When Mookie Betts touched home plate after his three-run homer in the fifth inning, he pointed to the cheering crowd and applauded back. Betts then jogged into the dugout to chants of ‘M-V-P.”
Pretty impressive outpouring of adoration, but there was something wrong here.
This is Camden Yards, home of the Orioles. Not Fenway Park in Boston. And it is 2016 – not 2011.
One part of this mystery is easily explained.
Betts said after the game that he wasn’t actually cheering the Red Sox faithful cheering him, so he wasn’t making a point about how his club’s fans had invaded enemy territory. Instead, he said, it was a shout-out to the 12 friends and family members he had at the game.
So that accounts for a dozen of the 10,000 or so Red Sox fans in the announced crowd of 26,014.
We should be used to this by now, Red Sox Nation invading Baltimore. But what shouldn’t be the case is that there were roughly 20,000 empty seats at Camden Yards Tuesday night – 20,000 empty seats for a first place team against a division rival in August, when most kids aren’t quite back in school.
Orioles third baseman Manny Machado made a plea before the game for more O’s fans to come to the park to cheer on his teammates.
“I mean, (attendance) has been a little down lately. Hopefully, with the pennant race coming up, and us in first place and getting closer to the playoffs I think that a little more fans should come and support us and come help us out,” Machado said. “Because we have the greatest fans in the world whenever they come out here, and we’ve got a sold-out crowd, we feed off that and that takes us to another level. So our fans are our biggest momentum and everything. Hopefully, we can get more out here. I know school has started now, so it’s going to be tough, but we’re just looking forward being back home and playing in front of them.”
When pressed about whether the drop in fans has been disappointing, Machado chose to focus on those who do attend Camden Yards.
“The fans that come, they give it to us. They give it their all. So that’s why we have one of the best home records of all time. So (attendance) has been down since, you know, (from) years’ past. But whoever comes every day, they support us, they give us what we need. And we give it to them,” he said. “We come out there and hit homers and drive in runs and win big games when we need to win big games, so it’s been awesome. Our fans are the greatest fans in the world, they give us everything we need to go out there and perform and give us that energy that sometimes we don’t have.”
That’s a veteran spin from a guy who has been on this club for five seasons now. It’s an admirable take. But it’s hard to have the greatest fans in the world, when they aren’t out in droves for games like these.
Frankly, we’ve all heard the excuses for much of this season. The weather hasn’t been great. The kids have been in school. There were only 12 home games from July 11 to Aug. 15. The top draws have played here on weekdays. Baltimore is a tough sell for tourists these days.
Surely, there is some truth to all of that.
And certainly economics is a part of it. The Orioles increased season tickets on average of $5 per game this year and single-game tickets were hiked an average of $4 to $5. To be fair, though, before this season the Orioles had one of the more affordable price lists in baseball and 2016 was just the third time in 12 years that the club had increased its prices.
Still, it’s not cheap. I get that.
But the bottom line is that the Orioles are a playoff contender. They are playing playoff contenders. They have only 24 home games remaining in this season. And the attendance has been pretty pathetic.
Consider that the Orioles are averaging 26,812 fans per game – that’s 20th of 30 teams in the majors this year. Of the 10 that are below the Orioles, only two, the Miami Marlins and the Cleveland Indians, are playing above .500 baseball.
So you can call it an economic issue, but 19 other teams are outdrawing the Orioles in 2016. Many of them are not as good. So it’s not widespread and it’s not performance-based.
If the current average holds, it would be Camden Yards’ lowest since 2012, when the Orioles averaged 26,611. That year, people didn’t believe in the club – which had had 14 straight losing seasons – until toward the end of that playoff year.
This club, however, has been in first place for 110 days in 2016. They are for real.
You wanted the club to spend money to put a competitor on the field, and they’ve done that. They spent serious cash in the offseason and have the largest payroll in their history.
And, yet, people are actually coming to Camden Yards at a more infrequent rate than they have in the past three seasons.
That’s a mystery not even the great Mookie Betts can help solve.