9,129. That is how many fans were in attendance last night at Camden Yards. Some fans will be appalled that the team didn’t get better support- many of these same fans were also at home for one reason or another. Many fans will just say it is Peter Angelos getting what he deserves for delivering a horrible product year after year and expecting fans to keep coming. As long as he made his money, there was no point in improving the team. To some degree I agree with both sides, but this is not an argument that the fans should be having with one another- there is a very easy way to solve the low attendance, and it has nothing to do with how much you spend.
At some point, you have to start winning. The casual fan will go to the ballpark on a Saturday in June to stroll around the Inner Harbor, eat some food and hang out at the game, but they are not going for the game. I remember going to baseball games thinking that even though the Orioles would lose (I attended at least a dozen games before they won one I was there for) the ballpark was still very nice, the weather was good, there were attractions nearby and I could enjoy it. But losing gets to you. It drags you down, and even when you still support your team you don’t want to be there to watch it. Having it on TV at home is one thing, but there is something masochistic about paying for tickets, driving down to the city, paying more than you did for the tickets to get parking and then for a $6 hot dog just to endure in person the excruciation of your team going down in flames. It just stops being worth it.
There are still great reasons to go to Camden Yards, for all the reasons I used to go even when the O’s lost. But for many fans it just isn’t enough. This city wants to support this team, and in many ways it still does. There are plenty of fan bases who would be sending 7K or fewer to the park every day if they had endured 12 losing seasons and were off to a 1-6 start. Hell, the Washington Expos (yes that is on purpose) barely draw fans and they have a new ballpark! It takes a lot of energy to bring back hope and optimism with this team year after year or game after game- just look at the banter that goes on in the comments on this very blog between the unflappably optimistic and the fatally jaded. That is where the Orioles are right now, though there is a new group creeping in. It is a group that is endemic among many fan bases, particularly those who have a team thrust upon them or just have a perennially terrible team. The apathetic fans. We Baltimore fans haven’t had this group in my memory- I have never noticed a critical mass of fans who just don’t seem to care about the Orioles at all, but they are starting to show up.
Teams like Kansas City, a traditionally great baseball town, is getting their share of apathetic fans, and lord knows that the city of Pittsburgh couldn’t care less about the Pirates. That is the toughest thing to recapture. Even the most negative of fans will come back to the ballpark to do their complaining if the team is winning just to yell about why the manager let that player ever hit cleanup when he struck out twice in a game once last month. The most positive will run back at the first sign of hope. And there will always be positive fans- while most of the state of Michigan doesn’t even want to talk about the Lions, there is still a small core of Lions fans who will try to go to every game no matter what. Yes, without bags on their heads. But in Michigan that group is about as small as it can get.
There is a reason why football games take longer to stop selling out even when the team is terrible. Football is a very limited product- you miss a game then you’ve missed 1/16th of the season. With 162 games it is a lot easier to say “I’ll go next time” even if you have to say it over and over throughout the season. Apathy is tougher to take hold because not only is football a national institution, but the privilege to attend a game is too rare to ignore. Additionally, with most of the tickets tied up in season ticket holders and corporations, it is easier to fill the rest of the stadium.
So this is about more than just the 1-6 start. It is about the doubt that is starting to shatter the veneer of hope that many fans had rallied behind to bring excitement to this season. The season is still too young to determine whether this team is as bad as its record, but the doubts that already existed are getting louder and louder, and that is just enough reason to stay home on a Monday night.