Hope vs. disappointment

Orioles fans find it harder to stay loyal to their team after disappointments on the field and in the front office

April 02, 2006|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

With a little luck tomorrow on Opening Day at Camden Yards, Peter Angelos will know what's on Adrian Teti's mind.

If all goes as Teti has planned, a billboard on the back of a truck will roll around the stadium carrying the Ellicott City fan's personal message to the Orioles' team owner: "Eight Consecutive Losing Seasons Are Enough. Baltimore Fans Deserve Better. Mr. Angelos, Please ... SELL THE TEAM NOW!"

It's not that Teti, a student at the University of Maryland, hates the Orioles. Just the opposite. He loves them.

It's the losing he can't stand. Eight straight seasons' worth. That's why he organized an e-mail campaign to raise the $1,300 to rent the billboard space tomorrow and why close to 40 people pitched in to make it happen.

Tomorrow's opener against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays is sold out, but on Internet message boards, talk radio call-in shows and in numerous interviews conducted recently by The Sun, fans are speaking out, often in anger.

They continue to love and support the Orioles. They're hopeful that young talent, veteran coaching and a little luck will help the team avoid its ninth consecutive losing season. But they're also frustrated that a franchise with so much history has become, at times, just a punch line.

"This used to be one of the best organizations in baseball," said Tracey Shreve, a season-ticket holder from Catonsville who has had seats since the team moved to Camden Yards. "Now, it hurts to say it, but it's one of the worst. And I don't think they'll get the message until season-ticket holders like me just give up."

While there is still the annual surge of spring baseball optimism, people seem more interested in the Ravens' offseason moves than in the Orioles' season opener, says Bob Haynie, host of a daytime sports talk show on WNST.

"After eight straight losing seasons, I think a lot of people have kind of lost faith in the Orioles and in the sport. It's become a football town," Haynie said.

"When I was growing up in the '70s and '80s, a bad year was 88 wins. You knew the team was going to compete. Now, it's become kind of disheartening. I mean, who wants to go to a Yankees or Red Sox game and get heckled in their own stadium?"

Cause for frustration

Any Orioles fan worth his or her salt can rattle off a list of what has been upsetting during the past 10 years.

Some are still sore about radio announcer Jon Miller's being let go in a contract dispute. Others will never get over pitcher Mike Mussina's becoming a Yankee, or Davey Johnson's being forced out the day he was named American League Manager of the Year.

Many are still bitter about the way Albert Belle's surly, injury-marred career made the team gun-shy in free agency. A few won't support the team until the word "Baltimore" is restored to the team's uniforms. (It has been absent since 1973.)

Inevitably, though, the conversation almost always drifts back to Angelos, the man who signs the checks and makes the decisions. Rarely do you meet an Orioles fan these days who doesn't have an opinion about Peter Angelos.

"I would say that a vast majority of people on our site do not like Angelos and really do think he's a big part of the problem," said Tony Pente, the publisher of Orioleshangout.com, an Internet site with more than 3,000 registered members where fans passionately debate the state of the franchise on a daily basis.

"Rightfully or not, that's become the consensus with the fans. But to be honest, I think it comes down to winning and losing. The team has never gone through a stretch of losing like this in the history of the franchise, and people are frustrated. One thing Baltimore has shown is that we like winners. Losers don't do well here. And if the Orioles were winning, no one would complain about the owner."

It is difficult to accurately take the temperature of a fan base as large and as diverse as the one in Baltimore.

Baseball means different things to different people in this town, and it's no secret that for some, the joy of sharing a bleacher seat, a hot dog and a cold beverage with friends or family on a warm summer evening is more important than whether the Orioles stay in the pennant race past mid-June.

The Orioles' marketing department has continued to try to reach out to fans who might not attend as often as they once did, and this year a number of packages allow fans to attend games for $10 or less.

"This year, every Friday, student tickets are $5," said Spiro Alafassos, the Orioles' executive director of communications. "We have bargain nights, where a large portion of our seats are $8. We have a Monday night special where you get a bleacher seat and a barbecue sandwich from Boog's for $15. ... We have tons of ways for families to enjoy baseball. It's one of the few sports that's really affordable."

For some, the ballpark experience is enough of a draw.

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