Orioles smart to tout Camden Yards anniversary over current team

March 18, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

I come today to praise the Orioles, not bury them.

No, really.

And here's why: this big hoo-ha about the 20th anniversary of Camden Yards is a stroke of marketing genius.

I'm dead serious about that, too.

If you're an Orioles fan, you know the club is going all out to celebrate the 20th anniversary of what it modestly calls "The Ballpark That Forever Changed Baseball."

The O's have even trotted out a cool new website — CamdenYards20.com — that highlights memorable events in the stadium's history.

So all season long, we'll be hearing ad nauseum about all the neat things the Orioles are doing to celebrate the occasion.

We'll hear about the bronze statues being erected to honor the six Orioles Hall of Famers and all the renovations that were made to the stadium in the offseason, including the new party area beyond center field. (Adam Jones closer to the drunks — is this a good thing?)

We'll hear over and over about the iconic status of Camden Yards and how it ushered in the new era of downtown ballparks built to blend into the urban core.

We'll hear about the impact Camden Yards has had on the community and how ballparks all over the country have aspired to copy the look and feel of the place.

And every word of it will be true.

Me, I've been calling Camden Yards the Taj Mahal of ballparks for years. I can't imagine a better place to watch a baseball game.

But overshadowing all this happy stadium chatter is this inconvenient tidbit: the Orioles will probably stink again.

At least on paper, they don't appear to have gotten much stronger in the offseason. Sure, they've gotten deeper. And maybe the pitching is a little better. But that's about it.

They certainly didn't go out and sign any impact players, which means you're basically looking at last year's lineup, plus a few underwhelming additions.

Which means that unless everything breaks right and lightning strikes — and you don't want to talk about lightning strikes around the Orioles — we're probably looking at another last-place finish for the club. And a 15th straight losing season.

And that's why this stadium anniversary celebration is a stroke of marketing genius.

Not to get too heavy about it, but what the Orioles have done is take a page right out of the handbook of the ancient Romans.

Stay with me here. What the Roman big-shots did was try to pacify a discontented populace with "bread and circuses" — cheap food and games. It was a great way to divert attention from the fact the society was crumbling.

OK, no more Roman analogies.

But playing up your wonderful ballpark in the hope that skeptical fans forget your team stinks is a Marketing 101 principle, too. And if I were in charge of generating interest in the Orioles, I'd probably do the same thing.

In the meantime, it's been fun trying to project what the Orioles' Opening Day roster will look like — and here the opener is only 18 days away.

Even more fun is trying to parse manager Buck Showalter's comments about his players, which takes the skill of a CIA linguist.

At least outwardly, Showalter remains the eternal optimist, seemingly incapable of uttering a negative word about any of his players, no matter how much they struggle.

The other day, after new lefty Wei-Yin Chen gave up three runs on five hits against a Boston Red Sox split-squad team in a 7-4 loss, Showalter insisted it was one of the team's "better outings this spring."

"We gave up a wind-aided fly ball, and other than that, he has five shutout innings," the O's manager said about Chen. "He threw real well. He was sharp with his command. I like where he is right now. He's getting a little better every time out. He's starting to get more comfortable."

This is one reason why Showalter remains the perfect manager for a ballclub that's been beaten down for so long, a ballclub desperately in need of confidence.

To hear him tell it, every Orioles pitcher is improving, every position player is on track, every coach is doing a helluva job — and even the batboys are looking sharp this spring.

It's a beautiful thing. Buck seems to know a little about marketing, too.

But not as much as the suits in the Warehouse, who have come up with a new way to sell one of the most down-trodden franchises in baseball.

Forget the team, sell the stadium.

We're about to find out if it works.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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