Local fans are bleeding orange and purple this fall, and both teams are openly rooting for one another
By Dave Lomonico
Baltimore sports fanatics have faced a curious predicament this fall, which many have never dealt with before. One such fan is Mike Tyson, who owns the Dundalk-based sporting goods store Poor Boys. He said that on the Friday before the Ravens' season opener, he actually thought about wearing orange.
His reasoning? The woebegone Orioles, whose fans' moods ranged from angry to desperate to apathetic during the 14 years before 2012, had scored an emotional, 10-6 victory against the hated New York Yankees Sept. 6. That win vaulted them into a first-place tie in the American League East division, which they hadn't led that late during the season since 1997.
So the next morning, three days before the Ravens' game against the Bengals, Tyson reconsidered his wardrobe for the day. Normally, he would wear a Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata or Ed Reed jersey to work. But, given the extraordinary circumstances, would it be taboo for Tyson to don a little orange on this Purple Friday?
Fortunately for him, Tyson didn't have to choose. His T-shirt designer drew up a shirt with the word "Baltimania" plastered across the front, with two sinister, muscle-bound blackbirds underneath, one decked out in orange and the other in purple. Add a little slogan -- "the condition whereupon one loses the ability to determine what color to wear on Friday in Charm City" -- off to the side, and the sketch artist had essentially tapped into the local fan base's psyche:
Two teams, one heartbeat.
From department stores to stadiums, elementary schools to office buildings, Ocean City to Highlandtown, Marylanders have been overwhelmed by bird fever.
"There is a feeling around this city I haven't felt in a long time," said Tyson, 48, wearing a Ravens hoodie and an Orioles belt. "This is our city, and these are our teams, and the people are loving them both."
Witness the last few months:
• Purple-clad fans shouting 'O' loud and proud during the national anthem at M&T Bank Stadium.
• Orioles-clad aficionados cheering on Ravens safety Reed as he threw out the first pitch at Camden Yards.
• Joe Flacco jersey-wearing tailgaters proudly sporting cartoon-bird hats.
• Orioles fan rallies being held the same day as a Ravens home game -- on the purple-strewn Ravens Walk no less.
"We're finding that the fans love both teams right now," said Greg Bader, the Orioles' director of communications. "They love that one night they can watch a Ravens game until midnight and then the next day come out to the ballpark and take in an Orioles game. It's been thrilling."
Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' senior vice president for community and public relations, said it wasn't just the fans in the stands backing the birds either. He said both teams' players openly supported one another.
Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams were in attendance for the Orioles-Red Sox game in late September. Wideout Anquan Boldin sported his Birds cap during pregame introductions on "Sunday Night Football." Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Ed Reed wore orange T-shirts that said "BUCKle Up!" an Orioles marketing slogan, to the Ravens' press conference on the final day of the MLB regular season.
"The Birds," Webb said simply, "they be actin' up, yo."
Meanwhile, outfielder Adam Jones tweeted encouragement throughout the Ravens-Patriots showdown. And Orioles such as Jones, Chris Davis, Tommy Hunter, Jim Johnson, Nate McLouth and skipper Buck Showalter came out for the Ravens-Browns and/or Ravens-Patriots games.
"That was big," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, referring to the O's in attendance. "They are welcome anytime. … The Ravens are big fans of the Orioles."
During a timeout in the middle of the Browns game, Jones, Showalter and Co. were recognized by the Ravens' cameramen, who featured their Eutaw Street brethren on the stadium scoreboard. The fans, in turn, responded with a raucous "Let's go O's" roar (from section 34?).
"It's a great thing for the city to have both franchises on the rise and for the teams to have the support of the city," Jones said. "This year could be something very special for Baltimore."
While purple passion has been evident since the Ravens arrived in 1996, enthusiasm for the Orioles had long been dormant. Maybe there were a few orange-and-black hangers-on, but when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000, it was good riddance to Peter Angelos, Boh's and O's.
That is, until this fall. Exactly 5,468 days since the Orioles last played a postseason game, the Birds were back in the playoffs, reigniting the fans' imaginations.
"This city is a baseball city, and this is the first time I'm getting the feeling of that in my five years here," Jones said. "I've understood it, growing up and enjoying the game of baseball. It is a baseball town first and foremost. You've just got to win."
Jason Lohr, 35, from Hampden, said he thought Baltimore was still a huge baseball town.
"The Orioles have been here forever," Lohr said, "but they're like that old girlfriend you've always loved but did you wrong, so you sort of put the relationship on hold. But now that she's doing you right again, you're ready to take her right back."
In a heartbeat.
Attendance at Camden Yards jumped by more than 4,000 fans per game compared with last year, the seventh-highest increase in all of baseball, according to baseball-reference.com. The Orioles still ranked in the lower half of the league in total attendance, and they trailed the nearby Washington Nationals by several hundred thousand fans, but the Yard was nothing short of electric during the playoff push.
"Being a part of this, seeing all the fans coming out to support us, it's been so much fun," Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez said. "The people have been great by coming to games and showing out for us. It's been an awesome atmosphere."
Those that haven't been able to rock the Yard are watching on TV. The Baltimore Business Journal reported that Orioles ratings on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network had risen from a 3.2 to a 4.6, an increase of more than 3 percent, in mid-September.
"There is an intensity to the games this season that has been lacking in recent years," Bader said. "When there's two strikes on a batter in the fifth inning and everyone's standing, that kind of stuff only happens during a pennant race."
Retailers have also benefited from the Orioles' success. The research firm SportsOneSource found that the sale of orange-and-black paraphernalia had swelled 278 percent from last year, and the Web site Fanatics.com had the Orioles ranking third in the major leagues this season for total merchandise sold.
Tyson, who sells exclusively Orioles and Ravens gear at his three Poor Boys locations, said he might have had "five orange shirts" tucked away in the back corner of his store last September. This fall, he has seen a significant increase in Orioles sales.
"It's been utter pandemonium," Tyson said. "The Orioles gear, along with the usual Ravens stuff, is flying off the shelves. We're actually having problems staying stocked with the Orioles stuff. The fans have been dying to buy orange for a long time, and they're taking advantage of the moment."
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Issue 178: October 2012