BALTIMORE -- After all options were considered, the White Sox and Baltimore Orioles will resume their disrupted series Wednesday afternoon in front of an empty stadium.
In deference to city and state officials and law enforcement, the Orioles and Major League Baseball determined Tuesday afternoon to move the start time of Wednesday’s game up by five hours to 2:05 p.m. EST in a contest that is closed to the public.
After several days of civil unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, MLB and the two clubs -- who already canceled contests on Monday and Tuesday -- don’t want to jeopardize the public safety efforts of local law enforcement, whose resources may be needed elsewhere. The Orioles also announced that Monday and Tuesday’s games would be made up in a May 28 doubleheader.
“We tried to make it clear from the start: we’ll do what everyone feels is in the best interest of everyone’s safety and getting the games played in the best environment that we can under the circumstances,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said from Eutaw Street outside of Camden Yards on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to get these games played in the safest possible way.”
Hahn said both clubs offered potential solutions after the cancellation of Monday’s game about 50 minutes before first pitch. With a citywide curfew in effect beginning at 10 p.m. Tuesday for the next week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that all options would be considered, including potentially moving venues.
Even though Nationals Park is only 40 miles away and not in use this week, the Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Orioles never called to request use of the site. That could be related to a television rights dispute between the clubs related to MASN, the sports network the two teams share.
Other scenarios considered included moving up Tuesday’s first pitch to as early as 1 p.m. White Sox manager Robin Ventura had his players on call Tuesday morning in case they needed to be at the park.
But none of those options ever came to fruition.
The Orioles have already moved this weekend’s home series with the Tampa Bay Rays to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“There was talk of us playing today, playing during the daytime,” Ventura said before an impromptu afternoon workout. “I know there’s a curfew they have in place here for the next week. There was a chance we could get a phone call and we’re playing during the daytime. For us, we’re just sitting and waiting. I know the Orioles are too. It’s sensitive for everybody.”
The waiting ends Wednesday afternoon in what promises to be one of the more surreal scenes in MLB history. The normally packed 45,971-seat venue will be almost completely empty when White Sox leadoff man Adam Eaton faces Baltimore’s Ubaldo Jimenez.
Eaton, Hahn and White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers all said the experience is akin to B games in spring training and minor league promotions.
“The only disadvantage may be for the home team because you kind of feed off the energy,” Eaton said. “When you're on the road there's not much energy in your favor usually. If anything Baltimore may be slighted a little bit.”
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Said Flowers: “Catching wise it might be more pleasant for me, not hearing people make fun of me. I think I'll be locked in when I'm on the field.”
Either way, the scene promises to be different. English Premier League events have been played in similar circumstances after fan issues but Hahn couldn’t recall any sporting events in the U.S. being played in empty stadiums.
As strange as it may be, Hahn and the White Sox are on board with the plan.
“It’s going to be an interesting experience, a little bit different but obviously from a safety standpoint it makes sense,” Hahn said. “Also it helps potentially relieve some of the logjams later in the season in terms of makeup games. We certainly support the decision of Major League Baseball and the Orioles and we’ll be here ready to go.”