This O's fan wants to turn the whole town orange

Enlisting those who love the Birds to flock together

December 07, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Last year, he wanted Orioles fans to "Believe." Now, he wants them to bleed.

Orange, that is.

After watching his favorite team suffer through one of its worst seasons ever, 22-year-old Towson University student James Baker has decided diehard O's fans like him need to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Or at least on their chests. So, along with organizing what he hopes will be a new hardcore fan group -- The Flock -- he's created two Orioles-themed T-shirts that he's offering over the Internet.

One reads, "Chuck 3:16 -- And Lo, unto the Masses he Spake -- Ain't the Beer Cold!" -- a reference, of course, to longtime broadcaster Chuck Thompson's well-known catch phrase. The other shirt reads simply: "I Bleed Orange."

Without mentioning the word "Orioles" or depicting the team's official mascot, Baker has come up with two designs that some think conjure up more team spirit than any approved apparel available through the team or Major League Baseball.

"If 100 people wear my shirts, hey, that'll be cool for me. But I want to get people involved, get people interested," said Baker, a history major from Bel Air. "I want to go to a game and see a sea of orange. I'm talking a total orange-out."

And, so far, he has the support of the team.

"It's done in good spirit and as a way of supporting the team -- we're all in favor of that," said team spokesman Bill Stetka, one of two team officials shown the designs.

It's not the first time Baker has caught the attention of the Orioles' brass. His takeoff on the city's "Believe" campaign -- a 20-by-30-inch piece of foamboard with the slogan etched in orange -- landed him a cameo in one of the team's highlight montages. With the team's unexpectedly strong start last season, others began carrying such signs around Camden Yards.

"At the beginning of last season, there was just this palpable love for the team again," Baker said. "For the first time in years we were playing well, and [the fans] really took back the stadium" from interloping visitors like Yankees and Red Sox fans.

Then it all fell apart.

"I think the season kind of went into dis-belief," Stetka said.

The star slugger expected to bring some pop to the lineup fizzled out. A fan favorite became the focal point of a steroids scandal and a would-be star pitcher was arrested on drunken driving charges. The second-year manager was fired.

"It drained the morale in this town for the Orioles," said Baker.

With the off-season under way and the hot-stove prognosticators out in full force, fans at the popular Web site OriolesHangout.com began brainstorming about ways to get people excited about the team again. They tossed around a potential nickname for the team's fan base -- the "Orange Army" was one -- before settling on "The Flock."

Baker, a student teacher, then went to work on his computer and quickly came up with several ideas for T-shirts. After a vote, the fans decided on the two that Baker is now offering on his Web site, thebaltimoreflock.blogspot.com.

As of yesterday, he'd received about 90 orders for the $16.75 shirts -- about the response he'd expected so far. He hopes to have more in hand by today -- the deadline he's set for receiving orders before he has the first batch of shirts printed. And while he'd like to see the idea take off, he's also wary of getting in trouble with Major League Baseball's licensing police.

In 1999, the National Football League demanded that an Atlanta Falcons fan stop selling merchandise using a nickname he'd coined for fans in the end-zone seats. After registering the trademark -- "Dirty Birds" -- with the state of Georgia in 1995, the fan began selling T-shirts bearing the slogan. But in 1999, after the team improved, sales started to pick up and players started performing a touchdown celebration -- dubbed the "Dirty Bird."

That's when the league intervened.

"Our view is that as soon as a slogan is created that is associated with the team, it is our property," the league's general counsel said at the time. "The ability to capitalize on that market is associated with the Falcons and not any individual."

By not using any trademarks and maintaining a good relationship with the team, Baker should be on solid footing, said Kirk Wakefield, chairman of a sports marketing program at Baylor University. Smart teams have learned to encourage new ideas and get fans involved, he said.

"In the past, teams have said, `OK, you're taking advantage of our setting. We're going be the ones to control anything that uses our references,'" Wakefield said. "In a legal sense, if there's not any confusion as to source, that is, people aren't confused that they think the Orioles or Major League Baseball are producing it, then there shouldn't be a problem."

Baker said he's not looking for trouble.

"If they want me to stop, I'll stop," he said. "I don't want to put them in a position where they feel they need to act on it. I think they appreciate that."

Despite the warm reception to some of his ideas, Baker doesn't foresee a job in sports marketing. He hopes to start student teaching in Howard County after graduation.

"Hopefully by next September, the O's will be in the playoffs and I'll have a job somewhere," he said with a laugh.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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