If you want to know what happens when the real world hits, just ask Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles. As few will ever forget in these parts, the Baltimore riots of 2015 threw a huge wrench into the Orioles’ season. But the Birds behaved and performed valiantly through a very tumultuous time period that held a lot of uncertainty for everyone involved.
First off a disclaimer; we will cover this aspect of the just-finished season over the course of this off season. Some folks might say to stick with straight sportswriting, and perhaps they’re right. However as I’ve said previously, some events rock the world. What happened back in April wasn’t the Orioles’ fault by any means. They got caught up in it naturally, but it wasn’t their fault. However as a journalist I’ll tell you that social issues put sports in the back seat. We can certainly cover them from the standpoint and through the eyes of the sports world, but there are some things that are just more important.
So here’s the point in all of this today; I’ve seen fans on message boards actually accuse Peter Angelos and the Orioles of not caring about their own community in the wake of the riots. Mind you, most of these people are out-of-towners who obviously root for other teams. However the point of course being that the Orioles playing could have helped to calm the community and return it to a sense of normalcy. Furthermore the image of the team being chased from it’s own city and relocating a home series to Tampa I suppose didn’t look good in the eyes of some folks.
So I want to set the record straight. First off, anyone who was in the region during that week back in late April knew that it would have been impossible to play games aside from the manner that they did. The community wasn’t focusing on the O’s, they were focusing on keeping themselves, their homes, and their businesses safe. While on many levels I do agree that sports can offer a distraction when real life hits close to home, Baltimore was in no physical or mental condition to follow the O’s – at that exact moment.
Courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
I would also remind people that the Saturday night game against Boston actually had a moment in which all people that were in the ballpark were ordered to stay there by the mayor. I’m talking players, coaches, writers, announcers, and fans. The gates were literally closed and put on lockdown with a police guard. So this wasn’t just a situation that unfolded on television; it was a very real situation that hit very close to home for all of the people involved.
It’s easy to criticize, I know. However it shouldn’t rub Orioles fans well when they hear their team criticized in this manner. Criticism is one thing; but let’s do it fairly and about fair things. The Orioles didn’t “abandon ship” per se in canceling two games, playing a third in an empty ballpark, and relocating another series to Tampa. Believe me, the O’s did everything they could to support the community at that time.
Furthermore, let’s not forget that the mayor imposed a curfew of 10 PM for the city streets. Given that most games start at 7 PM, that would have made it near impossible for fans to attend. So the Orioles, in conjunction with the league, the players association, the ChiSox, and the Tampa Rays had to come up with alternative plans. They considered day games, however at the end of the day they felt that it would be unfair to fans to switch the times so quickly like that.
In theory they could have just kept the games at 7 PM. Anyone going to and from work was excempt from the curfew, so players, coaches, media folks, and stadium workers all would have fallen under that umbrella. But what about the fans? The point here is that in a very short span of time, the O’s had to make a lot of alternative arrangements aimed at accomodating the majority of the folks involved, but more importantly keeping everyone safe. Given those circumstances, they did a fine job.
The one thing with which I’m on record as disagreeing is the relocated series to Tampa. But even that can’t be criticized too much. Again, we’re dealing with a very short span of time, and events that unfolded one after the other in succession. I just thought that Washington or Philadephia would have been easier alternatives in terms of Orioles fans being able to attend the games.
I’m not keen on the whole “home game on the road” idea. I’m not saying that the games should or could have gone on as scheduled in Baltimore, but regardless of where they ended up being played I felt that the visiting team’s home park was a bit of a stretch. Yes the O’s got all of the benefits of being at home in terms of wearing the white uniforms, having their last at-bats, and so forth. But at the end of the day they took two-of-three in that series.
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My idea at the time was to relocate the games to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota – the spring home of the Orioles. At the very least it would have been a ballpark with which the team was familiar and so forth. But these are petty things – the fact is that the O’s, the league, and everyone involved did the very best that they could given the circumstances.
And let’s not forget that Peter Angelos paid all of his ballpark workers their full salaries for the games that were canceled, played in an empty ballpark, and relocated. Regardless of where you stand on Angelos and his stewardship of the franchise over the years, that was truly a touch of class.