xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

‘A lot different than normal’: Amid coronavirus uncertainty, Orioles open home slate in empty Camden Yards

The Orioles have called Baltimore home since 1954, with Camden Yards as their home stadium since 1992. But the city and Oriole Park have never experienced a home opener like Wednesday’s.

Before the Orioles faced the New York Yankees in their first home game of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic delayed the season’s start by four months and reduced the traditional 162-game marathon to 60 games, two of which the Orioles already will need to reschedule after an outbreak on the Miami Marlins’ roster sent their schedule into disarray.

Advertisement

The virus’ continuous spread throughout the country is likely to keep fans out of ballparks throughout the season. It reduced the Orioles’ regular home-opener celebration — with a sellout crowd welcoming players as they dash down an orange carpet in center field — to an empty ballpark with the first pitch and national anthem pre-recorded and played on the scoreboard.

“It’s obviously a lot different than normal,” manager Brandon Hyde said.

Advertisement

“Kind of weird,” well-known ballpark vendor Clarence “Fancy Clancy” Haskett described it. “This whole year has been kind of crazy.”

Haskett made his way downtown Wednesday evening to visit Sliders Bar & Grille across the street from Camden Yards, “just to be in the atmosphere for a little while.” Wednesday marked the first Orioles home opener the 61-year-old wasn’t at since he began vending at 15.

The Orioles began their first of what’s scheduled to be 30 home games three days after they beat the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park for a season-opening series victory. But the tone quickly changed from one of celebration to one of confusion. The Orioles headed to Miami for a two-game series, but the Marlins never joined them: A handful of positive cases of the virus grew to more than half their roster over the next couple of days.

The Orioles returned to Baltimore, scheduled to host two games against the Marlins and their growing caseload beginning Wednesday. Instead, Major League Baseball shuffled the schedule, sending the Yankees to Baltimore and suspending the schedules of the Marlins and the Phillies, the team Miami played in Philadelphia while knowing its roster already had a batch of confirmed cases.

Those circumstances, not to mention the Toronto Blue Jays playing as the home team down Interstate 95 in the Washington Nationals’ park because Canada didn’t give them permission to host games there, make Wednesday’s home opener easily the oddest the Orioles have played among the 67 they’ve had in Baltimore.

At Pickles Pub, Cassie Yates and four friends enjoyed lunch outside, surrounded by empty tables with Oriole Park over her shoulder.

“This is the eeriest day of my life,” the Glen Burnie resident said, wearing an Orioles jersey.

Others prepped to watch the team on television from home, but even doing that is different in 2020. The Orioles’ primary broadcast duo of Gary Thorne and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer will be mostly absent this year, altering the experience of those used to watching from home.

But listening to a different broadcast crew is better than not getting any games at all, fans said.

“It is truly devastating that I will not be able to spend any summer nights at Camden Yards with a beer in my hand,” said Lisa Krysiak of Bel Air. “In most traditional summers, I do many nights exactly that. But honestly, if staying safe and fulfilling these protocols, if I have to watch it with a beer in my hand from my sofa, I would rather do that 100 times of 100 if it means staying safe.”

Before the pandemic, the Orioles were scheduled to open the year hosting the Yankees on March 26, likely facing high-priced free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole. They finally did so Wednesday, but the four months between featured a global pandemic, contentious disputes between the league and its players’ union over a return-to-play agreement and several players across the league contracting symptomatic cases of the virus.

That group includes two Orioles who confirmed they tested positive in outfielders Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Santander. Both recovered in time to make the team’s Opening Day roster and were in the lineup Wednesday.

Advertisement

“I think it’s just part of this season,” Hyde said. “It’s gonna be a day-to-day adjustment, and I think we’re handling it as well as we possibly can right now. It’s just the way it is for this season.”

After the unknowns of the past couple of days, the Orioles were ready to “get back to as normal a season as we can possibly have,” Hyde said, strangely enough beginning with a fanless home opener. Hyde said, with the exception of mail, he has had no interactions with fans in recent months. Game days have felt similar to past years up until the late rounds of batting practice, when fans normally begin to enter the park.

Before speaking with reporters on Zoom ahead of Wednesday’s game, shortstop José Iglesias asked the team’s media relations staff to save him a recording of the call. He wanted to have a copy of what interviews looked like in 2020, wondering whether he would be believed a decade from now.

Iglesias admitted there are challenges to playing in fanless ballparks, with Hyde acknowledging that outside of the comfort of sleeping in one’s own bed, home-field advantage doesn’t exist this season.

“It’s very difficult, I’m not gonna lie to you,” Iglesias said. “We’ve got to push each other up and keep the energy high. It’s very difficult, but I think as a group, we’ve got to unite and support one another through these tough times.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement