Editor’s Note: As the world of sports continues an extended timeout due to the COVID-19 virus, we look back on a column from April 29, 2015 which captures what the future of sport may look like for the foreseeable future as Major League Baseball and other sports look at ways to “Play Ball” without fans.
Earlier today, the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox tested the baseball equivalent of the old adage about what happens when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it.
Instead of a forest though, the two teams were in the nearly empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards for a Major League Baseball game in which the Orioles defeated the White Sox 8-2.
The National Anthem was still played, and a stretch was still made in the seventh inning complete with the John Denver song that has entertained Birdland for the better part of four decades; but something was definitely missing.
With only players, team officials, some scouts and members of the media allowed inside the Ballpark, the game marked the first time in MLB history that fans were locked out of the Ballpark when a game was going on.
While there were fans who gathered to watch the game from outside the gates, no ticketed fans were allowed through the turnstiles.
With no fans inside the Ballpark, home run balls and foul balls went uncaught. Parts of the Ballpark were so silent one could likely hear a pin drop. Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter noted after the game that it was so quiet that he could hear the bullpen phone ringing from the other end.
As strange as playing in an empty Ballpark is, today’s game was merely one of many things to occur during a strange week for the Orioles who briefly told fans that they could not leave the Ballpark on Saturday night and then saw games on Monday and Tuesday completely cancelled.
The Orioles will also fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.
The reason for all of the juggling of the schedule is non-baseball related.
Protests are occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding the Ballpark, which have led to the city of Baltimore imposing a 10 p.m. curfew.
Even with all of the efforts to shorten the pace of play, a regular MLB game could not be finished in time for fans to all get home before 10 p.m. Ironically though, the game in the empty Ballpark was finished in just a little over two hours, which might lead some to believe that the ultimate way to shorten the game is to lock the fans out all the time.
With police and National Guard troops trying to restore order within Baltimore to prevent future acts of violence and looting, the Ballpark will stay silent until it is deemed safe to once again play ball.
Part of the freedom Americans have is free speech and the ability to show displeasure with things in a way that very few other countries have.
But there are limits to the protection of free speech. Just as it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire, it is also illegal to burn buildings and other property as a form of protest.
The violence and destruction over the past few days takes away from those members of society who are trying to peacefully demonstrate and have their voices heard.
As is almost always the case, a small minority of protestors escalated things to the level of violence. So, any generalizations about the behavior of all of the protestors would be false. Sadly, the actions of the few far out shadow any peaceful message that the many may have been trying to share.
And while a baseball game being played in an empty Ballpark is likely something that will be forever mentioned as part of Baseball lore and may even warrant a small exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is those few individuals who turned to violent protests that caused the community of Baltimore to lose the economic benefit from at least six baseball games.
Granted two of the cancelled games will be made up as a doubleheader later in the season, but the fact remains, the protests took money out of people’s pockets.
Bars and restaurants near the Ballpark did not benefit from the game day crowds and the various vendors who sell peanuts and Cracker Jacks missed out on income from the games as well.
Hopefully the Orioles are able to come home to roost by the time of their next scheduled home game. However, Major League Baseball has made it very clear that fans will not be allowed inside the Ballpark while protests are still actively occurring on the streets of Baltimore.
While it is certainly unfortunate that games are being played without fans and Camden Yards, the safety of the thousands of fans had to be taken into account.
So, while it was a difficult decision to move out of Baltimore, it was likely the only decision MLB felt they could make.
When the dust settles it is the images of the burning police cars and looting that most people will remember more than any peaceful demonstration that may have occurred.
In previous times of despair, such as the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, baseball has served as a way to unite the community and help heal wounds.
Hopefully baseball in Baltimore can once again unite the community to focus on being one Baltimore cheering together for the men wearing the orange and black.
That is not to say that Esskay hot dogs, and crab cakes can solve all of societies problems. Nor is diminishing the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful demonstrations to stand up when they feel they are being wronged.
Regardless of whether one agrees with the protesters or not, one should agree that they have the right to demonstrate within the boundaries of the law.
It is when those protests fall outside the boundaries of the law that action, even the difficult action of locking fans out of a Ballpark, must be taken to ensure that innocent people are not harmed.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see what sporting event will be aired next without any fans.
Copyright 2015 R Anderson