October 15, 1997. I had just started working at the B&O Railroad Museum and was asked to stick around after work for a late meeting. I was a little annoyed because it was Game 6 of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. The Orioles had gone wire-to-wire under Davey Johnson with a 98-64 record. They were one game away from the World Series. This was going to be the year.
From my office I could hear the crowd’s every reaction to the action on the field, the cheers, the sighs, the clapping. “No worries…” I thought…after all…there would be other playoff games.
Fast-forward to the present. It is hard to believe that fourteen years have passed since the Orioles were last in the playoffs. Hard to believe it has been fourteen years since we had a winning season. Hard to believe that this year’s college sophomores hadn’t started kindergarten the last time the Birds finished a season over .500. A whole generation has come to age not knowing what it feels like to support a winning hometown baseball team.
OriolePark is still the magnificent ballpark that set the standard for all others. It is still the gem of downtown Baltimore. The team has a skipper that is determined to win. The front office under Andy MacPhail has returned to the team’s roots of developing young talent in the minor league system. The ownership has even spent money on some star power.
So what is missing? The answer is simple…us. As a baseball fan it is sad to see Oriole Park nearly empty on a mild Friday night when the Birds take on one of their AL East Division rivals. It is sad to see whole sections of that beautiful ballpark go unused. It is time for us to come back.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to join a group led by Debbie and Steve Peroutka called “Take Back Our Yard”. The group buys blocks of Orioles tickets when the Yankees or Red Sox are in town to help bring orange back to the ballpark. In addition to the camaraderie of other Orioles fans, participants get orange Oriole t-shirts and a pre-game party at the Sports Legends Museum. The catch? Wear orange and do not sell or give away the tickets to opposing fans.
The idea for “Take Back Our Yard” came from Debbie Peroutka. She and her husband Steve were out for a drink one night when they heard a young golfer refer to Oriole Park as “Fenway South.” The couple was irritated. Debbie determined right there that they were going to take back Oriole Park one section at a time. “In the tradition of Big Wheel and Wild Bill Hagy, Steve Peroutka said of his wife, “Debbie wants to be the cheerleader for the next big comeback.”
Debbie Peroutka is exactly what OriolePark needs. “We want companies, or little leagues, or whatever organization to say ‘let’s buy a section’ with everyone wearing orange,” says husband Steve. Every grassroots movement has to start somewhere. It is needed. We need to show our support. We need to show that Baltimore can support its team. I hope this movement catches on.
Shawn Herne is the Chief Curator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.