The Orioles have had almost everything go their way this year. The club stayed in contention for most of the season. The stadium has been filled to capacity every night since May. Even Mother Nature had been extremely cooperative -- until last night.
The opener of the series between the Orioles and the Boston Red Sox was washed out by the rain that fell on Camden Yards all day yesterday. Another stadium first. The game will be made up as part of a twi-night doubleheader today (5:05 p.m.), but the Orioles may be hard-pressed to make up the possible revenue lost because the sellout crowd went home with exchange tickets for a later date.
Traditionally, clubs allow fans to exchange rain checks for similar tickets to a future game That isn't the case at Camden Yards, where every game is a projected sellout and there are only a few single seats to exchange for the remaining games this year. The four-game series with the Red Sox, which ends Monday, is the Orioles' last home series of the season.
No one in the Orioles front office will say how that will affect the club financially, but the impact figures to be significant. With an average ticket price of about $9, losing a sellout could cost more than $400,000, a portion of which would have gone to the visiting club.
The Orioles announced that tickets from last night's game may be exchanged for any remaining available tickets to 1992 home games (only scattered singles remain) or any home game during the first two months of the 1993 season exceptOpening Day. In addition, fans who came from more than 70 miles away may mail in their ticket stubs for a full cash refund.
The club faced a similar situation last year, when the final games at Memorial Stadium were heavily pre-sold and a game against the Red Sox was rained out in late September.
"We are in a somewhat unique situation, because we are in a sold-out situation," said Bob Aylward, the Orioles vice president in charge of business affairs.
The only way the club could have avoided the loss of a home date this season was to schedule a day-night doubleheader today, but baseball's labor contract requires that the players on both teams approve it by majority vote.
Player representative Storm Davis polled the Orioles about an hour before the scheduled starting time of last night's game, and it did not go well for the Orioles accounting department.
Both teams apparently voted down the idea, though Orioles player representative Davis was evasive about the results. "What has happened is what is outlined in the basic agreement," he said. "The only teams that are allowed to do that by the basic agreement are the Chicago Cubs and the Red Sox [because of the small seating capacity of their stadiums]. It has never been done here before."
The decision on when to postpone the game belonged to the umpiring crew, because the Red Sox were making their second trip to Baltimore. The first time around, the club has the power to call a game before the scheduled starting time, but authority shifts to the umpiring crew at game time.
The club continues to have input either way. The umpires may consult with club officials, the groundskeeper and a weather service before making a decision.
Tuesday night's game between the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays was delayed for nearly three hours, but the umpires waited because there were favorable weather reports and the ballpark was equipped with a moisture removal system that made the field playable in spite of the heavy rainfall.
"They take into account a lot of factors," Aylward said. "That game was a significant game in the pennant race, and the weather forecast originally called for the delay to be one hour. You go on that.
"If it's a game that means anything, you're going to have a large gate, but they [the umpires] care more about getting the game in. The players don't like playing doubleheaders, and I suspect the umpires don't like them, either."
If there is a perception that the Orioles kept their fans sitting in a wet, cold stadium for two hours and 42 minutes for the Toronto game just to bank another sellout, Aylward insists that is not the case.
"We had between 30,000 and 35,000 still in the park when the game started," he said. "They wanted to see the game played. The others had to make a tough call. Those people are disappointed, but if we had called the game, 35,000 would have been disappointed. It was a rock and a hard place."
The long delay on Tuesday night was not a concession bonanza, according to Aylward, even though most fans sought shelter in the ballpark's spacious concourses.
"That's another misconception," he said. "We've found that people tend to allot a certain amount of money for food when they come to the ballpark, and that doesn't change much because they are in the park longer."