Two outs on a double play and all that could be heard in the ballpark was, well, nothing. “Crush” Davis launched a homer to deep right and again, silence. Catcher Caleb Joseph signed imaginary autographs for imaginary fans. A few players tossed foul balls into the empty seats for ball collectors that were not there. It was an odd day in Baltimore, and if you know Baltimore at all, that is really saying something.
In light of recent violence and unrest in the city, Major League Baseball made the unprecedented decision to go forward with the April 29, 2015 Baltimore Orioles versus Chicago White Sox game without fans in attendance, citing safety concerns.
Most baseball fans know Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It is widely regarded as one of the nation’s premier ballparks. As an Orioles fan and a ballpark tourist, I am not biased in stating that regardless of your team affiliation, just attending a game at this park is akin to baseball nirvana.
Wednesday’s game was a study in contrasts. The game time weather was almost painfully beautiful and sunny, especially contrasted to the dark images from Monday that most of the nation watched on the cable news networks. Police forces lined up in riot gear. Stores being looted. Angry groups flagrantly destroying property. Buildings burned to the ground. Not just a Baltimore problem, but just the latest American city in an increasingly troubling and ongoing narrative. On CNN it appeared as if the whole city was under siege, but the bulk of the activity was taking place in a small area just west of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The west side of Baltimore presents the starkest contrasts to the good times that happen inside Camden Yards. It has been the subject of television dramas and this week’s real-life dramas. It is a place plagued by crushing poverty, unemployment and violence – so completely removed from the orange and black clad fans, the crab cakes, the scent of smoky barbecue and the smiling and cheering families found in nearby Camden Yards.
Fans could not enter the ballpark yesterday but a small group stood with their faces pressed to the gates in left field. I thought of the many in West Baltimore whose faces are always pressed up against the gate in life– always outside, looking in. Locked out of education, of opportunity, security, employment and any small part of the American dream.
I thought of the uncertainty that the players must have been feeling and how baseball players generally do not like changes to their routines. Then I thought of those in West Baltimore for whom fear, uncertainty and anxiety is a way of life.
The teams played with the joy of ten year old boys who had spent the day cooped up in a classroom and had just been released. Ubaldo Jiminez pitched a good looking seven innings. Only two runs scored on three hits. The Orioles won the game 8-2, bringing the team to .500 at 10-10.
Baseball did not seem very important this week. But then, it was. Baseball has survived the Great Depression, multiple wars, racism, massive social and economic upheavals, strikes and its own scandals.
Just like baseball, Baltimore will survive.