Fans handing off tickets deserving of kid gloves?


TO ALL THE Orioles season-ticket holders who gave up their tickets for yesterday's 9-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox, I have only one thing to say:

I understand completely.

You've waited through seven straight losing seasons. You've watched the New York Yankees and Red Sox sit unchallenged atop the American League East for almost a decade. You've wondered whether the Orioles will ever field a team competitive enough to strike fear into the fans of New York and Boston.

So, at some point you figured out you could sell those 19 premium games at a premium price and subsidize the rest of your full-season plan. Either that or your company owns the seats and some big shot from New York or Boston wanted to come into town for the game, and what choice did you have?

I understand completely.

Maybe you sold them back in February, when nobody thought the Orioles were going to be anything more than a respectable third-place team, or maybe you got discouraged over the past couple of weeks and just didn't want to watch the season come unraveled during this crucial four-game series at Camden Yards.

Don't feel bad. Rafael Palmeiro's uplifting three-run homer in the third inning probably looked just as good on Fox as it did in the ballpark, though I'd like to think that if you had shown up, you might have demanded a curtain call. The guy is just three hits away from 3,000 and he's probably going to get the big one in Seattle, so it would have been nice if a few more Orioles fans showed up for the final weekend before the All-Star break to cheer him on.

No matter. He drove in six runs, but it wasn't a career high or anything, and you can give him a big hand when the Orioles get home in two weeks. He's had a lot of hits in his career, so what's another two or three? It's not like he's going to become the first player to amass both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in a career. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray have already done it. Heck, he's not even going to be the first Oriole.

If you stayed home to watch on TV, you also got several angles on the spectacular catch that Luis Matos made to rob David Ortiz of a three-run home run that might have turned the game around and, quite possibly, knocked the wind out of this pennant chase for good.

Matos also made another great catch, and the Orioles made several other terrific defensive plays, but if you stayed home you were able to TiVo them over and over again and nod knowingly at the wife, as if to say, "Why would anyone want to sit with all those sweaty Red Sox fans when you can lounge around here in air-conditioned comfort and not have to worry about anybody cutting off beer sales in the seventh inning."

Miguel Tejada had five hits - equaling a career high - and he came to the plate with a chance to hit for the cycle in the bottom of the eighth inning. If you had been here, you might have risen up in anticipation of one of baseball's most unusual achievements, but instead, the guy in your seat was rooting for Tejada to strike out.

Turns out, you made the right decision, because Tejada only lined a double into the right-field corner to finish with nine total bases and raise his batting average to .330. Don't worry. He'll still be the most exciting player in the game when the next homestand starts July 25.

Sure, you've got your reasons. Maybe your kid had a Little League game yesterday, or a band concert, or maybe a driving lesson. But there was somebody in your neighborhood who would have been thrilled to take your place at the ballpark - maybe a kid in an Orioles T-shirt who someday would be able to tell his kid that he saw the great Hall of Famer Rafael Palmeiro hit his 565th home run and the amazing Miguel Tejada hit everything in sight.

That's what baseball is all about, and that's what baseball in Baltimore used to be about. It's still like that in Boston, where season tickets are so treasured that they are handed down from generation to generation, and the odd seat for a big game is so tough to get that fans are willing to drive five or six hours to watch their team in a foreign stadium where the home fans don't care quite as much.

I know seven years of frustration is a long time. I know it's hard to be faithful fans when ticket prices keep going up and - until the last year or so - the quality of the team seemed to keep going down.

The past three weeks haven't exactly been a Fourth of July picnic either. It's hard not to wonder whether the surprising first half was just a tease ... the rash of injuries that finally dragged the Orioles backward is just another cruel twist for this beleaguered baseball sanctuary.

And, still, the Orioles will take the field this afternoon with a chance to win three of four against the defending World Series champions and pull within two games of first place at the traditional halfway point in the season.

Think about it. The Orioles are right in the thick of the AL East race, and Palmeiro is on the threshold of history, and you sold your tickets to some travel agent in Boston.

I understand completely.

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