The Broad Street Bullies Invade Camden Yards
Ever since I was a young boy and played little league baseball I was intrigued by the idea of teams from the National League playing those from the American League. I didn't really mind the artificial separation of teams, as was the case until last decade, because I felt that it made the all-star competition and eventual championship all the more special. Unlike its basketball, hockey and football counterparts, baseball maintained a mystique and intrigue by keeping its member teams in its two chief groupings away from one another, except for three times a year (the pre-season, all-star game, and World Series). Yet and still, every time I had the opportunity to play my friends in street and yardball, or on computer games and other electronic simulations of baseball, without fail, we drew up inter-league match-ups, as our favorite teams had to play one another, irrespective of what the major league baseball commissioner thought on the matter.
I grew up as a Philadelphia Phillies fan and throughout my travels have maintained a measure of loyalty - from Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton to Len Dykstra and Mitch "The Wild Thing" Williams to the pain of watching Curt Schilling leave. I have been a Phillies fan, regardless to how many uniform and logo changes the team underwent in order to boost revenue. For the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that after living uptown for a stretch in the 1990s "the dreaded" New York Yankees gained a small place in my heart. Such an admission (being made here for the first time) would have upset my father, a die-hard Los Angeles Dodgers fan. My dad, when I was growing up, did not like the Dodgers because he was from southern California or because Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey or Tommy Lasorda were personal favorites. Rather, my father was a L.A. Dodgers fan because he grew up in Brooklyn - rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
It was this history and the thoughtfulness of a friend that serve as a good portion of the backdrop to my trip to Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday. The event was inter-league play, which placed the National League's Philadelphia Phillies opposite the American League's Baltimore Orioles, at Camden Yards. For years I had heard all of the hype surrounding Camden Yards. And it lived up to all of it. I have never been in a more beautiful, comfortable, and well-organized arena for a major sporting event. You can almost literally walk right into the Park into your seat, courtesy of the architectural layout and efficient service of the ushers inside of the park.
The outside arena's staff does need to be better organized when it comes to caring for the online ticket purchasers who can get the run-around by conflicting directions. Perhaps, the slight inconvenience we experienced was a form of Philadelphia Phillies fan-discrimination (where's Rev. Jackson when you really need him?).
Well, it did not take long for an amusing distraction to take my mind off of the awesome baseball facility in Baltimore. The Baltimore Orioles-Philadelphia Phillies rivalry is rapidly becoming one of the best in all of major league baseball's inter-league offerings and as a result, the jovial and tense exchanges between fans, stole the show. While a few Baltimore Orioles fans were all too happy to recall the Orioles' victory over the Phillies in the 1983 World Series, a large section of those on line waiting to enter the ballpark began to switch the subject. We might as well been on South Street, in Philadelphia, as the unmistakable refrain of "E–A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES" and "Let's Go Flyers!" overtook any mumblings about Orioles baseball excellence. I took courage knowing that I was not alone. But it was also at that moment, when I heard the Eagles cheer, that I began to wonder about the aggressive nature and toxicity levels of my Phillies-brethren who somehow were louder than the natives.
We took our seats along the left field line, where we were less than 50 feet from Phillies' outfielder Pat Burrell, who surprisingly acknowledged the rowdy activity that was taking place in our section. I gather it is hard for a major league outfielder to stay focused when you are almost bored to tears, sitting some 300 feet away from the batter's box; and several fans are rattling off little-known facts about your professional and personal life. It appeared that Burrell was impressed by the amount of Phillies' fans in attendance, at least in section 68.
While the view was fine and the atmosphere and weather were near-perfect for baseball, our rowdy section stole the show, and its activity, took precedence over anything happening in the field. Perhaps the fact that the Phillies had already given up 5 runs in the first couple of innings made it easier for my attention to drift away from balls and strikes.
Our section was full of Phialdelphia-natives who through their actions immediately brought down the property value of Camden Yards.
It began early, as the beer flowed rather liberally - sold throughout the game in abundance - combined with the pre-game drinking activities. Behind us in Section 68 were some boisterous Phillies fans who did not let the dismal performance of their team dampen their braggadocio. No Oriole player was immune from criticism and eventually no Oriole fan was exempt. Of course, Phillies fans, holding true to their finest tradition of hating their own, booed Philadelphia Phillies all-star Scott Rolen who decided, earlier this year, that there is no amount of money worth playing in Philly. The Philadelphia fans amplified and overpowered the booing of even the Baltimore fans whenever Rolen came up to bat.
By the second inning we had our first incident as the five-foot nine inch, 160-something pound leader of the Philadelphia contingent, in terms of vocal chords and beer-drinking offended a six-foot five inch 260 pound Baltimore Oriole fan. There was no doubt that the smaller Phillies fan was intimidated in the argument's early moments but the alcohol soon emboldened him, as well as the intrigued eyes of the observers in sections 67 and 69, and he went toe-to-toe in insults with his larger opponent.
The verbal fisticuffs eventually ended but were re-ignited when the larger Orioles fan mysteriously attributed a flying peanut shell to the Phillies fan he had been arguing with. As of press time, my friend and I still do not remember a peanut shell in flight or anything hitting the Orioles fan and we were sitting right behind him. But if The Warren Commission can say that a single magic bullet defying all known laws of physics is responsible for the assassination of a U.S. president; an irate Orioles' fan is entitled to feel that he was hit by a peanut shell that nobody in Baltimore saw.
The phantom peanut shell became the spark of a near violent fight as the Orioles fan eventually went up several rows, and with his left hand quivering with rage, but still firmly in the possession of a 24-ounce plastic cup of beer, threatened his smaller adversary, while being separated, by less than a foot, from the previously vocal leader of the Phillies delegation. The smaller man was now sitting relatively quietly only telling the Orioles fan to sit down. It took several minutes to calm the scene down and a young lady from Delaware who was sitting behind us was brought to tears by the incident. Mysteriously no arena security arrived to prevent the argument from escalating.
During one of the breaks a fairly amusing video clip was played of the Baltimore Oriole mascot actually going to Philadelphia, and in mock fashion man-handling a Phillies fan. The Oriole's home video of sorts, was based on a re-enactment of the movie Rocky, which of course was filmed in the city of Brotherly Love. The Oriole mini-movie ends with the Baltimore Oriole running up the steps just like Rocky did, triumphantly.
Well, the Phillies fans didn't think the film was that funny and after the Oriole mascot playfully shot some souvenirs into the stands and made his exist near our section he was stepped to by a rather large group of Phillies fans who had to be held back, away from the mascot, by stadium security. It was a sight to see. The Oriole mascot wasn't backing down but had it not been for security I am convinced that we may have seen parts of his costume spread throughout section 68. We didn't know it at the time, but our section - 68 might as well have been the Philadelphia embassy in Camden Yards. Everything from unsuccessful attempts to start the wave; pro-Flyers and Eagles chants; uncoordinated dance steps; and violent overtures to Baltimore Orioles fans were launched from that corner of the stadium, as the beer kept flowing...
Oh, by the way, the Phillies lost 11 to 1.
Inter-League play leaves quite an impression.
Monday, July 1, 2002