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Thoughts and observations from a bizarre day at Camden Yards

Thoughts and observations from a bizarre day at Camden Yards
Orioles' Adam Jones runs to second base on a double in the seventh inning. The Orioles defeated the Chicago White Sox by score of 8 to 2 in an empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday. The game was played in two hours and three minutes. The first two games of the series were cancelled due to the wide spread riots and looting on Monday in Baltimore resulting from protest over the death of Freddie Gray. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

This is my 15th season covering the Orioles and I've been around a whole bunch of strange things. Had to cover a pitcher who punched a judge on Christmas Day, a snow squall on Opening Day and a performance-enhancing drug suspension for a guy who months earlier delivered the most public and ardent denial of steroid use in baseball history.

And, yet, Wednesday may have been the weirdest of my career. The crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd are tattooed to my consciousness. Yet Wednesday there was one without the other. The first game in Major League Baseball history without fans -– a direct result of the unrest in the city following the death of resident Freddie Gray while in police custody.

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One of the quips I heard about 100 times Wednesday -– yes, 100 -– was that I should add one more chapter to my new book, "100 Things Orioles Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die." Joking aside, no question Wednesday's situation would have made the cut had the manuscript been due later this year. It's certainly one for history -– and history books.

There were so many strange little moments throughout the afternoon. Probably the one that stands out the most was in the middle of the game when a reporter about six seats away shouted my name to get my attention -– something that occurs several times a game in a bustling, rowdy press box.

Except the press box and the stadium were stone silent. And so when he yelled for me, the sound echoed so much that Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who was in the on-deck circle, heard it and pointed up to us.

Here are some other thoughts from the day:

** My take on the no-crowd game is simple. The Orioles needed to get in one game of the three-game series with the Chicago White Sox because they can't have a tripleheader later this season. And the White Sox certainly wouldn't want to make two trips back. So a game had to be played Wednesday.

The turnaround for attempting to move it to another venue -– such as Nationals Park -– was just too quick. Too many logistical nightmares to have to figure out on short notice (security, concessions, parking, transportation, etc).

We saw -– or really felt -– Wednesday how crucial of an element fans are to this game. There was no buzz, no electricity in the stadium because there were no people besides those who were working. But the City of Baltimore could not risk giving up security resources on Wednesday while there was still unrest percolating in pockets of Baltimore.

It was a weird situation and an unfortunate situation. But it was the right call.

** As journalists, we use the cliché, "face of the franchise" way too often (hence, it became a cliché). I'm sure I used it to describe Brian Roberts on several occasions, and probably Nick Markakis, too. But Markakis was sort of half the face, with Adam Jones being the other.

And with Markakis gone, no question Jones is the man with the Orioles. If that was questioned, Jones answered it Wednesday, when he went to the pre-game interview room table -– usually Buck Showalter's domain -- and spoke eloquently and introspectively about the unrest in Baltimore, and his connection to inner-city youth. It was as impressive a display as I can remember by a local athlete. He was honest, direct and genuine. Like all of us, Jones has flaws. But the maturation of this man in the past few years –- and the responsibility he has taken on as the most visible African-American athlete in Baltimore –- has been impressive.

** After the game, Jones, unprompted, made a point that many of us had ignored. Again, it was an example of his leadership. In a post-game interview by his locker, Jones thanked the Chicago White Sox for their patience and professionalism this week. Yes, these guys are professional athletes and are paid handsomely.

But they are also people -– sons and dads and brothers. While plenty of Orioles drove out of the city and stayed out of the city during the tense times, the White Sox were in a downtown hotel without their families, not knowing exactly what was going on. Although they weren't in danger, I'm sure their families were extremely frightened. This is what Jones had to say after the game.

"I want to applaud the White Sox for sticking in with us; it had to be tough on them also," Jones said. "All the inconveniences we faced, they faced also, especially on the road without their families. So I want to thank them for being tough about it."

** One actual baseball thought here: Ubaldo Jimenez has been tremendous. He is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in four games. After Wednesday's performance (three hits and no earned runs through seven innings), he's allowed 10 hits and eight walks while striking out 22 batters in 22 2/3 innings. This is the Ubaldo the Orioles thought they were buying last year.

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With Jimenez's herky-jerky mechanics, the honeymoon period could end quickly, and Wednesday was as good of a time as any for the wheels to fall off. He hadn't pitched in a week and he was pushed back from Monday to Tuesday to finally starting Wednesday.

This is a guy who needs routine, and his mechanics easily could have faltered with the rest and uncertainty. They didn't, and that wasn't lost on Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who said, "Ubie looked like he's been in a five-man rotation for three or four months, so that bodes well for where he is mechanically."

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