Echoes sure sign of fall for Orioles

The Baltimore Sun

I was looking for some peace and quiet after a stressful weekend of college and pro football, so I dropped by Camden Yards for last night's rain makeup game between the Orioles and Kansas City Royals.

Talk about the ultimate marketing challenge.

Take two teams that were a combined 44 games under .500 going into the game and put them up against Monday Night Football during the final week of the baseball season. Throw in the fact that they have combined for just one winning season since the start of the new millennium and watch the fans come out in droves.

To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure what constitutes a drove, but I'm fairly certain there wasn't more than one in the ballpark last night.

The Orioles tried their best to make it an appealing way to spend a beautiful fall evening. They had local professional bowler Danny Wiseman throw out the ceremonial first pitch and honored the West Salisbury team that made it to the Little League World Series, though I could have sworn I heard a couple of the kids say they're used to appearing before bigger crowds.

It crossed my mind in about the fifth inning that maybe the Orioles also were honoring the memory of the late Marcel Marceau with a three-hour moment of silence.

OK, this is getting silly, but what exactly did you expect? The Orioles and Royals drew something like 2,500 die-hard fans to a game that was supposed to take place April 15, which was at least two or three weeks before either team was mathematically eliminated from postseason consideration.

The announced crowd was 15,769, which included everyone who bought a ticket for the originally scheduled game and about 100 walk-up customers who were lured to the ballpark by the heady prospect of a "Free the Birds" reunion. I'd be very surprised if one out of every five of those tickets got scanned.

The Orioles were so desperate for attendance, they played "We're an American Band" between the second and third innings and counted all of the original members of Grand Funk Railroad in the final tally. It was so lonely in the upper deck, you could have raised veal.

Still, you have to give some credit to the faithful fans who did come to support their team.

"If I was a fan tonight, I'd be here," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "If you're a fan of big league baseball, it's a big league game."

I'll have to take Kevin at his word, since he backed up that contention with some actual proof.

"When we were in Toronto on an off-night this year, me and [Paul] Bako went to see the Blue Jays play the Angels. People were giving us a hard time for being at the ballpark on our night off, but that's what we wanted to do."

Once Millar gets rolling, he's hard to stop. He also gave a two-part rationale for choosing last night's game over, say, Friday night's playoff-relevant series opener against the New York Yankees.

"One, you're going to get better seats than this weekend," he said, "and two, the boys of summer are almost over. There's not much baseball left."

Broadcaster Joe Angel added to the list.

"This is a great night to be a heckler," he said, "because you're guaranteed of being heard."

Pardon a moment of serious reflection. Last night's predictably tiny crowd will have little effect on the club's final attendance total, which is expected to be close to last year's all-time Camden Yards low (2.15 million). The Orioles could even tick up slightly with a strong Yankees walk-up this weekend.

Where it goes from here is anybody's guess, because the likelihood of dynamic short-term improvement on the field seems scant. Club president Andy MacPhail has hinted the front office will focus on correcting the systemic problems that pushed the organization into a decade-long competitive malaise, which could mean a few more silent summers.

That part is no laughing matter.

Listen to Peter Schmuck at WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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