Need quiet? Come to O's game

The Kickoff

May 10, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

I was looking for some peace and quiet last night ... somewhere to ponder the mysteries of the ages and collect my thoughts without a lot of background noise or interruptions.

So I'm writing this column from the upper deck in left field at Camden Yards.

It's pretty nice up here. I haven't seen a single Red Sox fan and you can have a whole row to yourself if you want. It's sort of like flying US Airways, except that you have to pay for peanuts and the people on the ground look a lot bigger.

There was a time when you couldn't get a decent ticket to Oriole Park unless you knew somebody. Now, I'm sharing the four upper sections behind left field with a grand total of eight other fans and wondering just what it's going to take to rekindle that old Orioles Magic.

Of course, it probably doesn't help that the Detroit Tigers are in town, or that they came here with a 20-12 record. I can remember when Orioles fans used to feel sorry for Tigers fans, who suffered through one of the worst seasons in baseball history in 2003, but the Tigers have - at least for the moment - gotten their footing in the American League Central.

If only that were true in Baltimore, where the Orioles stand on the threshold of another discouraging season and everyone from the general managers to the beer vendors are trying to think of ways to get people back into the ballpark.

The crowd of 16,566 is one of the smallest in the history of Camden Yards, but that's no longer an unusual occurrence. Yeah, school is still in session. Yeah, it's the Tigers. Yeah, Tuesday is an American Idol night, but these seats were full in the 1990s, and I believe that people went to school in May back then and the Sox and Yankees didn't play here every night.

I didn't come up here to point fingers. The reasons for the Orioles' near-decade in demise have been well-chronicled and the difficulties the franchise faces as it attempts to rebuild are well-known, too. I believe that the stands will be full again someday, but it's going to take awhile and the fans clearly have run out of patience.

The glaring emptiness up in this section of the ballpark is no accident. The Orioles try to consolidate the fans as much as they can to save manpower, but the vast empty spaces in the upper deck still are symptomatic of a once-revered franchise that has lost its way.

It is not, however, an indication that the Orioles have stopped trying to attract customers. The sales and marketing department has reacted to a sharp decline in season tickets by racheting up promotional efforts aimed at building a new generation of fans.

If all those empty seats are a reminder of losing seasons past, they also represent an opportunity for old-school Orioles fans to reconnect with the team while the wine and cheese crowd is whining somewhere else.

Remember how a big chunk of the Orioles faithful felt left behind when the team moved from Memorial Stadium to its pricier digs near the Inner Harbor? Remember how hard it was for "the real fans" to get good seats after all the corporate types got theirs?

Well, the arrival of the Nationals in Washington has prompted a lot of businesses to spread their sports dollars thinner, which has made more good seats available at Oriole Park. The team's ongoing struggle for respectability clearly has tempered demand for those seats, but the marketing types are taking it as a personal challenge to get disenfranchised fans back into the habit of spending a cool spring night at the ballgame.

I know this because Orioles sales and fan services executive Steve Freeman suddenly is sitting right beside me. He came up here to find out what the heck I'm doing and now, I fear, he's going to try and sell me a couple of 29-game plans.

"There's a lot of places in the park you can rediscover without spending a lot of money," Freeman says. "There are a number of areas - because of the drop in season tickets - that you can come and buy at a reasonable price."

Among other things, the team has tried to offset the loss in corporate business by being more nimble with its group and individual sales campaigns.

Freeman proves his point by telling me about a group of 250 Certified Public Accountants who are in town for a convention and booked a section along the third base line for last night's game on very short notice.

I'm not sure what to think of that. Maybe the excitement was just too much over at the capital gains seminar at the Convention Center, but the point is that the Orioles want you back.

If nothing else, I've got to give Freeman credit. He's been sitting next to me for several minutes now and he hasn't once asked me why Rick Maese never shows up for College Night.

So much for a little privacy.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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