The widespread rioting that enveloped Baltimore on Monday night and kept the city on edge Tuesday created an oddity that, to be sure, is frivolous given the chaos but could serve as one of the enduring symbols that absolutely nothing was normal this week.
On Wednesday afternoon at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles will host the Chicago White Sox in a regular season baseball game between two clubs hoping to reach the playoffs, and no fans will be allowed in the park.
Moreover, the Orioles’ scheduled home series this weekend against the Tampa Bay Rays has been moved to St. Petersburg, Florida — where the Orioles will serve as the home team.
The unusual decisions come as the Orioles worked with police and other local authorities, officials from Major League Baseball, the White Sox and Rays on how to best schedule games around the 10 p.m. curfew that was scheduled to begin Tuesday and remain in place through the beginning of next week. Four of those games were slated for first pitch at 7:05 p.m. local time, and given that an average major league game lasts close to three hours, fans couldn’t have hoped to take in the entire game and make it home in time.
Orioles officials said they were also cognizant of using city resources for such trivial matters as traffic flow and crowd control when there is no way to predict what the coming days will bring on the streets around the ballpark and throughout the city.
“We strongly believe that at this point Baltimore needs to focus its resources on restoring calm,” Orioles spokesman Greg Bader said. “That’s everybody’s priority right now, including ours.”
The bizarre situation follows a weekend in which fans were forced to remain inside Camden Yards following Saturday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox as police clashed with rioters outside. As unrest moved throughout the city on Monday — the day of the funeral for Freddie Gray, an African-American man who died after he suffered injuries in a conflict with police — the Orioles decided less than an hour before first pitch to postpone the first of a three-game series against the White Sox.
The decision to postpone Tuesday’s game came late Tuesday morning, and the Orioles announced in the afternoon that they would not permit fans into Wednesday’s game.
That solution — in addition to moving the Tampa Bay series to Florida — won out over what seemed like a more obvious move: simply play the games at Nationals Park in Washington, which sits less than 40 miles south of Camden Yards and will be vacant through the weekend as the Nationals complete a road trip. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred suggested that when he was in Baltimore for a previously scheduled meeting Monday.
There are, though, other forces at work that complicated such a solution. The Nationals and the Orioles are embroiled in a legal dispute over revenues generated by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, the regional sports network that is co-owned by the two teams and carries both their games. A Nationals spokeswoman said Monday that the club was never approached by the Orioles or MLB to serve as a host. Bader declined comment on whether the MASN issue played a role in the Orioles’ decision-making.
Shifting games to a venue not expecting to host them can create logistical challenges, such as getting security and staff in place. But the Rays’ willingness to host the Orioles over the weekend, games for which the Orioles will receive whatever revenue is generated, just as they would for a home date, shows it’s possible. U.S. Cellular Field, the home to the White Sox, served as an impromptu host for a series between the then-Florida Marlins and the Montreal Expos after Hurricane Ivan ravaged South Florida in 2004.
One source said the MASN conflict — which pits Nationals owner Theodore Lerner against Orioles owner Peter Angelos — influenced the thinking of some Baltimore executives as the club pursued possible alternatives. The Nationals, in turn, never reached out to offer their facility. MLB didn’t push the issue.
The result: One game with no fans at Camden Yards, and three “home” games 962 miles away at Tropicana Field.
“After conversations with the Orioles and local officials, we believe that these decisions are in the best interests of fan safety and the deployment of City resources,” Manfred said in a statement released by MLB. “Our thoughts are with all those who have been affected by violence in Baltimore, and everyone in our game hopes for peace and the safety of a great American city.”
So what might the ballpark at the heart of that city feel like Wednesday, when the Orioles and White Sox are scheduled to play at 2:05 p.m.?
In 2012, after a high-wind storm known as a derecho blew through Washington, Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, played host to the third round of Tiger Woods’s annual PGA Tour stop there with no fans. The feel was eerie. When Woods chipped in on one hole, he pumped his fist and there was no roar.
Soccer games overseas — including earlier this month in Russia and last year in Japan — have been staged in empty stadiums after unruly behavior by fans.
There is a logistical fallout for the fans who had tickets to all of these games. The postponed games from Monday and Tuesday nights will be made up as part of a single-admission doubleheader on May 28; Monday’s tickets will be good for that twinbill.
Fans from any of the postponed or relocated games can exchange their tickets for comparable seats at another home game.
“At the end of the day, most of the import was given to what was best for the city and state officials and for the police departments,” Bader said. “Ultimately, the other parties understood the extraordinary circumstances here, and we did whatever we could to potentially ease the burden on all involved.”