Orioles And Fans Prepare For Run At Postseason
By Tim Richardson
The Orioles and their fans are encountering an unfamiliar experience. For the first time in 15 years, they are feeling what it is like to be involved in a postseason run, and they're enjoying the experience.
On Aug. 23, the Orioles mailed invoices for possible playoff games to season-ticket holders. Greg Bader, the Orioles' director of communications, said the team had had to turn down employees that volunteered to stuff the postseason mailing, because the interest was larger than the number of people actually needed for the task. He said the staff's excitement level was high, and the increased workload was not discouraging anyone.
"For us, the mailing is significant in that we all recognize this is not an every-year occurrence," Bader said. "There are preparations and steps during this process that create work, but not one person has expressed concern about adding that work, as that's what we are in this for. … The success of the ballclub drives morale, and whether you judge the season on or off the field as a success."
That level of excitement can be found in the team's fan base as well.
Mike Decker of Towson has been going to Orioles games for more than three decades. Although he is not a season-ticket holder, he said he had attended more games this season than he had during previous years because of the improbable run the Orioles were making.
"To be talking Orioles baseball in August, and in a good way, is just an awesome feeling," Decker said. "Traditionally, I go to Opening Day and then about a dozen other games a season. But this year, I've been to more games than the last two seasons combined. If we make the playoffs and I can get a ticket, it won't matter the cost. … You could say I've been saving that money for years."
Bader said the team started preparing for a potential postseason berth shortly after the All-Star break. After the Midsummer Classic, Major League Baseball sends postseason manuals to all 30 clubs.
"When we received the postseason manual this season, it was done with a little more interest and relevance, so that was an exciting first step," Bader said. "Late July, early August, we began having regular internal playoff meetings to get ready for a potential postseason."
Preparing for the playoffs requires a lot of work. Bader said the process was similar to what the team underwent when preparing for the regular season, just during a condensed time frame.
"You have the regular season going on, so it's a challenge, but everyone agrees it is worth the extra effort," Bader said. "MLB and its broadcasting department, as well as the postseason TV rights holders, TBS and FOX, came to town recently to do a site walk-through. That has not happened since 1997.
"While most elements for the park are the same, there are some changes, and TV broadcasts have changed in relation to camera angles during a broadcast. So we face some challenges finding locations to accommodate a postseason broadcast, but we have plenty of time to prepare, and the effort is worth it for the short term with the 2012 playoffs and future regular seasons/postseasons."
Fans that have full-season plans can purchase tickets for all of the 10 potential home playoff games. Tickets for the wild-card and divisional rounds cost roughly the same price as a prime regular-season game. Championship Series tickets would cost close to 50 percent more than prime regular-season games, while a World Series ticket could cost approximately three times as much as a regular-season prime game. Bader said that, for example, a $99 regular-season field box ticket would cost slightly more than $300 for a World Series game.
The Orioles are providing fans that have 29-game plans the opportunity to purchase one ticket for the wild-card game, one for the divisional-series matchup, two tickets to the American League Championship Series and one World Series ticket. Bader said fans with this plan were guaranteed only three games in their contract, but the Orioles were giving them the opportunity to buy five games.
Justin LaRue of South Baltimore has been a 13-game season-ticket holder since the 2008 season. For him, waiting for his postseason mailing from the Orioles was like wishing Christmas morning would get here already.
"When the envelope arrived, I just stared at it for a moment, because I couldn't comprehend it," LaRue said. "This means a lot because we were stomped on for 15 years. The O's went from being the standard in baseball to the laughingstock, so this year is very special.
"I was going to 30-40 home games every year, so I decided to become a season-ticket holder four years ago for this exact reason -- to get playoff tickets when they became available. I knew this day was eventually going to get here."
The Orioles pre-select the postseason-game tickets for 13-game ticket holders. LaRue has one game in each of the main series: Game 2 of the ALDS, Game 3 of the ALCS and Game 5 of the World Series. Bader said plan holders like LaRue were guaranteed only two games in their contract, but the organization is giving them a chance to purchase three games. Plan holders that pay their postseason invoice in full can request a refund if the Orioles don't make playoffs, or they can roll that money into their 2013 tickets.
Season-ticket holders also have the option to pay half of the invoice now, and if the team doesn't make the playoffs, that payment will be credited directly toward their 2013 season-ticket plan. Regardless, plan holders have until Sept. 7 to purchase postseason tickets. Single-game playoff tickets for non-season-ticket holders will go on sale to the public following that payment deadline for plan holders.
LaRue said it would be spectacular if the Orioles made the playoffs, but their play this season had already been rewarding in other ways.
"The feeling reminds me a lot of the 'Why Not' season of '89," LaRue said. "We have a lot of players that no one else wanted; guys like [Miguel] Gonzalez, [Nate] McLouth, [Omar] Quintanilla. … Other people's castoffs have become our treasures. Plus, the atmosphere at the Yard is different. I see a lot more young faces, a lot more families and kids. The morale is definitely better in the stands, because you just know this team is never out of it."
The team's per-game average attendance is running about 20 percent higher than last year's final average, according to the Orioles. Bader said he expected to see pro-Orioles crowds when the team hosts the Yankees and Red Sox in September.
"It's great to see more orange in the stands," LaRue said, "especially when the Red Sox and Yankees come to town. It's also a special season because of the 20th anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park and the job the team has done to celebrate its history through the unveiling of the statues. They [Orioles] did an amazing job with the renovations to Camden Yards, and the statues are terrific.
"It's a lot of fun to see the true fans coming back to the stadium. I absolutely think the Orioles have a shot of winning the AL East."
The Orioles' competitive play is also paying dividends with TV ratings. According to Sports Media Watch, a Web site covering the American sports media, the Orioles' ratings are up 48 percent this season on MASN, MASN2 and WJZ-TV.
"Baseball and the Star-Spangled Banner are both synonymous with the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland," said Terry Hasseltine, director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing. "A postseason run by the O's would bring a great deal of energy and pride to our citizens, revenue to our city and state and exposure to a national audience while showcasing Baltimore's ability to come together and deliver a world-class event, in a world-class venue, all in short turnaround time."
Posted Aug. 27, 2012