be critical of it. I understand why the stands were empty” ("PTI," ESPN, 4/29).
IN THE NAME OF FAN SAFETY: ESPN’s Howard Bryant said MLB “made the right call” by playing the game without fans because MLB was trying to "avoid the situation that happened in Ferguson last year, where you had the Cardinals’ fans and then you had Rams’ fans taunting Ferguson protesters.” ESPN’s Michael Smith said there is a cliché that sports "offers us an escape from reality.” But Baltimore “needs to face reality, they don’t need an escape right now.” ESPN's Jemele Smith: “Major League Baseball did what they had to do with respect to the schedule, best they could” (“His & Hers,” ESPN2, 4/29). ESPN’s J.A. Adande said the game was not about “messages” to the public, but instead was about the “utilization of city resources." Adande: "It was not a good idea to use police ... to protect the welfare of tens of thousands of people at a baseball game when so much else is going wrong in the city” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 4/29). However, ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "What I didn’t understand was for safety purposes the fans aren’t allowed in, yet they’re allowed to assemble, clearly, on the street” ("PTI," ESPN, 4/29)
COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes it was an afternoon "filled with empty." The game "felt meaningless," and the mood "felt morose." It was the "smallest crowd in major league baseball history -- zero in paid attendance -- and also surely one of its lowest moments." It is a "shame" MLB "couldn't have figured out how to move Wednesday's game to a date when Orioles fans could have attended" (L.A. TIMES, 4/30). In DC, Deron Snyder writes the game was played in an empty ballpark "for no good reason." It was "totally unnecessary and easily avoidable." If the Orioles "really cared about their fans and citizens, really wanted to offer some temporary relief through the distraction of a ballgame, the team would’ve played the White Sox and the Rays" in DC (WASHINGTON TIMES, 4/30). YAHOO SPORTS' Danielle Elliot noted former N.Y. Mayor Rudy Giuliani "thinks the Orioles, and the city of Baltimore, missed a major opportunity," and they "never should have held" yesterday's game in an empty ballpark. Giuliani told Fox News Radio's "Kilmeade and Friends," "If this was New York, that game would be played" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/29).
DOLLARS & SENSE: In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck notes based on the average ticket price at the ballpark and the average crowd for a midweek game this time of year, the Orioles yesterday "probably forfeited" more than $1M (including concessions and parking) and "will lose much more playing three home games at Tropicana Field in Florida this weekend -- unless they get some economic relief" from MLB's central fund. They "did all that without complaint," and the empty park will "rightfully be viewed as a sign that life has not returned to normal." The players "hope that the decision by MLB and the Angelos family to take such drastic and expensive action will be viewed by those watching from afar as a sign of solidarity with the citizens of Baltimore, since the whole point of it was to reduce the strain on the city's first responders and emergency services" (Baltimore SUN, 4/30). Orioles P Zach Britton said it is "unfortunate" the Rays would not "compromise and come here at the end of the season." Britton: "You'd think they'd have some compassion for what's going on in the city." Showalter "was more diplomatic, saying he understands everything that goes into making -- and subsequently adjusting -- the schedule." He said, "I try to, and we do, put myself in somebody else's shoes. If Tampa had called us about flip-flopping a series -- I think they have a concert scheduled -- there are so many things" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 4/29). The Orioles' Davis said, "It's what is best for us and what's best for the city right now and we just have to comply" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 4/29).