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Days After Riots, Baltimore Orioles Played With No Fans Present


The day was sunny and perfect, the stands absolutely empty. The Baltimore Orioles played the Chicago White Sox today with no fans in attendance - that decision made by the Orioles and Major League Baseball after this week's rioting. NPR's Don Gonyea was there to take in the surreal scene.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Baltimore's Camden Yards, capacity 45,971, has never seen a day like this. No Major League ballpark has.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Heads up. Heads up.

GONYEA: Players took their cuts during batting practice, stopping now and again to look around and take in all the emptiness. Talking to reporters pre-game, Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones tried to express what the week has been like for him, an African-American player who says baseball was the thing that helped give his life direction as a youngster. He said he wished fans could be in the stands today.

ADAM JONES: To have fans, it would be awesome so that it can give them three hours of distraction away from what's really going on. You know, I think the people of Baltimore need that.

GONYEA: Baltimore Manager Buck Showalter also met with reporters before the game.


BUCK SHOWALTER: Well, obviously it's uncharted territory, and nobody's got experience at it. I'll tell you what, it's sad on a lot of fronts. We keep in mind how we got to this point.

GONYEA: On a lighter note, Showalter joked that sound will carry like never before in an empty ballpark.


SHOWALTER: You also got to be careful about the sweet nothings you throw out of the dugout with umpires. They're going to be able to hear everything.


GONYEA: Finally, it was game time.


GONYEA: The umpires gathered around home plate looking a bit bemused. Then, play ball. And here's what a first pitch sounds like in an ocean of empty green seats.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: First pitch at 2:06. It is 73 degrees.

GONYEA: A bit underwhelming and sad at the same time. The fans' job is to cheer and jeer and socialize and eat and drink and to root for the home team starting with the very first pitch. When the Orioles got their turn to bat in the first, they played like the place was full of screaming fans. They sent 10 runners to the plate and scored six quick runs including this three-run homer by Chris Davis.


GONYEA: But the only sounds you hear are those of reporters in the press box. And so it went inning after silent inning. It's worth noting here the impact on all of the vendors and parking lot attendants and people who work in businesses and bars around the ballpark losing income this week. They're all taking a big economic hit. The game was on TV and radio, but it's not quite accurate to say no fans were there to see the game in person.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: O, R, I, O, L, E, S - Orioles.

GONYEA: This small group of diehards, clad in Orioles orange, stood on the sidewalk and peered through the wrought iron fence. They had a view of home plate, but from some 600 feet away. Among them was Michael Fish, who was handing out peanuts to anyone who passed by.

MICHAEL FISH: I mean, look at this. The only thing wrong with the situation is we're not playing in a doubleheader, and they won't let the fans in. The weather is perfect. Everybody is calm, well behaved.

GONYEA: They were having fun, but they were also here to make a point about their city. The rioting started following the funeral Freddie Gray who died of injuries after being taken into custody by police. Here's Eugene Keselman, a 34-year-old fan who works as a waiter.

EUGENE KESELMAN: This is how we honor Freddie - not by rioting, not by looting, not by burning our own businesses. I think this is what his family had in mind - coming out, being civil. It's tough to think about it all at once, being behind this gate.

GONYEA: The Orioles won the game 8 to 2, leaving their fans hoping for a normal day at the ballpark soon and for quiet in the city, except for cheering on the home team. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.