Did anybody stay up late enough to see Manny Machado’s home run early Wednesday morning? Or was everybody already in bed, with heads too filled with thoughts of Joe Flacco’s health, to think about the Baltimore Orioles?

OK, the hour was late. There was the rain delay that lasted over two hours, and there were those six runs the Yanks scored early Tuesday night to discourage everybody from sticking around.

By the time Manny came up, it was almost 2 o’clock in the morning, and the Orioles, trailing by a run with a man on first, were down to their last out of the game.

And that’s when Machado drove one into the New York Yankees bullpen, and the Orioles walked off with a thrilling 7-6 victory.

So the question remains: Did anybody stay up late enough to see it?

The ballpark crowd was barely the size of a minyan by then. Fair enough, the weather being so crummy and the hour so late.

But the crowd size is part of a trend. No matter that the Orioles have rallied over the past month and now have a legitimate shot at a wild card berth, crowds have not been filling Oriole Park the way they once did.

This is a ballclub that once routinely averaged more than 40,000 fans a game and more than 3 million customers each season. Now, they’re averaging about 25,000 a game, and they’re life-and-death to reach 2 million over the 81 home games.

And, coming Sunday, the Ravens start playing football for real.

It’s nice to live in a place where there aren’t any lulls between sports seasons, but also a little worrisome. Back when Baltimore used to have three big-league teams – remember an NBA club called the Bullets? – there was much fretting over how far the Baltimore sports dollar could stretch.

The Bullets are long gone, but the dollar dilemma remains – particularly since the Washington Nationals took away so many fans from the D.C. suburbs who once drove into Baltimore but now have a team to call their own.

It’s no coincidence that Orioles attendance has dropped by roughly a million per season from those 3 million marks of the 1990s.

But it’s more than that. From the earliest days of a football team called the Baltimore Colts, this has been a football town. In their Memorial Stadium years, the Orioles were loved, but for years they barely drew a million people while the Colts were selling out every game.

At Oriole Park, the O’s packed people in for much of a decade. But they were helped by curiosity about the new park and the exodus of the Colts. Once the Ravens arrived – along with baseball in Washington – the evenings of packed houses were a sometime thing.

So the Ravens open play this weekend, and you can practically hear the fluttering of hearts around town. But the Orioles are still at it, and they’ve still got a legitimate shot at a playoff spot, and we’re left with our original question:

Was anybody awake when Manny Machado hit his home run?

Or are heads already preoccupied with thoughts of Joe Flacco’s health?

Michael OleskerA former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).

Top photo: Orioles player Manny Machado (Photo WikiCommons)

Also see: Predictions for this Year’s Orioles Season



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