Three hours before the first pitch and an hour before the gates opened, Kristen Swader, her husband, Mike, and their 4-year-old son, Michael III, stood in line, awaiting entry to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Mike, 28, has been to every Orioles Opening Day since he was a newborn, Michael III hasn’t missed one yet, and Kristen’s obsession is so enduring that she has a classic Orioles logo tattooed on her side. .
“It’s a holiday,” she said of Inauguration Day, holding Michael III in her arms.
Despite the best of hopes for the Orioles in 2022 and a season-opening sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays to start the season, fans remained elated for Opening Day – the first time untethered by attendance limits since 2019.
For the Sweders, Orioles have been a distinctive part of their lives. Mike remembers skipping class in high school to get into sports, and Kristen worked as an usher.
“There’s something about it,” said Mike. “It’s an escape.”
As the Sweders waited for the gate to open, Clarence “Fancy Clancy” Haskett was inside the stadium, holding hundreds of beers. Haskett has been working on the Orioles game for 48 years, and animated salesmen greeted everyone — people in the stadium, people on the phone — with a single exclamation: “Happy New Year!”
He started Monday the same way he often does, with 50 push-ups in the vendors’ room, partly for exercise and partly for sports to energize himself. He is known for his enthusiasm and his sales pitches, which include comments such as: “Hey guys, did you know it’s okay to drink a cold beer at a baseball game?”
The Orioles have seen attendance drop every year since 2014, with just over 10,000 fans last year during a season affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Attendance this season could be hurt by the ongoing pandemic, as well as the offseason’s bitter 99-day lockout of players by team owners, which potentially eroded baseball’s general popularity.
The last time an extended MLB assignment was halted from 1994 to 1995, attendance was reduced by around 20% for the majors the following season. This time there is less animosity from fans, but still, a recent AP-NORC survey found that 47% Baseball fans said lockdown It had at least some influence on his view of MLB.
The recent lack of success – Baltimore having lost 108 or more games in three of the past four seasons – has also led to the apathy of some fans.
“If they want me to spend my money, they have to spend some of my money,” Daniel Contesti, who used to attend Orioles games but hasn’t been there in several years, wrote in an email, mentioning Orioles’ Small 2022 Payroll,
Of course, that sentiment was not felt around Camden Yards before Monday’s opener.
Some fans like Kevin Gracie are optimistic about the future of the team. Gracie, who was honored by the Orioles 50 millionth fan Back in 2008 to attend a game at Camden Yards, planned to attend Opening Day on Monday. He received five years of free season tickets and $50,000 when he was the lucky fan to walk in Oriole Park, and he hasn’t missed an opening day since 2005.
“I’m really excited about where they’re going,” he said of the Orioles. “Obviously I don’t expect them to be great again this year, but I think the process they’re going in is going in the right direction, and I’ll go [to games] anyhow.”
Eric Stout and Noah Keynes, wearing Jim Palmer and John Means jerseys respectively, are childhood friends who attended Loyola Blakefield – the same school Bruce Zimmerman, starter for Orioles’ home opener, ran away. He noted his enthusiasm for Zimmerman, and simply to enjoy baseball someday.
“More wins than last year,” Stout said of his season’s expectations. “I just want to see some improvement. I am not looking forward to the World Series, but I am hoping for improvement.”