When Orioles first baseman Chris Davis slammed a three-run homer over the right-field scoreboard in the first inning Wednesday during an historic afternoon at Camden Yards, there was no wild cheering.
There was virtual silence. Crickets, with light typing from a hushed press box mixed in.
Mid-Atlantic Sports Network broadcaster Gary Thorne’s call from the third-floor press box, “Goodbye, home run,” resonated off the empty seating bowls. And there were muffled shouts from a small gathering of fans behind the stadium gates beyond left-center field and from the balcony of the Hilton Baltimore, where another small group had congregated.
“When you’re rounding the bases, and the only cheers you hear were from outside the stadium, it’s a weird feeling,” Davis said. “I’ll take any home run I can get at any time I can get it, but it’s definitely more fun when there are fans in the stands.”
That was the extent of the celebration in a six-run first that propelled the Orioles to an 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox in the only contest played between the two this week.
The others were postponed — and rescheduled for a doubleheader here on a mutual off-day May 28 — due to prolonged civil unrest that escalated Saturday and again Monday following the death of city resident Freddie Gray while in police custody.
Because the club did not want to pull security resources away from potential riot scenes in the city — and because it did not want to postpone all three games of the series — the teams played Wednesday in what is believed to be the first contest in Major League Baseball history without any fans.
“It was definitely weird,” Davis said. “Kind of like at a spring training intrasquad game, but even then I feel like we have 30, 40 fans. It’s definitely different.”
The stadium’s seating section, capacity 45,971, was empty with the exception of two scouts, the pitch-information scoreboard operator and the occasional news photographer. No family members, no ushers, not even the stadium vendor with the shrill “beer” call that has become ubiquitous over the years.
“I could hear every word you all were saying up there,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter joked with reporters after the game. “It was kind of like instructional league, Gulf Coast League, Arizona [Fall] League. … I was real proud of our guys, their concentration level.”
Wednesday’s official attendance was announced as “zero,” breaking the Orioles’ game-low of 655 on Aug. 17, 1972 at Memorial Stadium for a makeup game against the White Sox. It’s believed that the lowest recorded attendance in MLB history had been six between Worcester and Troy of the National League in September 1882.
There was no anthem singer Wednesday — a recorded version was used and only a few “Ohhhs” were audible from the fans outside. And no videos were shown on the board between innings — “Guess the Attendance” simply didn’t have the same intrigue.
But players were still announced over the loudspeaker, Zach Britton entered in the ninth to his typical AC/DC song and “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” still blared during the seventh-inning stretch.
That’s about the extent of the normalcy on Wednesday, which included a very un-Oriole-like time of game — it lasted just 2 hours, 3 minutes, by far the shortest of the year. It was so eerily quiet that on a popup in the third inning, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu’s, “I got it,” and Orioles first base coach Wayne Kirby’s, “Run it out,” were crystal clear.
Several times, Davis caught an inning-ending out at first base and then flipped the ball into the stands, as he would do if fans were there.
“A fun thing to help everybody kind of relax,” Davis said. “The first few were in the lower section, and then I gave some love to the fans in the upper deck.”
Catcher Caleb Joseph also wanted to bring some levity, so he performed a brief pregame routine that he thought would be respectful, but keep guys loose. As he walked to the bullpen to warm up starter Ubaldo Jimenez, Joseph stopped in front of the first row, high-fived the air and mimicked signing a few autographs for the grateful empty seats. He then tipped his cap.
“Laughter does something to the soul sometimes, even when you are sad or when things are going bad,” Joseph said. “We were trying to have fun with it, but still understanding there are real problems in Baltimore right now.”
On the field, the Orioles (10-10) scored six runs immediately against Chicago’s Jeff Samardzija (1-2), who was tagged for eight runs (seven earned) in five innings.
Davis had the big blast in the first, homering onto Eutaw Street, the sixth of his career to land on the walkway behind right. Manny Machado had three hits, including a solo homer against Samardzija in the fifth.
It was plenty of run support for Jimenez (2-1), who lasted seven innings, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out six. He gave up two unearned runs that were set up by a Machado throwing error. Jimenez admitted there was extra incentive for him to pitch well Wednesday.
“I thought it was pretty important, because what the city is going through right now is hard,” he said. “I know a lot of people were watching that game on TV, supporting that game for the city.”
The Orioles have won three straight – albeit in a span of five days – after losing a season-worst five straight. After an off-day Thursday, they’ll play three games at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., as the home team, batting last and wearing white uniforms. It’s another strange situation in what has been surreal month for the Orioles.
During Showalter’s postgame press conference, a young man who introduced himself only as a city resident with no announced media affiliation asked what words of encouragement the manager could offer African-American youth in the city. Showalter said he didn’t want to act as if he knew what they were going through, but added an appropriate summation of the afternoon and homestand.
“We've made quite a statement as a city, some good and some bad. Now, let's get on with taking the statements we've made and create a positive,” he said. “We talk to the players, and I want to be a rallying force for our city. It doesn't mean necessarily playing good baseball. It just means [doing] everything we can do.”