When Boston or N.Y. is away, fans stay, pay

The devout, rowdy make Oriole Park a second home

September 07, 2006|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,sun reporter

And it's root, root, root ... for the away team.

They overrun our ballpark. They sleep in our beds. They eat our food, drink our beer, flirt with our womenfolk.

"I just know they are everywhere," Orioles broadcaster Jim Palmer says.

It's not easy to hear, but we're just trying to prepare you. The Yankees' Evil Empire and Red Sox Nation march respectively - not respectfully - into Baltimore tomorrow for a seven-game stretch on their second-home home field: Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

As the Orioles wind up an expected ninth consecutive losing season with their last extended home stand of the season, fans at these coming games will again have to sit next to Boston and New York reminders that fourth-place in the American League East remains Baltimore's lot. Remember a long time ago when these series were ... competitive?

Downtown will again be transformed into a sort of Times Square or Boston Common. If you're in earshot of any of the games, you won't know from the cheering who just scored. It's all very wrong, and for years now it has become depressingly routine. Still, sporting questions remain - if only to provide local fans ways to stay engaged in our imaginary rivalries with both teams:

Have Red Sox fans surpassed Yankees fans in behavioral issues at Oriole Park? In other words, are they more obnoxious? (All that Boston gear worn by all those bandwagoning Red Sox fans!) Have Yankees fans at Oriole Park toned it down a bit? Are we such a nonthreat they have grown reserved? Will Joe Torre actually play his starters?

As always with sports, inconclusive answers can be found in a bar.

Which reminds us of a story. A guy walks into a bar, say The Wharf Rat on Pratt Street, and asks a manager, say Joe Cimino, how he can distinguish the Red Sox fans when their team is in town. It's a loaded, planted question, but Cimino jumps on the answer. He sees them all - New York, Philadelphia, Boston fans, all of whom flood his joint when it's their turn to buy Orioles tickets on eBay and have a mini-vacation in cheaper Baltimore.

So, who are the Red Sox fans?

"The guys with a tan line where their wedding rings should be," Cimino says. "They didn't bring their wives. They are 50 years old and acting like they are 22, running around drunk in their flip-flops. They are knuckleheads."

To their credit, they don't insist on drinking Sam Adams beer when in Baltimore. "They're not looking for clam chowder, either. They try to adapt a little," he says. In fact, he'd rather see a Red Sox fan than a Yankees fan. "Red Sox fans are slightly more fun."

Despite the festive @#$% cents@ cheering from some of their fans in otherwise polite Oriole Park, you could begrudgingly admire the raw turnout when Red Sox Nation descends on Charm City.

"They come in packs. It's like a herd of people that flows into town - and they are in full gear," says Kristin Liberto, a bartender (and the owner's daughter) at Camden Pub, another sports bar on Pratt Street. She thinks Boston fans are less confrontational and obnoxious than Yankees fans. The Red Sox fans are more like "obnoxious lite." But like the New Yawkers, Bostonians know how to spend, too.

"I love Boston. I love their people. They have green money," Liberto says. Ka-ching.

"They tip great," says bartender Scott Mitchell at Pickles Pub, across from the ballpark. Ka-ching.

With attendance down this year about 6,000 a game from last season, the Orioles certainly don't discourage Red Sox and Yankees fans from driving game attendance into the 40,000 range. Economist Anirban Basu, chief executive officer of Sage Policy Group Inc. in Baltimore, estimates that Orioles home games generate $1.5 million to $2 million per game in economic impact to the region when attendance is in the mid-20,000 range, the average turnout this season. But when attendance is closer to a sellout (often thanks to Red Sox or Yankees fans), the out-of-towners can help generate about $4 million to $5 million per game for the economy, Basu says.

"Being in the tourism industry, we do love it," says Nancy Hinds at the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "We love the Yankees and Red Sox."

High school principal Bart Gummere is a diehard Red Sox fan who for years ganged up on Camden Yards along with his buddies. They thought nothing of driving the eight hours down Interstate 95 from Massachusetts to Oriole Park. Gummere called recently from his current home in Seattle, where he reports that Red Sox Nation also invades Mariner games.

"It's the mistake of the home team if they don't fill the stadium," Gummere reasons.

The worst, says Tony Pente of the Orioleshangout.com, a fan Web site, is when Boston fans try to incite the home crowd into chanting "let's go Red Sox."

And how about when an Orioles pitcher gives up a home run and hears his own park cheering, says Dan Shaughnessy, a Boston Globe sports columnist and a former Baltimore Evening Sun writer.

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