No, I am not predicting that the Orioles’ season in 2020 will be like the “Why Not?” season of 1989. But I’ll share a little something I gleaned from the players who were in town for the 30th anniversary of that very special season.
As those players came in to speak to the media after their luncheon with the fans, it seemed every single one of them alluded to how big the ’89 season opener was for the team after it had started the ’88 season with 21 consecutive losses.
The fact that a young, formidable Roger Clemens was pitching for the Red Sox meant nothing to them. They each referenced that this single win on April 3, 1989, took perhaps the hugest monkey off their backs than any had previously carried around.
So how is this for a stretched comparison? The 2020 season will be the second of this Orioles’ once-in-a-lifetime rebuild. But it will be a season in which the club will begin to build hope for a future that we all feel will be much, much sweeter than at any time since back in the halcyon days of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s when good baseball consistently resided in Birdland.
The Orioles currently have a 16-game losing streak versus those damned New York Yankees. I am not sure how that sits with you. While part of this rebuild has to be about better baseball, and eventually better fan support, it also must be a bit about Baltimore regaining a crowd swag it had back in the late ‘70s and all through the ‘80s at Memorial Stadium.
Oh, I know the team’s best attendance numbers were at Camden Yards, where from 1992 to 2001 (except for the strike season of 1994) the O’s drew over 3 million fans a year. But the crowds and the passion for the team were never as great as it was from 1979 to 1991 at Memorial Stadium. Aside from Cal Ripken Jr.’s games of Sept. 5 and 6, 1995, Camden Yards has oddly not always been the home of compelling, exciting play on the field.
So along those lines, the schedule-makers have delivered on a silver platter an Orioles schedule that allows the club the opportunity to play a first series where the O’s could attempt for once to make Camden Yards an almost Yankees fan-free zone. Let’s make March 26, 28 and 29 for local fans only.
Is it impossible or unimaginable? Hardly. Opening Day is usually a tough ticket anyway for even the most ardent Orioles fan. The team will most likely have that first Sunday be “Kids’ Opening Day,” and that has started to have an organic growth during the past couple of seasons. Given the added oomph of a marketing campaign to keep the first series of the season a local phenomenon should make “Kids’ Opening Day” on Sunday, March 29 a very tough ticket.
What kind of special promotion could the club do for the middle game on Saturday, March 28? This is where the Orioles need the business community’s help. How about the Orioles and the Greater Baltimore Committee reinvent the famous night in 1988 when the Orioles came back home 1-23 from Chicago to a sellout crowd. On Monday night, May 2, 50,402 fans came out to give their team a hug and support a 1-23 team.
“Fantastic Fans’ Night” was only one of the most important nights in franchise history. On that night, Gov. William Donald Schaefer took the field before the game to announce that Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams — who was too sick to be down on the field — had signed a 20-year contract with the state of Maryland to provide for the funding and building of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Williams signed away the leverage his estate may have held for the sale of the Orioles and did the right thing for a community that had been spurned by the Colts and the NFL. Williams would pass away on Aug. 13 of that miserable baseball season.
What better way to pass the baton of baseball passion in Baltimore to a new generation than to plan and execute a locally attended Yankees series to open the 2020 season at Camden Yards? Since the bloom died on Orioles baseball attendance back in the early 2000s, that passion is something that hasn’t been seen in our town. Baltimore fans need to make it happen again in a more organic way.
But how many times have you or your friends bemoaned how Boston and New York fans have overtaken our town? The same used to be the case in the Ravens’ first couple of seasons when Pittsburgh Steelers fans would take over our home games.
It won’t happen naturally until the Orioles are year-in and year-out contenders again. Making it happen and ending this 16-game losing streak with the Damned Yankees just might light an additional spark back in a relationship between a city and its baseball team that used to bring such a smile to all our faces.
Stan “The Fan” Charles is the founder and publisher of PressBox.