The first Orioles game I ever attended was in 1990 at Memorial Stadium. It’s one of my favorite ever baseball experiences. The Orioles were already lousy then, but there was still the whiff of the great Baltimore teams in the air — Cal Ripken was at shortstop every game, Frank Robinson was managing the team, and you could park in front of somebody’s house (for a small fee) and walk through a neighborhood to get to the ballpark.
Baltimore represented just about everything I knew that was good about baseball — growing up in Cleveland, where the team constantly did everything wrong, the Orioles were like a team from another planet. From 1970-85, they had the best record in baseball. They pitched great, and they played great defense, and they hit the three-run homer, and they ran the bases beautifully. The biggest dream I could come up with as a young journalist — this is absolutely true — was to be a sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun. The Orioles, I know, were the big reason for that.
A few years later, I saw the Orioles play at Camden Yards. And it was beautiful … but different. I loved the park. I thought it was spectacular, and I found it amazing that such a new place could feel old, could feel like a part of Baltimore baseball tradition. The Orioles were pretty good then too; the ballpark was a money-printing machine and those were the years when they tried to match payrolls with the New York Yankees. They reached the championship series in 1996 and ‘97. But the Orioles could not sustain it.
This year, they drew fewer than 10,000 fans for just their fourth home game of the season — a 5-1 loss to Tampa. They were about 14,000 the next game and just a few more than 10,000 the following. The Orioles lost both of those too. You can’t blame the fans, not after 12 consecutive losing seasons, not with the team stuck in a division with the Yankees and the Red Sox and even the Tampa Bay Rays (who play, God bless ‘em, quite a lot like those classic Orioles teams used to play). No, you can’t blame anyone, but it’s sad to watch a great baseball town lose heart.______________________________