The crowd outside Pickles was bigger than your typical Monday, but not Opening Day-big.
Fans clad in orange were drinking their beers at three neighboring bars, just as they do most every day of the baseball season. A window that had been smashed at Frank and Nic's during a protest before an Orioles-Red Sox game had already been replaced. People were out playing corn hole before first pitch. Parents walked their kids up to the gate.
Tonight's game against the Toronto Blue Jays was billed as ReOpening Day. It marked the first time the Orioles played in Baltimore following the unrest after the death of Freddie Gray. Prior to tonight, the O's postponed two games, played one in front of an empty stadium, and switched a home series to Tampa Bay. Oh, and they also endured a rotten stretch of baseball on a long road trip, but that's neither here or there.
The fan-driven movement of ReOpening Day imbued the game with an added significance—this was a matter of civic pride.
The team acknowledged the importance of their return with a subtle and classy gesture: Players were wearing home-white jerseys with "Baltimore" across the front where "Orioles" usually appears in scripted letters.
Just before first pitch, the team tweeted:
The players seemed poised to rise to the occasion. Starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who pitched brilliantly in front of the first game without a paying crowd in major league history, struck out the side in the first inning, drawing huge cheers from the crowd.
In the bottom of the first, third baseman Manny Machado led off the game with an opposite-field home run to right-center. More loud cheers and the stadium PA playing "Seven Nation Army" coupled with the crowd chanting the chorus. Several batters later, Chris Davis launched a homer deep to right. 3-0 at the end of one.
Many brought signs that alluded to the night's deeper meaning. One little girl behind home plate held one that read: "Our Birds. Our Buck. Our Baltimore." A couple had two signs, one that said "Believe In Baltimore" and the other that said "Charm City" with a hand forming a peace sign in place of the "y." Another read: "We <3 You Bawlmer." A family brought a sign with a hand-drawn Orioles logo that said, "Welcome Home."
One group waved the city flag.
Then, about halfway through the third, I spotted two guys a row or two up from the first base dugout. One had a "Our Birds Matter" sign; the other's read "No Baseball, No Peace." Both trivialize the death of Freddie Gray and mock the larger #BlackLivesMatter movement. Both have an utter lack of care for Baltimore and everything the city has been through. Both reminded me of the run-in between protesters and fans.
It was disheartening. There's plenty positive about ReOpening Day and the crowd of 20,468 who came out to support the Birds. Most of them probably didn't even see these guys and their signs, despite the best efforts of these clowns to draw attention themselves by standing up at the end of every half inning.
The positive signs—and these are just the ones I saw—outnumbered the ugly ones, but there's still something repugnant about the ugly ones existing at all. It shows that some activists are right, that people are ready to "return to normal" without even trying to fix the problems made so obvious in recent weeks. It shows that, even though the team's management, managers, and players have all said the right things and shown great understanding, there are bad apples amongst the flock—and there are certainly people who identify with these guys without announcing it on cardboard—who haven't heeded these well-thought-out words. Worse yet, they may not care to.