There was a staggering economy, and there were surging gas prices. There was a new baseball stadium that opened about 45 minutes south and a schedule that included just three total weekend series with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. There was also an Orioles team that suffered through an 11th straight losing season and finished in last place for the first time in 20 years.
The Orioles say all those factors, plus losing three home dates to a cancellation and two traditional doubleheaders, contributed to what will be the lowest attendance in the 17-year history of Camden Yards.
"Considering all the circumstances, we certainly expected to come in with the attendance that we did," said Greg Bader, the Orioles' director of communications. "It's not a direct reflection of how the fans feel about the organization. I think people look at the club and certainly see that we're in a better position now than we were at this time last year. This is a long-term process that [club president Andy MacPhail and manager Dave Trembley] are leading us on. This is certainly part of that process."
After last night's game, the Orioles' total attendance was 1,930,521, and with one home date remaining, they're assured of finishing below the 2 million mark for the first time in Camden Yards history. As a franchise, the Orioles haven't totaled below 2 million fans since 1988, also the last time the team finished in last place.
The Orioles have drawn 25,160 fans per home date, the fifth lowest total in the American League.
"I think you have two things that lead you in that way. You have us trading off some players that were accomplished major league players for the unknown ... and in addition to that, you got a brand new park [Nationals Park] opening up 45 minutes from us," MacPhail said. "I think it's reasonable to assume, if you're a family and you're going to go to a couple games a year, and even if you weren't a fan, you might find your way there."
Wanting a return
Right-hander Daniel Cabrera, who will get a second opinion on his right elbow strain Wednesday from University of Miami orthopedist John Uribe, hopes to be back in Baltimore in 2009.
"I just want to see another doctor because I want to know if there is something going on. I want to know now and not wait," he said. "The doctors say here that I've got to wait for six weeks and then if it is still swollen, then you've got to see another doctor. So I want to see another doctor now. That way I know what I am going to do."
Cabrera, who was 8-10 with a 5.25 ERA in 30 starts this season, is eligible for arbitration and could be nontendered, ending his five-season career with the Orioles.
"This is a business," he said. "It would not surprise me if one day they do not need my work anymore. That's how this game goes. You are here today, but you never know where you are going to be tomorrow."
Still, he would prefer to stay with the Orioles.
"This is where I have been all my life. Why do I want to change?" Cabrera said. "There are a lot of good people here, I can't say nothing bad about anybody."
Bringing him home
MacPhail knows all about the league's tampering rules, so he was careful not to cite the name of a certain would-be free-agent first baseman who grew up in Severna Park. However, MacPhail provided the biggest indication yet that the Orioles could make a run at Los Angeles Angels slugger Mark Teixeira, along with possibly Toronto Blue Jays pitcher A.J. Burnett, who lives in Monkton.
"Major league rule 3J prevents me from getting too specific, but I think there are some unique opportunities, due to geography or whatever, that you might have to look into," MacPhail said. "You have to be realistic about whether it's attainable or not, but I think you have to recognize that this hasn't been a great destination for free agents because of the competition you face. ... I think we would be remiss if we don't look into what might be unique opportunities in the case of geographic ties to the area. I think we owe it to our fans to explore that."
Around the horn
Though several of the Orioles' highest-ranking executives have contracts that expire after the season, MacPhail said he doesn't expect any major changes in his front office this season. ... MacPhail acknowledged that he has had discussions with second baseman Brian Roberts about the direction of the club, but they have not discussed a potential contract extension. ... MacPhail said the club has gotten positive reports on Troy Patton, who is in the instructional league after having shoulder surgery this year.
Time Jay Payton has batted leadoff this season. It happened last night.