Baltimore Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr. Statue Game – a 10 Year Retrospective
Prior to 2012, the Baltimore Orioles had spent the better part of the previous fifteen years as a proverbial doormat. The club had failed to achieve a winning season since 1997, leaving much of the fanbase disillusioned. Attendance faltered and Camden Yards became a haven for opposing fans, most notably when the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees came to town.
What should’ve been a sea of orange was often red or navy blue. Chants of “Let’s Go O’s” were immediately drowned out. The ballpark erupted when the visiting team scored. Nothing about the ambiance felt like the Yard belonged to Orioles fans.
That is, until September 6, 2012. Ten years ago today, Birdland made Camden Yards theirs again, and there was nothing Yankees fans could do about it.
Baltimore Orioles: remembering the Cal Ripken Jr. statue game 10 years later
The Baltimore Orioles and AL East-leading Yankees entered that series with just one game between them in the standings. Baltimore was in the process of shocking the baseball world with a young offense and eclectic cast of pitchers (sound familiar?) and hoped to use this four game series to cement their status as playoff contenders and potentially move to pole position in the division race. Serendipitously, the high stakes weren’t the only thing enticing rightfully jaded Orioles fans out to the ballpark that night.
2012 marked the 20th anniversary of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and as part of the celebration, bronze statues of the club’s six Hall of Famers would be unveiled in the plaza behind center field. The fifth of six was showcased that Thursday evening, and it belonged to none other than Cal Ripken, Jr.
Ripken was (and still is to many) the face of the Orioles and even if O’s fans were skeptical of the 2012 team, getting a chance to pay homage to #8 was too good an opportunity to forfeit. The ceremony created a union of new Orioles fans excited by the rejuvenated ball club and fans of old who may have lost interest when the team entered the Dark Ages but wanted to pay respects to their hero and remind themselves of what Orioles baseball used to be. It was evident before the first pitch was thrown; navy blue waters receded and the sea of orange rushed in, and it was loud. The ingredients of a raucous crowd were in place, now all the team needed to do was deliver. Deliver, they did.
Camden Yards was searching for any semblance of a reason to erupt and in the bottom of the first inning, Matt Wieters gave them one:
The sold out crowd lost their collective mind. The fervor was palpable. The broadcast cameras were shaking. This is what older generations of Orioles fans were talking about when they regaled about the past. This is what Camden Yards is supposed to be like. This is why you love baseball.
Robert Andino and Mark Reynolds added home runs later in the game that ran the Orioles lead up to 6-1. Jason Hammel, the “ace” of the 2012 staff, was cruising in his first start back from a knee injury. The atmosphere at Camden Yards was more akin to a party than a baseball game. Everything was coming up Baltimore, then the top of the 8th inning happened.
Pedro Strop was one of the O’s most dependable relievers that year and was called upon to strand the runners previous pitcher Randy Wolf had allowed on base, however the Yankees turned the game sideways. Two hits and two walks later, the game was tied 6-6 and Strop was pulled without retiring a batter. An uncontrolled frenzy turned into an eerily quiet cavern of surrender cobras. This was what Orioles fans had become accustomed to from 1998-2011. The night and the season at large were too good to be true. The bleeping Yankees did it again.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Adam Jones wasn’t having that, and the anxiety among Orioles fans was short lived.
Jones led off the bottom half of the 8th against Yankees reliever David Robertson and sent a rocket ship into the left field bleachers to reclaim the lead and reignite the crowd. Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis added back-to-back homers later in the inning, the Yankees went down quietly in the ninth, and Baltimore ended the night with a 10-6 victory and a share of the AL East lead.
The 10-6 victory over the Yankees marked a paradigm shift for the Baltimore Orioles
"“I’ve always asked our trainer, Richie Bancells, how loud can this place get? I always asked that,”…”After I hit that home run, he came up to me and said, ‘That’s how loud this place can get.’ ”– Adam Jones"
The Baltimore Orioles hit six home runs that night but Jones’ go-ahead blast was most significant, and not just because of the circumstances. The old Orioles lose that game after blowing a five run lead. The old Orioles let that loss lead to a stretch of more losses. The fans were waiting for it to happen. Jones, however, was no ordinary Oriole.
Along with Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis, Jones was one of the young stars Birdland hoped would rescue the team from their 15 year doldrums and return them to their winning ways. 2012 marked his emergence as a leader not just on the field, but a vocal leader off of it. Jones used his Twitter feed to repeatedly call on Orioles fans to show out and support the club that would finish with 93 wins and an appearance in the ALDS. The fans delivered for Jones, and Jones delivered for them.
2012 was a long overdue catharsis after a decade and a half of unabated struggle. Though better Orioles teams came before them and have come since, that team will always be remembered fondly as the one that broke the streak. The “Buckle Up” Birds with a never-say-die attitude who beat teams with their bats and put them to sleep with their bullpen. There was no shortage of non-believers that cast doubt upon that group, but that September 6th night was a paradigm shift that helped silence the doubters and awoke a sleeping giant of a fanbase.