While protesters flooded Camden Street beyond the center-field fence of Camden Yards, eyes inside the Orioles clubhouse were glued to televisions. Before their game Saturday night against the Boston Red Sox, players watched the demonstrations over Freddie Gray's death turn ugly.
“We were very aware,” reliever Darren O’Day said. “It’s all over TV, and there are a lot of TVs in this clubhouse, and some of the TVs are always tuned into news. We had a pretty good idea. And it’s pretty hard to ignore the police choppers circling the field during batting practice.”
O’Day was worried for his wife, Fox News reporter Elizabeth Prann, who was reporting on the protest one block away from the stadium, on Pratt and Howard streets.
“I was worried about her,” O’Day said. “People do funny things when they see cameras and microphones. It’s kind of a crazy profession. When you see trouble going on, you have to run towards it and seek yourself right in the middle of it. … There’s definitely times when I’ve been worried about her on a story. … You just never know what’s going to happen.”
O’Day said his wife made it home safely, but some Orioles players and staff, including manager Buck Showalter, considered spending the night inside the clubhouse and avoiding the city's ongoing unrest, especially with an early start Sunday.
There were still scary moments within the ballpark. Fans at one point were urged not to leave Camden Yards because of an “ongoing public-safety issue.” Afterward, Camden Yards was briefly locked down, with fans not allowed to leave.
“It’s mixed,” center fielder Adam Jones said of his reaction to the protest. “I understand they are fighting for a good cause. I just want people to be safe. I don't want people to be hurt. I understand, fight for your rights. It’s what you should do. But try to be safe and be smart about it.”
Showalter, who arrived late to the game after attending his father-in-law’s memorial service in Nashville, Tenn., earlier in the day, struggled to get to the ballpark because of street closures related to the protest.
"Obviously, my attention was elsewhere today with our family, but it's something that I'll probably have to get my arms around,” Showalter said. “I'm not really there yet. But it's a challenging day for a lot of people, but probably a lot more than a baseball game. It's a game of baseball, and those are life issues, so this kind of pales in comparison to what's going on in my life off the field and what's going on in our city. Just have to continue to have confidence that we'll get through it like we get through most things in Baltimore and hopefully learn from it."
When Saturday’s game, which the Orioles won, 5-4, went to extra innings, fans were asked to remain inside the ballpark until further notice. Soon, they were prohibited from leaving Camden Yards, and every gate around the concourse was closed as word traveled that protesters were heading back downtown. In the bottom of the decisive 10th inning, the gates opened and fans were allowed to leave.
“But for us, we had to focus on the task at hand,” said first baseman Chris Davis, whose 10th-inning sacrifice fly tied the game at 4. “And when they made the announcement that fans could finally leave, I think there was a little bit of relief. It’s unfortunate things happened the way they did. I hope everybody can step back and have some perspective, and hopefully, this will blow by.
“We understand what's going on and we understand people are upset, and rightfully so. But I think there’s a constructive way to protest and there’s a destructive way to protest. I think for us, I think we’d rather see people get their point across without damaging anything or put anybody’s lives in jeopardy. I hope this blows over and we can get past it and move forward, because this is too good of a city for this to happen.”
Jones, who has worked with several charities in the city while with the Orioles, had a message for fans after the game.
“It’s not about what I do for the city; it’s about that it can happen at any other city,” Jones said. “An African-American is an African-American. It doesn’t matter that I’m in Baltimore. But I just want people to be safe during this issue. It’s a tough issue. I think everybody needs to get all the facts. Stay safe, stay smart. Protest, but let’s not damage our own city. At the end of the day, you got to live here.”