- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

BALTIMORE.

The Baltimore Orioles have gotten so bad even the protestors don’t care anymore.

Last season when WNST-AM sports talk radio owner Nestor Aparicio organized a “Free the Birds” protest of the way owner Peter Angelos has operated the franchise, more than 1,000 people, many in black “Free the Birds” T-shirts, marched on Camden Yards, nearly clashed with ballpark security and made their presence felt in dramatic fashion when they walked in single file through the stands and out of the ballpark during the game.

Yesterday for “Free the Birds 2,” about 120 people sat in the upper deck, some wearing old T-shirts and others carrying old protest signs about the Orioles’ owner. They chanted for particular Orioles players and also in the top of the sixth inning walked through the ballpark yelling, “Free the Birds! Free the Birds.”

At least they had a reason to be there. Who knows why the other 1,200 or so people at Camden Yards came last night to see a makeup game between the Orioles and the Kansas City Royals.

The expectations for “Free the Birds 2” by Aparicio were not as great. He acknowledged on his station’s Web site that the plans for this protest were not as elaborate or organized — more like a just show-up sort of thing and chant things like “sell the team!”

As if that is going to happen. Angelos is never going to sell this franchise, and Aparicio might as well make plans for “Free the Birds 30” because Angelos’ two sons, John and Lou, likely will be running the franchise then. For those fans hoping Cal Ripken somehow buys this team someday, you had better get on the waiting list for his New York-Penn League club in Aberdeen, Md.

The waiting list for Ironbirds season tickets, by the way, is nearly double the size of last night’s crowd at Camden Yards.

Nothing has changed here in Baltimore from last year, and nothing will have changed come this time next season. The Orioles were winding up their ninth straight losing season last year, finishing with a record of 70-92 under manager Sam Perlozzo. This year they are wrapping up their 10th straight losing season, this one closing under shell-shocked manager Dave Tremblay, who has seen his team go 8-22 after having the interim tag taken off and being hired as the permanent manager Aug. 22. It will have to win four games in this final week of the homestand to equal last year’s win total.

And there is no hope in sight. This franchise has such deep dysfunctional problems that the new club president, Andy MacPhail, is probably already overwhelmed by what it will take to turn it into a winning organization. It will require a massive housecleaning from the B&O; Warehouse to the playing field and yet another rebuilding process.

Third baseman Melvin Mora, shortstop Miguel Tejada and catcher Ramon Hernandez have all had questions raised about their attitudes, effort or diminishing skills. But they all have untradeable to nearly untradeable contracts. Ace hurler Eric Bedard will be a free agent in 2009 and has shown as much inclination to stay with the Orioles as the 1.7 million fans who have disappeared from Camden Yards since the club drew its record high of 3.7 million in 1997.

Before last night’s game, Tremblay was asked whether his starter, Daniel Cabrera, who was suspended for six games more than a week ago for throwing at Boston’s Dustin Pedrioa and then nearly incited a bench-clearing brawl (and clearly has regressed to the head case he used to be), had learned anything from the incident.

“I hope we’ve all learned from all these instances that have occurred here,” Tremblay said. “We’ll see.”

I have a feeling that Tremblay, who seems to be a smart and decent man, was talking about more than Cabrera. He said he plans on meeting soon with MacPhail with a list of items about the future of this club — “philosophy, agenda, direction” among them. He might as well have sat up with the “Free the Birds” crowd last night for all the good that is going to do.

Here’s all you need to know about the direction of this club. The Orioles are holding their annual “Fan Appreciation Weekend” starting Friday for the final three games of the season. One of the promotions is that fans will be selected randomly to go on the field to receive the “shirt off the back” of an Orioles player at all three games.

Now, if they were giving the shirts off the backs of the visiting team, that would be a popular promotion. The New York Yankees are coming to Camden Yards, which means a ratio of probably nine Yankees fans to every Orioles fan. It may be hard to find enough Orioles fans to take the shirts off the backs of the players for three games.

How do you change that direction?

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