White Sox, Orioles play empty-stadium game

CHICAGO -- The public address announcer at Camden Yards announced the playing of National Anthem, informing "ladies and gentlemen" what was to follow.

A recorded version was played while the White Sox stood in a line outside their dugout and the Orioles stood at attention in their dugout.

A custom in Baltimore is shouting "O!" when the song reaches "Oh say can you see?"

No one did it, although one person in the press box carried on the tradition by saying it under his breath.

At the time, the only people in the stands were a couple of scouts behind the plate.

With media buzzing over the deserted game, Camden Yards may as well have been setting up for a playoff game, with all 92 seats in the press box full. TV camera crews lined the field and are stationed outside the ballpark.

But the grandstands are as vacant as they are in the offseason.

The usually teeming concourse was barren and the concession stands selling $15 crabcakes, $6.50 crab soups and $8 canned beers were locked up.

And those signs cautioning fans to "Watch Out for Batted Balls" were pointless for a day.

Managers of the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees say players in a closed-door game in Baltimore will have to adjust from their usual habits of feeding off a crowd.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Rays manager Kevin Cash say the atmosphere will certainly be odd.

Said Girardi: "This is going back to the days where just your parents showed up on a cold day."

The lineup board in the Orioles' clubhouse says it all: In the attendance section there's a round "0'' in orange marker. Just beneath it under "total attendance" the number read 299,598, an average of nearly 33,300 fans through nine games.

Cash, whose team was visiting the Yankees in New York, said teams "sometimes feed off the opposing crowd when you're going in an opposing city."

Being locked out of Camden Yards didn't stop a small gathering of Orioles fans from peering through a fence beyond the bleacher seats in left-center field.

One Orioles fan yelled: "Let us in!"

No such luck.

While watching batting practice from about 450 feet away on Eutaw Street, fan Larry Marsh said that he wishes he was inside, but thinks officials did the right thing in closing the game. He says: "I'm just going to stand here and watch as long as I can."

The game is believed to be the first held in an empty stadium in the 145-year history of the major leagues.

Only one gate to Camden Yards is open, allowing media in to watch the Orioles play the White Sox in a game fans aren't allowed to attend.

The press box is nearly filled 3 1/2 hours before the scheduled first pitch on Wednesday.

While all other gates are locked, a grounds crew is prepping the field to ensure this one-of-a-kind game will actually be played.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says the league's adjustment to rioting and looting around Camden Yards takes into account the safety of the people who would be in the stadium and competitive issues.

The first crowdless major league game will have plenty of viewers on TV and online.

MLB has made the Orioles-White Sox game being played Wednesday in an empty Camden Yards its free game of the day on MLB.TV. The streaming service will carry the game for fans outside the Baltimore and Chicago markets, where the games will be televised.

Broadcasters WPWR-HD in Chicago and MASN-HD in Baltimore are producing the games and will have to adjust to the lack of ambience normally highlighted to give viewers at home a sense of atmosphere.

Baseball officials decided to play the games behind closed doors because of a wave of looting and rioting around Camden Yards that broke out amid tensions between residents and police. The turmoil prompting a citywide curfew came hours after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who sustained a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody.

White Sox vs. Orioles isn't the first empty-stadium game

The Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball historian John Thorn believes Wednesday's game between the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles will be the first major league game played behind closed doors.

The game follows two postponements in Baltimore after the death of a 25-year-old black man who suffered a spinal injury while in police custody. Now, it will be played before an empty stadium because the city is in a state of unrest.

Teams have played before with empty stadiums, but it is rare. Here are some other circumstances where crowds were banned:

FROZEN OUT

March 8, 2015 - Stony Brook's baseball team played a doubleheader against Fordham that was closed to the public. The snow build-up surrounding Joe Nathan Field was deemed too high and dangerous for people to attend. Stony Brook won the opener 6-1 and lost the second game 9-6.

March 11, 2015 - UConn's baseball game against Sacred Heart had to be moved to Stony Brook, where no fans were allowed because of the ice in the bleachers. The Huskies won 8-4.

WASHED UP

June 23, 2008 - The Triple-A Iowa Cubs played Nashville at Principal Park at the extremely flooded confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers. No fans were allowed in. The I-Cubs beat the Sounds 5-4.

NOBODY NIGHT

July 8, 2002 - Hundreds of fans of the Class A Charleston Riverdogs gathered outside Joe Riley Stadium as part of a promotion designed to set the record for professional baseball's lowest attendance. Everybody except employees, scouts and media was barred from entering the stadium on "Nobody Night." The Columbus Red Stixx beat the Riverdogs 4-2. All the runs were scored before the fans were let in in fifth inning, when the game became official.

SOCCER PENALTIES

Closed-door matches are a common penalty issued by European soccer's governing body in response to fan behavior.

Last October, CSKA Moscow was ordered to play two Champions League matches behind closed doors for fan racism and told Serbia to play a pair of European Championship qualifiers without fans because of crowd disturbances and fireworks and missiles that were set off during a game against Albania.

In the Russian Premier League, Torpedo Moscow was ordered on April 7 to play two home games in an empty stadium after fans displayed a banner with a Nazi symbol, the club's fourth racism-related punishment this season.

France's Ligue 1 announced in March that Bastia must play a home game in an empty neutral-site stadium after fans lit flares and threw projectiles at visiting players during a game against Nice.

SOX VS. ORIOLES

There will be no cheering from baseball fans Wednesday in Baltimore when the Orioles play the White Sox at Camden Yards. The ballpark will be empty, Major League Baseball made the unprecedented decision Tuesday afternoon to close the game to the public.

Major League Baseball and Baltimore police are looking to avoid a repeat of a situation Saturday when protestors rushed Camden Yards, causing the park to keep fans inside until they received an all-clear.

"I can't imagine playing in front of an empty stadium," says Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel, who used to play for Baltimore. "I understand protesting and things of that nature, but the violence isn't the key and when you can't even have people go out and enjoy a ballgame because it's unsafe, that's tough."

Never before has a Major League baseball game been played without any fans in the stands. In 1997, the Sox came close with only 746 people inside Comiskey for a cold April game against Toronto.

The Baltimore decision has many baseball fans stumped.

"What's the point?" asks baseball fan Samuel Smith. "Isn't the game for the fans? Why play?"

"They chose the least objectionable option but none of the options were good," says sports industry consultant Marc Ganis.

Ganis says the players union limits the number of days available for make-up games. But he says a TV-only game will cost the Orioles.

"Ticket sales, concessions, parking far exceeds the value the Orioles are getting per game from a regional sports network," Ganis says. "So attendance is still the driving force baseball. The stadiums aren't simply studios."

Why not move the game to the Cell? Experts say the logistics of moving two baseball teams, their equipment, staffing-up a stadium and selling seats makes that next to impossible with less than 24-hours' notice.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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