Orioles game postponed amid violence, series could be moved

Monday night's Orioles game was postponed due to violence downtown.

The postponement of Monday night’s Orioles game against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards because of escalating unrest stemming from the death of Freddie Gray last week has put the team’s homestand in doubt, but new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred suggested the Orioles could play games elsewhere.

Manfred, who was visiting Camden Yards by coincidence while making the rounds to visit to all 30 teams, acknowledged that Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., could be an option. Manfred said the decision to postpone the game was made to ensure everyone’s safety

“The decision was reached after consultation with local officials," Manfred said. "We feel like we made the decision that will provide us the greatest possible security in terms of protecting the fans, the players, the umpires, everybody involved in the game.”

Hours after Monday’s game was postponed, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake announced a week-long 10 p.m. curfew in the city beginning Tuesday. The Orioles have home games scheduled through Sunday.

As of late Monday evening, no decision had been made regarding Tuesday’s game, but major consideration was being given to playing during the day at Camden Yards, according to an industry source. The club strongly prefers to find a way to play the games in Baltimore before pursuing relocating games to alternate locations.

A makeup date for Monday’s game will be announced as soon as possible, the club announced. Fans are encouraged to keep their tickets and parking for Monday's game until more information is available.

The club had been monitoring riots that began on Monday afternoon in Northwest Baltimore, about five miles from the ballpark, and kept in contact with Baltimore police throughout the day. After consulting with the police department and when the group of rioters moved south toward downtown, the game was postponed about 45 minutes before the scheduled first pitch.

As the expected 7:05 p.m. start came and went, the Camden Yards seating bowl was empty. The gates were locked and the only sound came from nearby police sirens.

Less than an hour before the scheduled first pitch of the Orioles' game against the White Sox, a dozen Baltimore police officers wearing riot gear were stationed behind metal barricades at Babe Ruth Plaza. All but two gates to the ballpark were closed, but fans were allowed into the ballpark.

The eerie sight of officers preparing for rioters mixed with the yells of ticket takers welcoming fans to Camden Yards. It was obvious that many fans were deterred by the violence occurring throughout the city. Light rail service southbound to the ballpark was shut down, and one hour before game time, the crowd paled in comparison to even the least-attended weekday night game at Camden Yards.

As the Orioles took batting practice, police and news helicopters circled the downtown area and faint police sirens could be heard in the background. Before batting practice, inside the Orioles clubhouse, players' eyes were glued to television sets as they watched protests turn violent near Mondawmin Mall.

“This is sad, it really is,” one Orioles player said as he watched helicopter footage of rocks and bricks being thrown.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the protests are undoubtedly a topic of conversation inside the Orioles clubhouse.

“Sure, sure it is,” Showalter said. “But I don't want to lessen it all, so I'm very cautious about even talking about it. There's so many things that go on that you get challenged with, obviously this is a different level. There's not a lot of experience with it. So you try to take each moment as it comes and I know there were a lot of calls to some guys' families about making sure they knew what was going on from a safety standpoint. But guys are watching it. They are all aware of what's going on.”

Benjamin and Mya Holland of Suffolk, Va., were visiting Baltimore to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. They arrived in town on Friday and watched from their hotel room as demonstrations turned violent.

Still, that wasn't going to deter them from attending Monday's game. They entered Oriole Park through Gate H, passing through the officers in riot gear to get into the ballpark.

“It seems a little scary,” Benjamin Holland said. “As you walk by them, you hear their scanners describing what's going on. You'd think you wouldn't pay respects to someone dying by destroying the city.”

Zachary Rowland, 22, of Parkville came to the park with his brother and his brother's girlfriend. They walked up to get tickets about 15 to 20 minutes before the cancellation was announced.

They were waiting for information and got some food, so he had a half-eaten sausage as ushers were telling everyone to leave.

“Right before we were leaving, we were watching the news and we saw everything breaking out,” Rowland said. “We said we would try anyway and see what happens. We had just gotten our tickets [before the announcement]. … I understand they're trying to keep the public safe, but I don't know, but it's a little outrageous to cancel a baseball game. That's a lot of money for the MLB and the Orioles organization to lose.”

Joel Berse and Barbara Berse came from Long Island, N.Y., to attend Monday's game, an annual trek to support their longtime friend, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. The couple was on the field during batting practice when Manfred told the White Sox of the postponement.

“We've been coming here for a number of years when the White Sox play the Orioles,” Joel Berse said. “We go to several road trips a year, but we make sure we always come to Baltimore. We always have enjoyed it. This is bizarre what's going on. The people who work for the Orioles have always been very nice to us and it's always been a very friendly place for us.”

James Carroll, an Orioles season-ticket holder who lives in Owings Mills, attended the game with his wife, Ilene, daughter, Tracey, and her boyfriend, Will Weinzirl. They planned to take their seats behind home plate when they were told of the postponement.

“It would have been nice if it would have [been] done a little sooner, obviously,” Carroll said. “But it is an issue of safety and that's the decision that they made. So I guess we will have to live with it. But it would have been great if they had done it a little bit sooner.”

Carroll said he also attended Saturday night's game and had no issues, so he had no concerns about attending Monday's game.

“I figured with the crowds and the fact that so many people were going to be down here,” it would be safe, he said. “We were down here Saturday night and had no issues.”

Saturday's game against the Boston Red Sox went on as scheduled even thought protests reached Camden Yards less than an hour before the 7:05 p.m. start time, prompting Gate H to be temporarily closed as violence began outside the ballpark.

Later that night, the ballpark was briefly locked down under orders of the mayor's office and the Baltimore police. For about 30 minutes, fans weren't allowed to leave the facility.

eencina@baltsun.com

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Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

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