On Wed. April 29, everything was in place at the Oriole Park in Camden Yards for a beautiful spring baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox.
Everything, that is, except for the fans.
Excluding the press reporters and scouts sitting behind home plate, the Orioles played what would become a 8-2 victory against the White Sox in front of 45,971 empty stadium seats, making this the first known MLB game to be held without any spectators.
The Orioles announced that day before the game that they would not be admitting fans due to safety concerns stemming from the ongoing riots in the Baltimore area. Rioting, looting and unrest began on Monday in response to the death of Freddie Gray, who died from a spinal cord injury while in police custody.
“After conversations with the Orioles and local officials, we believe that these decisions are in the best interests of fan safety and deployment of city resources,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said in an interview with the New York Times
Despite the empty seats the usual game traditions were held, such as walk-up music, PA announcements and the playing of the “Cotton Eyed Joe.”
What should have been a fun spring baseball game is sounding more and more like a tragic scene from the “Walking Dead.” Imagine the eerie sound of the song playing for nobody to dance to? Or the sports announcers trying to hype of a game that’s dead silent on the field? It is just strange.
“When you listened to the game it sounded like you were watching golf,” sophomore biology major Raktim Ghosh said.
While this concept of playing games is novel in American baseball, European soccer teams have previously played matches in front of empty stadium seats in response to excessive fan violence. In March 2010, a French Ligue 1 soccer match between OGC Nice and Paris Saint-Germain F. C. was played for an empty stadium. Citizens of Nice had previously stormed the field and attacked attendees, causing the match to be closed-off to spectators.
Nothing like this has ever been practiced in American sports, and while the circumstances may have called for fans to be denied access, it is a tough pill to swallow considering the Baltimore Police tweeted there was “no protest activity” a few hours before the start of the game. Even still, for the players sake, it is better safe than sorry.
“I’m not sure if the MLB really had a choice if they thought it wouldn’t be safe for fans to attend the game,” Eric Golderman, an ex-first baseman, pitcher and catcher for SUNY Binghamton’s baseball team, said. “I agree with it closing because they are looking out for the player’s safety.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Adam Jones, the Orioles’ center fielder, said he understood the frustration being expressed by the city’s youth, though he disagreed with the destruction of proper done to the city. Jones hoped that their baseball game might be a healthy distraction from the city’s current situation, saying that sports “unite communities in small time.”
Even with the closing of the stadium and rioting in the city, the spirits of Orioles and White Sox fans refused to waver. Fans gathered around the stadium, pressed against the left-center field fences, cheering on their team with just as much gusto and spirit they would have had sitting in the stands.
The players tried to make light of the situation as well. Caleb Joseph, the Orioles’ catcher, was giving out imaginary high-fives to fans, signing make-believe autographs and even tossed some baseballs into the stands for the nonexistent fans between innings.
“Laughter does something for the soul,” Joseph said to The New York Times.
While the game may have had to go on without its fans, the day was still one to remember. The idea of two prominent major league teams playing in an empty stadium is a pretty silly concept, and considering the issues Baltimore is facing right now, maybe a silly, laughable baseball game is just what the city needed.