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A First In 145 Years Of Major Leagues; Game Played To Empty Stands

orioles_park_-_camden_yards.jpg
Keith Allison
/
Wikimedia Commons

BALTIMORE — No vendors will be selling peanuts or Cracker Jack. No one will be there to root, root, root for the home team — or any team.

The old ballgame won’t be anything like the song when the Baltimore Orioles host the Chicago White Sox Wednesday in what is believed to be the first held behind closed doors in the 145-year history of the major leagues.

A wave of looting and rioting around Camden Yards forced the postponement of the first two games of the series and caused the Baltimore mayor to impose a 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew.

So baseball officials decided the only way to play the finale was to lock the gates to the public and move the starting time up five hours to 2:05 p.m.

At 10 o’clock Wednesday morning, only one gate to the stadium was open, allowing access to the media. The press box was nearly filled 3 1/2 hours before the scheduled first pitch.

All other gates were secured with locks.

Inside, the grounds crew prepared the field — ensuring that this one-of-a-kind game was actually going to be played. “All of the decisions in Baltimore were driven first by the desire to insure the safety of fans, players, umpires and stadium workers,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Only after we were comfortable that those concerns had been addressed did we consider competitive issues and the integrity of the schedule.”

Playing in an empty stadium became the last option.

This was Chicago’s only scheduled visit to Baltimore. The other games will be made up in a doubleheader on May 28, but there was no other viable slot for the third game. The setting should be surreal. It’s a road not previously traveled by Major League Baseball.

The crack of the bat will never sound louder and there won’t be big cheers when an Oriole hits a home run. No one will yell “O!” during the Star-Spangled Banner — if the song is played before the first pitch.

No autograph-seekers will be around before the game, there won’t be a need for an usher — if there are ushers at the park — to wipe down a seat and, for sure, there won't be the wave.

Seventh-inning stretch? Unlikely.

Stranger still: Foul balls will drift into the seats and bounce around aimlessly without anyone giving chase. “It’s definitely going to be unchartered territory,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Neither the Baseball Hall of Fame nor John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian, could find record of a major league game being played behind closed doors amid the worst outbreak of rioting in Baltimore since 1968.

Since 1987, the lowest attendance has been 746 when the White Sox hosted Toronto at Comiskey Park on April 9, 1997, according to STATS. The New York Yankees’ home game against the White Sox on Sept. 22, 1966, had a listed attendance of 413.

Thorn said the smallest crowd for a major league game appears to be six when Worcester hosted Troy in a National League matchup on Sept. 28, 1882.

Get ready for a new low, making this game unlike any other.

No cheers, no jeers, no one yelling “Cold Beer!”

Just the sound of the bat hitting the ball, the ball hitting a glove and maybe the umpire yelling “Strike Three!”

Fans can catch the action, but not in person. “It’s not ideal, but at least our fans will be able to follow the game on TV,” said Dan Duquette, the Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations.

The looting and rioting broke out Monday just hours after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody.

Since then, the Orioles have been scrambling to find a balance between playing baseball and the safety of Baltimore citizens. In addition to reworking the White Sox series on Tuesday, the Orioles moved their Friday-to-Sunday series against Tampa Bay from Camden Yards to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, with the Orioles remaining the home team and batting last.

That means Baltimore is slated to play 78 games at home and 84 on the road. “There are more important things involved here,” Showalter said. “We discussed every possible scenario, and this is what fits the best.” (AP)