The crowd was sparse at Wednesday afternoon's makeup game between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. A total of 29 fans sat in the center field home run section during the first inning. The cheers were infrequent and barely audible. Between innings, individual conversations could be heard. After the first inning, one fan yelled, "Don't play the organ so loud."
It was almost like being at a Montreal Expos game.
The crowd was not a portent of things to come for Baltimore now that baseball has returned to Washington; after all, the game was only added to the schedule after Tuesday night's contest was rained out.
But Orioles management was decidedly mum about the announcement Wednesday that the Expos will relocate to Washington for the 2005 season. Manager Lee Mazzilli and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Beattie both refused to comment. Even some players preferred to stay away from the topic. Outfielder B.J. Surhoff evaded reporters when told they wanted a comment on a Washington franchise. Longtime coach Elrod Hendricks, who has been with the Orioles' organization for 36 years, said he had mixed emotions about the decision.
"I liked the idea of being the only child," Hendricks said. "That's the selfish side of me. What the heck. When I came to the major leagues there was a team in D.C. I guess if [the team] was in the American League it would be nice."
Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller grew up just outside of Washington in Takoma Park and was an ardent Senators fan. As a child he often skipped school and snuck into Griffith Stadium under the left field stands. Years later when he was hired as manager by Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith, former owner of the Senators, Miller admitted that he had often snuck in to watch Washington baseball. Griffith smiled and said he knew all along that kids often snuck into the stadium that way. Griffith, when asked by Miller why he allowed it to happen, said, "I figured if I let you skip in, then you'd buy a ticket later."
But even Miller kept quiet about Washington's new team.
"I'm kind of indifferent about it," Miller said.
Glenn Orlin from Bethesda was conspicuously walking through the empty concourse at Camden Yards wearing a Washington Senators cap and jersey. Orlin, an employee of the Montgomery County Council, said he would continue to attend Orioles games despite the presence of a team in Washington.
"Both teams will win with this," Orlin said. "Both teams will come out ahead."
Orlin, who recently completed a 20-year quest to visit every major and minor league ballpark in the United States, said he believes the charm of Camden Yards will be enough to bring visitors.
"Camden Yards is one of the two or three best stadiums still," Orlin said. "People will continue to come to Camden Yards because of how beautiful it is."
But not every fan likely will be able to afford to watch both teams. Lifelong Orioles fan Chris Shentz of Greencastle, Pa., said he preferred a team not have moved into the District. Now that it has happened, he is curious to see the National League. But Shentz, who was at the game with his 5-year-old son, Isaac, and friends Cedric and Gavin Martin, will have to sacrifice going to a few Orioles games to do it.
"You'd have to spread it out a bit," Shentz said. "You couldn't just continue to add."
Rafael Palmeiro agreed it was time to move the Expos, but thought they should have been relocated to Las Vegas. He said National League teams will miss visiting Montreal.
"It's a great city, but it's not a baseball town," Palmeiro said.