Orioles top White Sox at empty Camden Yards – USA TODAY
BALTIMORE – No fans get to watch Adam Jones play baseball today. But the Orioles center fielder took what’s an unprecedented moment in the game’s history to speak to the people of city that surrounds his workplace.
“It’s not an easy time for anybody,” says Jones, who in his eight seasons with the team has become the most visible and community-involved African-American on the Orioles.
For the first time in his and anyone else’s major league career, Jones, the Orioles and the Chicago White Sox played an official game with no fans in the stands.
After two days of postponements because of civil unrest in Baltimore, that final game of a scheduled three-game series was moved to the afternoon to comply with a city-wide 10 p.m. curfew and the gates were not opened to the public so as not to take police and other public safety personnel away from their duties elsewhere in the city.
The Orioles won, 8-2, in a game made significant by how it was contested, and what preceded it.
“The last 72 hours in this city have been tumultuous to say the least,” says Jones, the San Diego native whose extensive community work in Baltimore has included the building of recreation centers.
“We’ve seen good,” he says. “We’ve seen bad. We’ve seen ugly. Our games canceled, postponed, relocated, a city that is hurting, a city that needs its heads of the city to step up and help the ones who are hurting.”
Players on both teams grappled with balancing the desire for a return to normalcy after peaceful protests that deteriorated into riots and looting with ongoing safety issues.
“We all just need to get back out there,” White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton says of his team’s second game since last Friday (they were rained out Saturday in Chicago). “But one part of me says this is bigger than baseball. Another part of me says we shouldn’t adjust to what people do outside the stadium. I’m trying to be as delicate as possible with that, but I think normalcy would be good for the people around the city.”
The White Sox hadn’t left their hotel – within walking distance of Camden Yards – for two days except for a workout Tuesday.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” Eaton says. “We’ve had movies, ordering food in, a lot of video games – you have to get your competition somewhere. It’s been good team bonding. Baseball players are very good at wasting time.”
The game presentation was set up to be as normal as possible – with the glaring exception of a sea of empty green seats.
GALLERY: A day without fans at Camden Yards
Lineups were on the scoreboard, that national anthem played. Orioles players got their normal personalized walk-up music at they came to bat but, as Davis pointed out, there would be no crab shuffle game or ketchup-mustard-relish race on the scoreboard between innings.
Eaton joked, “We’re going to try to take the crowd out of it early,” then said, “There’s a pureness to it. It’s kind of Field of Dream-ish — just a baseball game.”
Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph tipped his cap – to no one – as he jogged to the bullpen to warm up starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. Players wondered just how much everyone would hear – including the opposition and the umpires.
As the managers and umpires exchanged lineup cards at home plate, a couple dozen fans outside the stadium behind center field chanted, “Let’s go, O’s.”
And when the Star-Spangled Banner played to an empty ballpark, that same group of fans maintained a unique Baltimore tradition – shouting “OHHHHHHHHH!” at the start of the final verse.
But it was undeniable that things were different once the game started. and Chris Davis slugged a three-run home run onto Eutaw Street beyond right field.
The blast gave the Orioles a 4-0 lead. But the empty stadium made the ball’s landing audible even several hundred feet away, and there were no fans to retrieve the souvenir. The home run call of Baltimore announcer Gary Thorne – “Goodbye, home run!” was audible in the stadium.
In the stands, three scouts observed the proceedings, the only people allowed in the seating area. Ball girls manned each foul line. And one club employee walked the mezzanine to retrive foul balls.
Before the game, Davis remarked on the challenge of playing with no fans, and the notion of “hitting a home run and only hearing 25 guys in the dugout cheering. It’s going to be different.”
And even as players sought normalcy and made light of the situation, its gravity wasn’t lost on anyone.
“I watched the news more in the last couple of days than I have in my whole entire life,” Davis said. “Just to see the anger, the emotion, the frustration of the city the last few days was shocking. It’s frustrating. I understand why people are upset and rightfully so. It’s unfortunate that it’s escalated to what it has. I think a lot of people were trying to do things the right way. I think there’s still a long way to go but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
The baseball reality for the Orioles will be three games at Tampa Bay this weekend, a series that had been schedule for Baltimore. They also face a doubleheader May 28, previously an open date, to make up the games postponed this week.
“It was good for us not to play,” Davis says. “It was almost silly for us to even be at the ballpark while all that was going on.”
“We need this game to be played but we need this city to be healed first,” he says.
Jones sent a direct message to the youth of the city, some of whom have been in the middle of the most violent of the protests.
“Someone has your back,” he said. “When you look at the picture, it looks like no one is fighting for you. There are people like myself, not only athletes but civic leaders who are effecting change.”
“I’d say to the youth,” Jones continued, “your frustration is warranted. It’s understandable, understood. The actions I don’t think are acceptable. But this is their cry. Obviously, this isn’t a cry that’s acceptable but it’s their cry and therefore we have to understand it and accept it. They need hugs. They need love. They need support. I’m going to try to give as much as I can because the city needs it.”
On this day, baseball was part of the process.
“Baseball, sports, these are things that unite communities in dark times,” Jones said.
But the eerie silence made it clear how different this particular game is.
As Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, “Let’s not lose sight of why we’re at this point.”