At some point tonight, a verbal tug of war between baseball fans will echo throughout Oriole Park. It won't be unique, nor will it be particularly clever, but it will perfectly illustrate the obvious reality: When baseball's 800-pound gorilla, the New York Yankees, come to town, home-field advantage ain't what it used to be.
"Let's go, Yank-ees!"
It would be one thing if the Yankees' fans were simply a loud, vocal minority, and if their cheers and taunts were constantly drowned out by an enthusiastic, sometimes angry response from thousands of Orioles fans. It's easy to picture Ravens supporters dealing that way with fanatics from Pittsburgh or Washington showing similar bravado inside M&T; Bank Stadium. But a casual stroll through the upper deck, or past Boog's Barbecue beyond right field, will reveal that's simply not the case inside Camden Yards. The cheers are just as loud as the jeers at times, and Yankees fans aren't just loud, they're everywhere.
Fans in Derek Jeter's No. 2 pinstripes often outnumber those wearing Miguel Tejada's orange-and-white No. 10. When an Orioles pitcher gives up a hit, the crowd doesn't go silent, it erupts. If fact, if someone were to close his eyes and just listen after Orioles outfielder Larry Bigbie made the final out of Monday's game, a 6-4 Yankees victory, it would be easy, based on the roar alone, to imagine they were four hours north, crammed into the bleachers of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The only thing missing was the sound of Frank Sinatra, whose version of "New York, New York" is blasted from the stadium speakers after each Yankees home win.
The invasion of Yankees fans into visitors' ballparks has been happening for years now, and the phenomenon is hardly unique to Baltimore. The Yankees, with their $200 million payroll, their 26 world championships and their status as perhaps the most hated and most beloved team in sports, are a global franchise, not a regional one.
But thanks to Baltimore's geographic proximity, the relative availability of Orioles tickets and Camden Yards' reputation as one of baseball's best ballparks, Yankees fans from all over the East Coast pour through Eutaw Street's gates each summer, stopping to buy team merchandise, take a few pictures with the statue of the Babe, and mostly cheer on a team that many of them have rooted for since birth.
"From where we live, it takes almost the same amount of time to get [to Baltimore] as it does to Yankee Stadium," said Randy Crawford, a lifelong Yankees fan who drove down with his family and some friends from Bayville, N.J., for the entire three-game series. "The prices are a little better, and I love the ballpark. It's one of the best ballparks in the league."
And most Yankees fans don't hesitate to make themselves feel right at home. Bob Palmeri, who lives in Queens and proudly sports a Yankees logo tattooed on his left shoulder, watched Monday's game from the stadium's standing room-only-section in left-center field. When the Yankees rallied to tie the game in the sixth inning, he pumped his fist, high-fived his friends and repeatedly ragged on Orioles pitcher Chris Ray, who walked Jeter with the bases loaded to force in a crucial run. A group of Orioles fans standing next to Palmeri grumbled a bit, but mostly ignored him.
"This is the first road trip my daughter has come on with me to see the Yankees," said Palmeri, who drove down in his motor home and planned to camp in Aberdeen. "Before the game, we were across the street, having a beer and I told her, 'You know, if this was Boston, we wouldn't be doing this right now.' She said, 'Why?' And I said, 'Because the people there are that hateful.' You go to Boston and there are 35,000 angry Irish people there. But it's not like that here. It's fun. The fans are great. They don't give you any problems."
"I think Baltimore fans are a little more classy than Boston fans," said Eric Parker, a tech sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and a Yankees fan for more than 35 years. "You're not going to have that hostility."
It isn't just Yankees fans, of course, filling up Camden Yards. In recent years, more and more Red Sox fans are making the trip south simply because Boston has both the smallest ballpark in the league (Fenway, which seats only 35,095 people) and the highest ticket prices in baseball (an average of $44.56). But it still pales in comparison to the sheer number of Yankees fans, who travel from both north and south to follow their team.
"It's a lot like the Dallas Cowboys in football," said Steve Costello, a Yankees fan who came down from Chatham, N.J., to celebrate a friend's birthday. "You go to football games, and they just take over. The amount of people that follow the Yankees is huge. I think it's great to hear [the chant] 'Yankees suck' because you know you're getting the ire of the home team's fans."
Jim Coyne, a Yankees fan from Long Island, N.Y., said he gets a kick out of antagonizing Orioles fans, especially because so many of them loathe Yankees fans, while most Yankees fans remain indifferent toward Baltimore. Early in the game, he and his friends started chanting "1983," a reference to the fact that it has been 22 years since the Orioles won the World Series.
"I might as well take some Benjamin Moore paint, throw it on the wall, and watch it dry," Coyne said. "That's how exciting the Orioles are to watch."
The Orioles' marketing department tried this season to address growing concerns in Baltimore that Yankees and Red Sox fans were snatching up a lot of the good tickets. The team was offering a package in which fans buying a single-game ticket to a Yankees or Red Sox game could also get tickets to other regular-season games.
Still, most Yankees fans interviewed said they had little or no trouble getting tickets. Crawford said he thought that might change if the Orioles can continue to compete.
"Now that the team is a little better, maybe you'll see more Baltimore fans in August and September," Crawford said. "Because in the mid-'90s, when the team wasn't that good, those tickets were really easy to get. ... It might be a little bit more challenging now."