Yesterday afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox played a regular season baseball game completely closed to the public, the first time that’s ever happened in Major League Baseball history. The decision came for public safety reasons, those of which Gavin covered wonderfully in his post yesterday.
Despite closing it to the public, the game was still televised on MASN and was even the free game of the day on MLBtv. I took advantage of the opportunity and watched the game, curious as to what it would be like, and the experience was nothing short of surreal.
There’s the obvious and there are the particulars. The obvious, it was impossible to ignore the mass vacancy surrounding the game. The empty seats reminded me of the few summers I played adult league baseball. Nobody’s there to cheer, the only sounds are the ping or the crack of the bat, and the little bit of commentary you get from those in the dug out with you. To the players’ credit, they took the opportunity and had some fun with it. Caleb Joseph, Baltimore’s catcher, signed autographs for imaginary fans and after a third out, first baseman Chris Davis tossed the ball to some lucky fan absent from the stands. It reminded me of little league, when we used to look to our future careers, and imagine the day our ball would be a souvenir. More than anything, it felt like a glorified scrimmage. It was something that shouldn’t have meant something, but obviously did.
In fact, games like these would probably be a fun and refreshing change of pace for players, giving them an opportunity to just play and not put on a show (although it’s pretty evident Jeff Samardija may need the crowd in order to pitch well), but unfortunately that wasn’t the case yesterday. The empty seats were an echoing reminder of the actions outside of Camden Yards. At points, when the commentary was silent, you could hear music and other sounds of life in the distance. A small crowd of people gathered just outside the stadium, clad in Orioles gear, cheering for their team. It was inspirational. The people of Baltimore had plenty of reason to be bitter, to be angry for a day, but instead they showed up and cheered for their team anyway. Their cheers and claps, muffled by distance and an iron gate, reminded me of watching a golf match. Chris Davis’s towering three run-shot into Eutaw Street got the same reception a four-foot birdie would. This is not okay.
The Orioles scored six of their eight runs in the first inning. The first three batters reached base safely and DeAza even reached safely again in the same inning. There were reasons to be excited. Reasons to cheer, and those on Eutaw street did, but for the players, I wonder how it felt. It between batters, the crew at Camden Yards chose to still play the walk-up music. It was the only time I’d every really heard the music on television. Did they do this for the players? For the fans locked outside? For the sake of normalcy? I don’t know, but it was ghostly.
Playing in front of a home-crowd is the picture we paint for ourselves when we imagine our life as a professional athelete. Playing in an empty stadium, in the middle of the day, I wonder if the players’ feelings as professionals were absent that day. I wonder if they felt like children playing a game. If you listened to Adam Jones before the game, then you know they were fully aware of just how little, and how very much, yesterday meant.
What resonated with me most, however, was the Orioles’ record after this game. About five days prior, they were three games below .500, a regression from the wonderful year prior, their goal of winning back-to-back division titles burning with series-loss after series-loss. Baltimore was burning with them. After yesterday, the Orioles are back to .500, a three game win streak, and I saw videos of citizens cleaning debris in the early hours of the morning, of citizens dancing together, of citizens doing whatever they could to help. Changes need to be made, yes, but their seems to be a unified desire for peace. There’s reason to hope, and yes, yesterday was just another baseball game, but if we’re being honest, it might be the turning point for this city.