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Fanless game a sign that life has to go on in Baltimore

What does an Orioles game in front of an empty stadium mean to the city?

There wasn't a single fan in the stands at Oriole Park for Wednesday's game between the Orioles and Chicago White Sox, and yet it seemed like the whole world was watching.

The fact that Camden Yards would be a no-fan zone already was national news and the press box was packed with inquiring journalistic minds looking for the greater meaning behind what was — in its most basic form — simply a baseball game that the Orioles won in resounding fashion under extremely unusual circumstances.

Of course, there is nothing simple or basic about what has been happening in Baltimore for the past couple of weeks. Neither the civil unrest that has gripped the city nor the human tragedy that spawned it lends itself to easy answers, but there was a message in the curious scene that played out on Wednesday afternoon that had nothing to do with where the Orioles finished the day in the American League East standings.

"The Orioles support the city of Baltimore," Adam Jones said. "In everything, we support Baltimore. We're out there playing for the fans. We play for the city of Baltimore. That's what we wear across our chest, so we're trying to represent them in the best way."

Embedded in that statement is the economic and competitive sacrifice that the Orioles had to make for the sake of a city in turmoil. Based on the average ticket price at the ballpark and the average crowd for a midweek game this time of year, the club probably forfeited more than $1 million (including concessions and parking) on Wednesday and will lose much more playing three home games at Tropicana Field in Florida this weekend — unless they get some economic relief from Major League Baseball's central fund.

They did all that without complaint and the fact that they did something Wednesday that had never been done before — playing a game with the fans essentially locked out — has garnered them international attention that undoubtedly will cut several ways.

The empty ballpark will rightfully be viewed as a sign that life has not returned to normal after the worst rioting in the city since 1968. Sadly, it will also play into the perception that Baltimore is such a dangerous city that it isn't even safe to go to a major league game.

Instead, the players hope that the decision by MLB and the Angelos family to take such drastic and expensive action will be viewed by those watching from afar as a sign of solidarity with the citizens of Baltimore, since the whole point of it was to reduce the strain on the city's first responders and emergency services. The fact that they won their third straight game was just a happy diversion.

"I hope they see the positive side of things," Chris Davis said. "I hope they see the good side of the city and the people that are out there helping clean up and rebuild and get the city back on its feet. I hope that even though the game was closed to the public, they understand what our focus was and we didn't want to take any of the guards or the police officers or any of the people that are protecting the city. We don't want to take them away from their job and be a distraction."

That point was driven home throughout a game where crowd noise was replaced with the sounds of police helicopters above and the sirens of emergency vehicles outside the ballpark.

"Hopefully, something good, something positive can come from this and help us move forward," Davis said.

Time will tell. The Orioles are headed south on Thursday, but the wounds that sparked two nights of violence remain open and the possibility of further unrest has the city very much on edge.

The baseball game wasn't important because it was a baseball game. It was important because it was also a sign that life has to go on. Those who have been critical of the Orioles for playing at all don't get that, but those of us who were there when a terrible earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1989 World Series have seen that there is some healing power in our national pastime.

No kids' game is going to solve the deep-rooted problems that plague our society, but sports do have the ability to bind a community together and, if nothing else, give a troubled town a chance to feel good about itself for one very strange afternoon.

It was a bit surreal, but that's OK. I think we've figured out over the past few days that reality isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

pschmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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