O's game poses problem for employees, parents

Faced with Friday's early afternoon playoff game, school officials and business owners in the Baltimore area are preparing for a day of empty classrooms and vacant work spaces.

Sort of.

"I don't know how big the number is, but there will definitely be some kids out," predicted Gilman School Headmaster Henry Smyth, himself an Orioles fan with tickets for Friday's game who faced the quandary of what to do.

He and his two boys will not be going to the game, Smyth said. But he understands if some parents decide to make baseball the priority. As he puts it, "Sometimes there might even be things that eclipse the three R's."

Because of the 12:07 p.m. start time, parents and workers are asking the same questions. Is baseball — that is, playoff baseball — more important than a day's education? More important than work? Will the boss (or principal) be reasonable? Or should I simply lie and call in sick? Where am I going to park there, anyway?

"I definitely will be blowing work off," said longtime fan Russ Lease, 58, of Columbia. "I think focus would be impossible even if I had an earphone to wear" to listen to the game while on the job, he said.

Then again, Lease has it easier than many. As the president of a clothing manufacturer, he doesn't need his boss' permission to head to Camden Yards on a weekday afternoon. But if he did require approval, "I would explain that with the lack of productivity, they would be better off giving me the day off."

Some fans who managed to clear their work schedules worried about parking. Many lots and garages typically used for night or weekend games will be filled Friday with the vehicles of workers at area businesses.

"The problem is, you can't park anywhere near the stadium," said Orioles fan Steve Ferguson, who got a preview of the parking problems Thursday.

He pulled into a garage that is always open when the team plays at its usual early evening time. He was told to leave. "I made a U-turn, and then I started to get irritated," Ferguson said.

Orioles spokesman Greg Bader said the club understands the position some fans are being put in. But he noted that it's not the Orioles' fault. Major League Baseball sets the postseason start times.

"Someone was going to get the 12:07 start time, and it was Baltimore," Bader said. "We're thrilled to be playing the game at all. We'll play the game when they tell us to play the game."

This might be a good time to note that some of these issues could have been avoided if the Pittsburgh Pirates had won Wednesday's National League wild-card game; in that case, Friday's game would have started at 3:07 p.m. But the Pirates lost to the San Francisco Giants, 8-0.

"Not only lost it, but stink-up-the-whole-place lost it," said Ray Roig, a self-employed financial consultant living in Timonium who had tickets for Friday's game, but won't get back from a business trip until Friday afternoon. "We figured we'd come back Friday afternoon and it'll be great — we'll do the Friday afternoon or Friday evening game."

Perhaps not so unhappy, however, is Roig's son, Chip, who gets the tickets.

The fortunate fans were the ones with flexible work situations and accrued vacation time.

"I've got lots of leave," said Howard Sacks of Catonsville, who works at the Social Security Administration. "I took off about 1 [Thursday] and I took off tomorrow . I've got Orioles fever."

Orioles fans Eric and Brenda Walker of Bel Air were among the couples left to grapple with the school decision. Their 8-year-old son, Brady, was named after former Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson.

Waiting to enter Camden Yards for Thursday's game, Brady — in a black Orioles cap — nodded urgently when asked if he wanted to come back Friday. But his parents decided against it. "As a family, we could not do it," Brenda Walker said.

So Eric Walker, who owns a preschool, said he would report to work at 6:30 Friday morning "and make sure everything is running all right" before coming to the stadium solo.

Mychael Dickerson, spokesman for Baltimore County's public schools, said a playoff game would not be regarded as an excused absence.

"It couldn't be excused," Dickerson said, "but we understand a parent's right to take a student out of school to do something they determine is a family activity."

The situation's much the same in Anne Arundel County, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said. "Schools will work with parents," he said. Still, "we do not encourage parents to take their students out of school to watch a baseball game."

And students in Baltimore City? Well, they come out ahead — the school system had previously scheduled a systemwide early dismissal for parent-teacher conferences. City students might get to the game late, depending on when their school lets out, but at least they'll be able to cheer on the Orioles with a clear conscience.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

Game information

The Orioles and Tigers meet in Game 2 of the American League Division Series this afternoon. Rush-hour traffic will follow the game, similar to what fans encountered prior to Thursday's first pitch:

First pitch: 12:07 p.m.

Gates open: Two hours before first pitch

Mass transit: Fans are encouraged to pursue mass-transit options, including light rail and local bus service. Light rail runs every 10 to 30 minutes.

Parking lots: General parking on game day is available in lots B, C and F. Lots are expected to fill quickly. Lots will open four hours before the first pitch.

Traffic: Southbound Light Street between Pratt and East Lee streets will be closed for emergency construction, according to the Orioles.

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