The empty seats say it all--the Orioles are wasting a beautiful ball park.
Don't get me wrong; Citizens Bank Park is a great place to watch a baseball game. It's just that, as a lifelong Orioles fan, it can be a little depressing taking in a ballgame in the sea of red that is the Philadelphia Phillies' gem of a ball park.
You see, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was once the happening place to be in Baltimore. When it was built, the Orioles' home set the new standard for ball parks, one from which the Phillies' home draws many features, such as the wide concourses and open air entertainment areas for fans, Eutaw Street in Baltimore and Ashburn Alley in Philadelphia.
Camden Yards opened at the tail end of the cookie cutter era of baseball stadiums. It was a time of characterless multi-use turf stadiums, and the Orioles retro ballpark gave fans a chance to experience a truly beautiful ballpark which blended seamlessly into its surroundings. Capitalizing on their new home, the Orioles went on a run of seasons averaging over 3,000,000 in attendance.
The Orioles were not a good team when they moved from decrepit Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards in 1992, having faltered from their position as one of the dominant teams of the '70s and '80s. That all changed when they opened Camden Yards.
The new stadium, and the influx of funding it generated, spurred the Orioles on to a run of five winning seasons in six years, two appearances in the ALCS and what certainly would have been a playoff season in 1994 had the strike not interrupted the season.
Then came the 1998 season, and the end of the good times in Baltimore. Due to mismanagement and the inability to develop any semblance of a starting pitching staff, the Orioles have not had a winning season since the summer of 1997.
The fans have certainly noticed. A team that routinely drew over 45,000 fans a game now struggles to draw 25,000.
I grew up going to games at Camden Yards at the tail end of the Orioles' string of winning seasons. The atmosphere was not much different than that of Citizens Bank Park when I attended an afternoon Phillies game last week.
As a fan, you could feel the confidence of the home fans that their team would win. If a fan can feel this from the stands, how must the players feel on the field?
I realized then that it had been a while since I had felt this feeling at Camden Yards—and even then, that swagger was coming from Red Sox or Yankees fans taking over the Yard.
Going to Citizens Bank Park has become the "cool" thing to do in Philadelphia, much like it was with the Orioles in the mid '90s. The Phillies have ridden their newfound fan support to four consecutive playoff appearances, two World Series appearances and one World Championship, and they again have the best record in the majors at this point in the season.
The Phillies have been able to do what the Orioles could not do with their new stadium: make the permanent jump from also-ran to perennial contender. They have done this by spending liberally and creating an atmosphere committed to winning.
For all the winning the Orioles did in the mid '90s, it always seemed owner Peter Angelos was more concerned with his bottom line than winning.
The Phillies have spent liberally the last few years to make sure the winning ways continue. There is not a doubt in my mind that the Phillies turnaround was spurred by the replacement of rat-infested Veterans Stadium with sparkling, modern Citizens Bank Park.
So, as I sat at Citizens Bank Park, watching free agent acquisition Cliff Lee put the Marlins to sleep in a two-hit shutout, I could not help feeling a little sad that the Orioles squandered their chance to become a yearly contender.
Angelos was content to ride the momentum of Camden Yards for a few seasons. High attendance continued through the first few years of futility, but nothing was done to right the ship in Baltimore.
A recent surge in excitement surrounding the Orioles' strong play at the end of the 2010 has done nothing to spur attendance, as the Orioles now rank 24th in the league in that category.
The pieces are in place for the Orioles to begin a climb back to respectability, especially three promising young arms in Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz, but without more fans filling the seats, the team will struggle to make the next step, especially in a division with Boston and New York.
Most teams experience an uptick in attendance the year after opening a new stadium. The teams that are able to capitalize on their increased revenue are the model franchises of the league, the ones that fans become jealous of.
The Baltimore Orioles had their chance to become one of these teams, but just one trip to Citizens Bank Park is enough to show how far from the top they have fallen.