- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

With attendance at Camden Yards declining precipitously, the Baltimore Orioles have turned to their hyperactive promotions department to lure customers into a ballpark that rivals the Inner Harbor as a shining gem for Charm City.
Filling the stands again would be no problem if owner Peter Angelos tried to put a winning team on the field by keeping his nose out of baseball matters, but that's probably asking too much after a decade of his meddling. Until he sells the club or Major League Baseball anoints the Washington area with its very own, we're stuck with King Peter.
Since luring a club record 3.7million through the gates in 1997, the Orioles have seen home attendance drop each losing season. In 2002, just 2.68million paying customers could find no better way of passing the time. This year's total should decrease even further if the Opening Day turnout was any indication. The club announced that 46,257 tickets had been sold for that frigid occasion, but the actual number of unfortunate eyewitnesses appeared to be about 10,000 fewer. (Granted, the swirling snowflakes made it hard to count accurately.)
So the problem remains: How to convince people to pay good money to see a bad team? And you've got to give the O's promotions gang credit for some original, if not necessarily good, ideas.
For example, the first 25,000 fans who show up May6 for a monumentally unimportant struggle between the Orioles and Detroit Tigers will receive retro caps, presumably the white, black and orange numbers with the cartoon bird. This is somewhat dangerous, though, because it may remind folks of the days when the O's were winners. Or, conversely, of the last time the team wore such gear, a dismal 1988 campaign that started with 21 straight losses and ended with a 54-107 record.
If the prospect of getting an adjustable cap doesn't make you reach for your credit card, games June19 against the Toronto Blue Jays and July2 against the New York Yankees will be marked by Kids Run the Bases Night. So what's the big deal? Isn't that what the real Orioles are doing now whenever one of their young non-sluggers manages to avoid striking out?
My personal non-favorite comes up July20 against the Anaheim Angels, when the first 25,000 adults will be forced to accept Eddie Murray bobblehead dolls. There seems to be an inherent contradiction here: Bobbleheads are cute, and there was nothing cute about Murray's grim attitude toward the media (read: public) while he was batting .300 with 30 home runs and 100 ribbies every season.
OK, Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die was a great player who certainly deserves his upcoming induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he was about as lovable as Howard Stern, Jerry Springer and John Thompson rolled into one.
On Aug.7, when the uncontracted Minnesota Twins pay a visit, all youngsters 14 and under will receive a Majestic Jay Gibbons T-shirt. I assume Majestic refers to a sponsor rather than to the accomplishments of Mr. Gibbons, whose first 1 seasons in black and orange produced a .243 batting average (albeit with 43 home runs).
Easily the best promotion will be on Sept.6, when the greatest Oriole of them all no, not Kiko Garcia is inducted into the team's Hall of Fame before the start of the festivities against the Seattle Mariners. By graciously agreeing to motor down from Aberdeen, Cal Ripken could serve as a reminder that this franchise once had great players who did great things. By then, with the Orioles presumably fighting to escape the American League East cellar, we may badly need such a reminder.
Let's give the O's a standing O and perhaps the Oscar Molomot Pantyhose Award in memory of the Washington Senators promotions director who used to hand out such unmentionables at RFK Stadium before looming losses. (Presumably, some men declined without thanks.)
Another way the team is trying to boost attendance is with the Junior Orioles Dugout Club for fans 14 and under at a cost of $15. Members get an "official" Dugout Club Kit including keepsakes, an "official" cap and an "official" ball, plus what the team calls access to "many special offers and discounts."
Oh, yes, members also receive "complimentary" tickets to 10 Orioles games, which could constitute cruel and unusual punishment. I ask you, is that any way to treat impressionable children?
Back when I was a kid, in the comparatively innocent '50s, the Senators offered no such inducements. But we could ride the streetcar to Griffith Stadium for perhaps a dime, buy a bleacher ticket for 75 cents and ingest cold hot dogs and warm soft drinks for a quarter each. Plus, we could see honest baseball unsullied by designated hitters, rabbit balls, 3-hour games and $10million players. Sure the Nats usually lost, but you can't have everything.
There's nothing wrong with the Orioles trying to stop the backward flow of attendance. I just wish they'd go about it the right way, between the white lines.

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