BALTIMORE — As the Baltimore Orioles prepared to play before their home fans for the first time in two weeks, the sights and sounds around Camden Yards on a lovely Monday afternoon were all about baseball.
Vendors were hawking food, drinks and clothing. A few people were camped out near the home team parking lot, seeking autographs. About a half-dozen were looking to buy tickets at the window in the B&O Warehouse behind the centre-field wall.
There was one police car visible on the north edge of Camden Yards.
It was a stark contrast to the Orioles’ last game in Baltimore.
The city had been overrun by violence on April 27 after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died while in the custody of Baltimore police. Then, in an unprecedented move, the Orioles hosted the Chicago White Sox on April 29 without allowing fans to enter.
The Orioles had postponed two games against the White Sox before their no-fan game, then played three “home” games against the Rays in Florida.
The team said it took steps to ramp up security before Monday’s game against Toronto, but there were no protesters outside the gates before the contest.
There were no helicopters soaring overhead. No angry people throwing bottles. No rows of police in riot gear.
Inside the stadium, the home team wore jerseys with the script word “Baltimore” across the front instead of the customary “Orioles.”
Once the game got started, the crowd of 20,468 — about 5,560 under the season average — had plenty to scream about. Soon after the fans yelled “O!” during the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez struck out the side in the top of the first inning.
In the bottom half, Manny Machado hit a leadoff homer and slugger Chris Davis added a two-run drive for a 3-0 lead.
Monday also marked the beginning of Preakness Week, beginning the buildup to Saturday’s Triple Crown horse race. Track officials say good weather could lead to record attendance numbers at Pimlico Race Course.
The Orioles hoped hosting a baseball game might have a positive effect on a city still very much in recovery mode — and get the week off to an encouraging start.
“We understand it’s just a game and there are other bigger things going on out there,” Orioles reliever Zach Britton said. “If anything, the fact that we can come home and play again and have our fans here, maybe that will get some people’s focus off what was going on out there. Just enjoy baseball again.”
The vendors outside the park were happy to be back at work.
“I missed out on a lot of money,” said Danny Little, who was selling hot dogs, sausages, sodas and chips. “And I got a 3-month-year-old daughter.”
Looking back to two weeks earlier, when the rioting started in earnest and caused the first postponement of the series against the White Sox, Little recalled, “We were watching the TVs when they were lighting fires and all that. We flipped the tables and all that waiting for them to come here.”
On Friday, the Justice Department announced that it is conducting a civil-rights investigation of Baltimore police.
On this day, however, many in this beleaguered city shifted their attention toward baseball.
“I think it’ll be a nice atmosphere tonight with all that’s been going on,” said Steve Presgraves, wearing an Orioles jersey and standing near the ticket booth. “It’s definitely good for the city, and I think it’s going to be, just a good time, a nice crowd and everything.”
David Ginsburg, The Associated Press