Orioles fans look to rebuild community as they root for team behind locked gates – USA TODAY
BALTIMORE – Brendan Hurson carried his poster-board to the iron fence behind left-center field at Camden Yards and joined a dozen fans staring at an empty baseball stadium Wednesday.
The game was just a few minutes from starting.
“Let’s go O’s,” somebody said. Usually fans would be discouraged from standing here by Orioles officials. But on this day a security guard stood nearby, arms folded. He had jokes.
“Standing room only,” he said.
There were a few muffled laughs. That’s all you’ll get out of Baltimoreans these days. They were gathered here because the uprising in the city – which twice had become violent, including near the stadium – convinced Major League Baseball to, for the first time ever, bar fans from one of its games.
So there they stood. The crowd never swelled to more than 50. Fans rotated in and out, tiring of the view. Some watched from the porch of the Hilton Hotel across the street.
A well-positioned fan could have tried to spot the action on the field by looking through the legs of a bronze Cal Ripken Jr. statue, then under the outstretched leg of mid-delivery Jim Palmer. That view would have been as good as any.
Fans on the right side of the fence relied on those to the left to see what the shortstops and third basemen were doing. Tall fans reported back to short ones. Cheers took an extra moment as the clear pop of the ball traveled out to the group.
Hurson, a public defender who lives in Northern Baltimore, hoisted his sign into the air dozens of times throughout the game, which the Orioles won 8-2. It said, “DON’T FORGET FREDDIE GRAY,” with Orioles logo standing in for the letter Os.
Gray is the 25-year-old West Baltimore resident who died after being injured in police custody, and the reason that thousands of protesters from poor neighborhoods in Baltimore took to the streets in the first place.
“I think a lot of people forget that the reason there is so much anger and frustration is police brutality, among other reasons,” said Hurson. “Especially today with all the coverage from around the country about how we’re not inside, and they’re talking about security and safety.
“And the only and safety and security we should be talking about is the safety of the poor communities of Baltimore.”
Hurson disagreed with the decision to shut fans out, lamenting the lost possibility of uniting people in the city.
Others felt the same but were angry. One woman screamed into a camera that the rioting and looting shown on national television was un-American and had caused this, the un-American exiling of a fan base from its baseball game. Near tears, she would not give her full name.
She was about as heated as the afternoon got. When those in attendance weren’t being interviewed by reporters from national television and print outlets, they tried to take measure of how the Orioles were playing.
“Next time Ubaldo pitches,” one said, “let’s just all turn around and not watch.”
Ubaldo Jiminez pitched seven innings without giving up an earned run Wednesday.
They chanted his name. Who knows if he was able to hear.
The fans were at times boisterous – the traditional shout of “Oh!” during the national anthem rang off the walls of a nearby hotel – but being on the outside hurt, ultimately. Camden Yards is credited with helping to rejuvenate Baltimore. It’s retro, fan-friendly design changed the way baseball is watched across the country. Through lean years, many of them kept coming to the yard.
Now, on a warm day in late April, it was empty as the Orioles shredded through one of the better pitchers in the American League.
Large National Guard vehicles deployed from a lot behind the stadium. The constant whir of helicopters above persisted.
Otherwise there were few signs of a game being played, or that this had been the site of a clash between protesters and baseball fans that helped stir the violence here on Saturday.
Sliders Bar and Grille was a pivot point in the protest turning unruly, as videos show fighting between patrons and young people who had walked from West Baltimore.
Wednesday the crowd there was sparse.
Outside Pickles Pub, just a few doors down, a sign mocked Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for saying she “gave those who wished to destroy space to do that,” a comment she has since tried to rescind. It read: “WE PROVIDE ‘SPACE’ FOR FOOD, BEVERAGE, AND FUN TIMES.”
“There’s a message there and people might run with it, but really we want the people in the city to know that this is a place they can come together,” said Craig Ziegenheim, a 28-year-old manager at the bar.
Back over near the stadium, brothers Les Bowen, 28, and Larry Marsh, 21, agreed that the game should remained closed to the public.
“We come here because sports brings different people together,” Bowen said. “It’s sad that we can’t have that today.”
The brothers drove from their Chincoteague, Va. home early Wednesday to try to help in the city where they were raised. They cleaned some trash near the Inner Harbor, then headed to the stadium, hoping to find other fans.
“I think people will come,” Marsh said. “It’s another way to show the city is strong.”
Some saw going to the game as usual as a duty. Matt Fouse just thought it was a good day for baseball. The Baltimore artist usually sits in Section 45, Row 2, Seat 7, a little ways off from home plate. Wednesday he stood with the others, his six-month old daughter resting in her stroller.
He thought being here was his way to show love for the city. Beyond that, he, like so many, was at a loss.
“What’s happened here is sad and disheartening and I wish I knew what could help us all heal,” he said. “But I’m not qualified to give an answer because I’m not one of the people trapped in what has been going on.”