Empty feeling hits the stands

Losses, Rays combine to draw 22,781 - new low for a non-makeup game

April 11, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Though the Orioles lost another game last night, 3-2, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, they could take some comfort in knowing that few people saw it. Perhaps the result will be thrown out for lack of witnesses.

An announced "crowd" - and that's getting a little loose with the language - of 22,781 watched the Orioles lose their sixth in a row. The previous low for a non-makeup game at Camden Yards was 24,558 on April 16, 2001 - also against the Devil Rays. This was the fourth-smallest gathering in the 10-year history of the ballpark.

Empty seats weren't restricted to the upper deck. They could be found in every section, from the most expensive to the cheapest. Passing a hot dog or beer down a row became more of a challenge. Shaquille O'Neal doesn't have that kind of wing span.

"That was different," said reliever Buddy Groom. "We have to earn the respect of the people. Until we start winning, it may get bad for a while. I hope not. I hope the people still come out. Like when we were rallying in the ninth, if we had more people in the stands making noise, it might be more to our advantage."

The weather finally improved last night, but not the competition. A game-time temperature of 68 degrees felt balmy to people who had huddled together over the weekend to combat chilling winds.

But the homestand is concluding with a series against an opponent that's never a popular draw in any ballpark, including its own.

"We knew about what our numbers were going to be for this series, given that we're opening with a nine-game homestand," said club spokesman Bill Stetka. "And Tampa in midweek is not going to draw real well."

Not that the Devil Rays should accept too much blame. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, opponents for the first six games, didn't exactly tie up traffic around Camden Yards.

The Orioles were averaging 35,591 before last night, which still ranked third in the American League. That number fell to 33,761. Their only sellout came on Opening Day, which is a slam-dunk even without the Yankees being in town.

"We got killed after Opening Day because the next five days the cold killed any chance of a good walk-up," Stetka said. "Obviously, had we won a couple games, that might have helped, too. And certainly, four straight losing seasons is having some effect. But we still think we have a strong-enough fan base."

Attendance dipped to 32,142 for the season's second game on April 3, proving that the four-time defending league champions have only so much pull. But Stetka pointed out that reduced crowds are an issue in other cities besides Baltimore.

"Last Wednesday, we were in the low 30s, but we had the highest attendance in the majors," he said. "On Saturday, the Mets had 18,000. I'm not trying to put other teams down, but what did Cleveland draw last night for their second home game? Around 22,000 [actually 23,760]. They sold out their home opener at the last minute."

The Orioles have sold 2.1 million season tickets so far and continue to target the 3 million mark. They drew 3,094,841 last year, the lowest total at Camden Yards excluding the strike-shortened 1994 season.

Said Groom: "I'm just hoping the people are going to come out. Even though we're young, come out and support us because that would go a long way to helping us."

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