The Orioles and Camden Yards are much in the news in my home area of Hagerstown, Western Maryland. But it is not for the reasons anyone would want to see. I will leave all names out of this article in an abundance of caution … but here is an outline of the story as it is being reported in multiple outlets:
A local baseball fan was at a recent Orioles/Nationals game, wearing a Yankees hat. A pair of early 20-something Orioles fans were drinking beer – by all evidences a bit too much. Taunting the fellow with the Yankees hat, it escalated into a thrown beer by the young guys. The local fellow turned to confront the problem and was ultimately sucker-punched over a railing, landing headfirst on a cement walkway below. His injuries are severe and he is listed in critical condition in the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit; and it would sound as if the prognosis is possibly grim – he’s been downgraded since arriving there. The two aggressors are in major trouble and facing very serious prosecution charges.
A beer vendor during spring training at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Over a period of about 30 years, General Motors has run an occasional commercial with a jingle that says, “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet; they go together in the good ole’ USA.” I’m afraid it would ruin the song to add the word “beer” to lyrics, though it would probably fit the culture of the sport. After all, we don’t have a team named the “Hot Dogs” (though we have some players who qualify), the “Apple Pies,” or the “Chevys.” But we do have a team called the “Brewers,” and there is a Busch Stadium; and that is merely the suds on top of the connection of alcohol as an industry associated with the sport of baseball.
Maybe you feel an anti-alcohol sentiment rising, and perhaps a sermon in the wings. Well, I’ll confess to the former conviction and note that I get paid in the primary profession of my life to deliver the latter. But I realize my audience to hear such a message is very small. The response will be that the actions of a few should not reflect upon the responsibility of the masses. And that is true, just as the actions of a couple of bozo Orioles fans do not reflect upon the generally high-caliber behavior of Oriole Nation.
But the irresponsible antics of drunks at ballgames has been witnessed by us all; it is sadly not rare and it can be totally ridiculous. In fact, my aversion to even the smell of alcohol goes back to my very, very early years (about age 9?) at a Phillies game (I know – you’ll say THAT was the problem!) where I went out to get a hot dog, and a drunk old man thought it would be great fun to throw the rest of his beer on the front of my sweatshirt. I was totally grossed out, and can’t get the stuff past my nose, let alone down my throat!
But regarding the original story here and regarding how I have also seen it reported elsewhere, the question has been raised – even as the Orioles get better on the field and more people are returning to the stadium – is rowdy drinking behavior becoming a common problem? One site ran it as an online question, and about 40% of respondents answered that “yes” it is increasing.
Though I will never personally understand it, I know that beer and baseball are going to be connected. And though it may not sound like it, I don’t begrudge people of that enjoyment. But we all know there is a line beyond which responsible behavior becomes irresponsible – and though sometimes drunks just make a humorously silly fool of themselves, there are incidents where it may sadly become dangerous to themselves or others.
Every report of local friends with the victim is that he did not incite the actions in any way. If he is culpable of anything, it may be that he did not involve the ushers and security staff at OPACY in dealing with the matter (I don’t know if he did or not). That would be the rightful thing to do.
So is the atmosphere deteriorating? In my years of trips to Oriole Park, I can only remember one occasion where the fans were beyond appropriate. It was an extraordinarily long extra-innings game against the Phillies about 5-6 years ago … probably contributing to the time folks (both sides) had to thrown down their libations. But what do you readers think? Is it worse? Is it a problem at all? Was this an extraordinarily rare incident?