The Fullness of an Empty Cathedral

Because of the recent State of Emergency in Baltimore–rioters piggybacking on peaceful protests–the Orioles will complete the next match of their series with the Chicago White Sox today without the beating heart of baseball–the fans. This is not due to the fans resolving to stay safe in their homes; it’s due to the Baltimore management determining that the civil unrest puts fans of their team in unnecessary danger by traveling. Still, the game goes on but without its very lifeblood. All because something far more important than baseball is happening in the streets of Baltimore. It’s quite surreal.

The citizens of Baltimore are engaging in civil disobedience throughout the city. They feel wronged by years of institutional racism and alleged police misconduct–if you are looking for a riot or police brutality apologist, you won’t find what you’re looking for here. This is a peaceful protest, but a fringe mob has escalated to rioting–arson, property destruction, and looting. As a result of the actions of the few, the perception of the crowd as a mob has metastasized.

Camden Yards, home to the Baltimore Orioles  is one of the most beautiful and storied ballparks in America. The team it houses is America’s blue collar team–a symbol, as it were, of the classic American values of hard work and perseverance. The Orioles had the Iron Man, Cal Ripken, Jr. who still holds the record for consecutive games played at 2,632. The irony of this symbol juxtaposed with the civil unrest over the antithesis of American values is not lost on me. Still, the Orioles stand for everything good about baseball, about America.

They still do.

Recently, an Orioles broadcaster, Brett Hollander, expressed disingenuous concern on Twitter over the protest that became violent outside of Camden Yards the other night. The Chief Operating Officer, John Angelos, replied–also on Twitter, also in the article above–where he addressed the points made by Hollander (Huffington Post added emphasis to address the persuasive tone of the writer).

This type of reaction from a major public figure in the Orioles organization like Angelos shows an exceptional amount of awareness from the ball club about the social issues felt by their primary fanbase and their city. I challenge you to find another executive in baseball who has publicly shown the sensitivities of Batimore’s Angelos.

Now, this is not a political statement, but Angelos is speaking to the broad social issues impacting his city. His statement makes it clear that he is unequivocally anti-violence but unequivocally anti-injustice. These views are not at odds with each other as many thought leaders, pundits, and editors would have you believe. Nor is Angelos’s position one of weakness–quite the opposite in fact. The people of Baltimore are of utmost importance to the Orioles, and the COO has made it clear that he cares more about them than he does minor damage to the ballpark or any game played by the Orioles, ever.

Think about that: here’s a guy who lives and dies with Orioles baseball casting all of that aside to say it’s not as important as resolving injustice and violence. That is powerful.

Still, Major League Baseball is a tremendous machine and it cannot stop for one team, nor should it. Additionally, the Orioles have made it clear that they draw their very identity from the character of their city. The perseverance and willingness of the citizens to take a stand are traits the O’s want to emulate. As a result, baseball must go on.

Closing the stadium out of concern for the wellbeing of the people of Baltimore is unprecedented. The team is foregoing revenue from tickets, concessions, and apparel simply to keep their people safe from the fringe mobs. They have taken custody of their fans in a deep and meaningful way.

This Cathedral of Baseball will be closed today. But, the game will go on. The Orioles will keep playing–not because of ego, or pride, but because baseball is America’s pastime and an opportunity for escape from the toils of daily life. They will keep playing for their city to show solidarity. In time, this Cathedral will reopen and resume its weekly devotionals. Until then, the Orioles will continue their symbolic fight alongside their city. The stadium may be empty, but it is hardly hollow.

Baseball must go on.


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