SCHMUCK: ReOpening Day set Monday in Baltimore for Orioles' game at Camden Yards
Baltimore sports fans know their history, so when the Orioles were forced to play a game in an empty stadium, and then were required to move last weekend's series with the Tampa Bay Rays to Florida because of civil unrest in the city, Sam Angell got an idea.
He remembered Fantastic Fans Night, a legendary Memorial Stadium moment that put the passion and loyalty of O's fans on national display.
"I was there as a small child," Angell said Tuesday. "It was such a cool thing to see the city support that team that wasn't doing so well on the field and getting the news about Camden Yards and keeping the Orioles long-term. It was really uplifting."
Lest anyone forget or simply are not old enough to recall, the year was 1988 and the Orioles had just set a dubious major league record with 21 consecutive losses to open a season. That team would go on to be the worst in the history of the franchise, but not before 50,402 fans showed up at the old ballpark on a Monday night in early May for an unlikely welcome-home celebration after the Orioles finally snapped that historic losing streak.
Angell, with a little help from his friends, would like to get a similar response this Monday night when the Orioles are scheduled to play their first home game with fans in the stands in more than two weeks. They're billing it as ReOpening Day.
Of course, the situation is much different. The Orioles aren't the laughingstock of baseball. They're the defending American League East champions. They are not trying to bounce back from a long losing streak. They displayed their characteristic resilience by winning three of four games under such unusual and unhappy circumstances.
Don't misunderstand. No one is trying to create some equivalency between the horrible period that Baltimore has gone through over the past three weeks and the inconvenient scheduling issues of a local sports team. The point is simply to set the cosmic reset button and return to some sense of normalcy in a town that hasn't had a whole lot of that recently.
In contrast to the no-fan game last Wednesday, which sent a sad message to the rest of the country that Baltimore was not a safe place to watch a major sporting event, ReOpening Day is intended to show the world that Baltimoreans are still proud of their city, and are determined to move forward and make it a better place to live.
There is an interesting symmetry to the event. It's on a Monday just like Fantastic Fans Night and it's against the Toronto Blue Jays, who were the opponent for the actual home opener a month ago. Yes, it'll be just a baseball game, but even a mere ballgame can act as a symbol of renewal.
"From a baseball perspective, I think we've seen a lot over the last 20 years — and almost throughout history — of baseball bringing communities together," said Angell, a native Baltimorean and lifelong O's fan who currently works in Philadelphia. "Whether it was bringing the country together during World War II or bringing Boston together after the Marathon bombings or bringing New York together after 9/11. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples as well."
What Angell envisions is the enthusiasm of that wonderful night in 1988 combined with the determination that was exemplified in Boston when Red Sox star David Ortiz told Red Sox Nation and the rest of the country, "This is our (bleeping) city!"
"As O's fans, we don't particularly like him," Angell said, "but there's no doubting what he did and what that team did for the community that summer."
Angell and the four friends he enlisted in the project — Jonathan Helfman, Andrew Ellington, Jimmy Johnston and Mike Finazzo — also are working to create some charitable tie-ins to benefit the areas impacted by last week's rioting.
"I have no real illusions about this event being a cure-all for Baltimore's problems," he said. "I think it's really a Band-Aid, even if we get a significant charitable aspect involved. The larger goal was just to get people approaching the day with the same enthusiasm and the same optimism that they approached Fantastic Fans Night. And maybe people will sort of take that up and bring that into the next few weeks and next few months, and the people who are in a position to make a change and make a lasting impact will be able to build on that."
The chances of getting a Fantastic Fans Night crowd probably are slim. Monday is a notoriously difficult night to draw fans and the Blue Jays — despite their exciting offensive lineup and the opportunity to boo Oriole-baiter Jose Bautista — have never been a particularly hot ticket in town.
There is, however, some momentum building. The event has its own Facebook event page (ReOpening Day in Baltimore) that has 1,400 commits and 4,200 invites so far, a Twitter handle (@ReOpeningDay) and support from many of the businesses around the ballpark. There is no official tie-in with the Orioles, but they aren't going to argue with anyone trying to sell out their ballpark on a Monday night against a team that isn't normally a huge draw.
"It seems like very much a grassroots effort," Orioles vice president of marketing and communications Greg Bader said. "We certainly wouldn't discourage someone from doing that. It's a great thing a great idea. It looks like the intent is 100-percent pure, to have a unifying experience. We're happy to be here for that."
The Orioles have done their part for the city. They absorbed several million dollars worth of lost revenue from the no-fan game, the change in venue for the Rays series and the consolidation of the two White Sox postponements into one single-admission doubleheader later this month.
Perhaps under different circumstances, the team might have jumped on this bandwagon and helped promote the event, but the last thing the Orioles want to do during this tough time in Baltimore is appear to be taking advantage of a tragic situation for promotional purposes.
"All we want from the Orioles on Monday,'' Angell said, "is for them to beat the Blue Jays."