Ticket to hide

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles announced a sellout for their regular-season opener yesterday at Camden Yards, which probably evoked a measure of skepticism from anyone looking for companionship in the upper deck above left field.

To be fair, the team is entitled to count all those empty seats if they can persuade someone to buy them, even if that someone - whoever that someone might be - bought the tickets only to make sure the Orioles did not have to suffer the indignity of failing to sell out Opening Day at Oriole Park for the first time.

Yet, the huge number of no-shows, albeit on a cold, gray afternoon with intermittent showers in the forecast and a less-than-enthralling opponent, raises a question the Orioles probably would rather not ponder:

If thousands of people are going to buy tickets for Opening Day and not use them, how does that auger for the dog days of August, when there's no orange carpet and the Yankees and Red Sox are playing elsewhere?

I mean, what happens when the new video scoreboard is old-hat and the new players have become familiar and you can see the games at home in high-def (or, at least, some of them)? What happens when the Orioles are closing in on their 90th loss and the Ravens are getting ready to rumble? What happens when the announced crowd is 14,000 instead of 46,807 and it's hard to find anyone in the stands who's not wearing one of those new ultra-neon-orange usher jackets?

It could be I'm just nitpicking. It was not a very nice day and the 3:05 starting time always makes it tough for the lunch-pail crowd, but it wasn't hard to contrast this "sellout" with the regularly robust Opening Day attendance during the team's better days.

Still, first baseman Kevin Millar, probably still smarting from my NCAA bracket recommendations, called me on the orange carpet for being too negative about yesterday's turnout. "Actually, I thought it was a great showing," he said. "I thought it was a great, great crowd, especially considering the cold weather. I don't know what you were looking at."

Millar, who charged up the crowd during player introductions by reprising his popular rendition of the Ray Lewis pre-game dance, went so far as to say how great it was to look out and see a "full stadium."

Now I'm wondering what he was looking at, because he had to be having some kind of weird flashback to his Red Sox days if he didn't see all those empty seats.

This is not meant as an indictment of the faithful fans who showed up. They displayed their passion from the outset, particularly when Aubrey Huff trotted down the carpet for the first time and got an earful for his offensive offseason radio comments. He was also booed before every at-bat.

"It was expected," he said. "If I was in their situation, I would have booed me, too. [Making those comments] was a stupid thing to do. I'm sure the fans have been itching to get at me."

Lest anyone forget, Huff appeared on a satellite radio show in November and called Baltimore a "horse - - town" among other inappropriate remarks. No one in the clubhouse was surprised at the negative reaction from the fans.

"I was booing him, too," Millar joked.

Huff took his medicine and still defended the Opening Day turnout, which was a smart political move when you think about it.

"You've got to look at the weather," he said, "and we still had a pretty good turnout. These are diehard baseball fans, and they came out."

The Orioles didn't exactly give them reason to come back soon. The O's jumped on Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields for two runs in the first inning on a long double by Millar but were not heard from again. The Rays slapped around Jeremy Guthrie for six runs and nine hits to dampen the festivities more than the thick cloud cover did.

There are going to be a lot more games like that. The rotation is thin, and the offensive attack isn't potent enough to overcome a lot of mediocre pitching performances.

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has spent months hammering home the message that 2008 is going to require a great deal of patience. Trouble is, you have to show that patience in person for it to do the team any good.


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

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