Nestor Aparicio wants to set something straight: the "Take Back the Birds" protest he's organizing against the Orioles isn't about money or publicity for his radio station, WNST. For the 38-year-old lifelong Baltimore resident, the protest is about a picture.
In early July, Baltimore Sun columnist Rick Maese contacted Aparicio after hearing a protest song called "Let Go of Them O's (Mr. Angelos)" played on WNST. He wanted to know if anyone had thought about protesting the team and its ownership. Alienated by the organizations treatment of himself and others, Aparicio had not gone to an Orioles game in 28 months, but had not hatched any plans to rally the throngs of similarly estranged and formerly passionate Orioles fans.
"So I told him, to me [the warehouse] is the Berlin Wall," Aparicio said. "I don't cross it, I don't go in. It's there, I see it, but I'm not going to be the one to run up there with a chisel and chip it down."
Maese included this sentiment in his July 7 column. Shortly after it ran, Aparicio received an e-mail from a Baltimore resident who told him the wall only fell because someone took action.
"So I started doing a little soul searching," Aparicio said.
During this period of reflection, Aparicio came across a box filled with pictures that reinforced the memories of a boy who grew up loving Orioles baseball. There was one picture in particular, that of a 3-year-old Aparicio clad in a Baltimore Orioles t-shirt, that made him realize how much the Orioles had meant to him throughout his entire life.
"I own that station for one reason: my Dad made me love baseball when I was 3," Aparicio said. "Every good thing in my life, every single good thing in my life, has come because I love the Orioles."
Aparicio also realized he was willing to lead the fight to get back that love. In the weeks after declaring his intentions to protest Peter Angelos' ownership, Aparicio received e-mails from more than 1,200 people promising to purchase tickets for the Sept. 21 makeup game against Detroit.
One of these e-mails came from lifelong Oriole fan Dan Murtaugh, who said his enthusiasm for the team has greatly waned over the past seven years.
"The ownership, in my opinion, they've made the Orioles a complete non-factor in the Baltimore sports landscape," Murtaugh said. "They've alienated the city; they make very poor baseball decisions."
As soon as he heard about Aparicio's protest, Murtaugh knew he wanted to participate. He went online and bought four tickets and proceeded to inform most of his acquaintances about the protest. Though Murtaugh does not think Angelos will sell the team after the protest, he said, "It's something small I can do to show my disappointment for the way the franchise has been run."
Aparicio said he is just one of many people Angelos and his front office have alienated, in his case treating him poorly because they incorrectly perceived him as a "Ravens guy."
"The Ravens are my girlfriend, but the Orioles are my wife," Aparicio said.
But when the girlfriend starts to feel better than the wife, a man gets a divorce.
"This community came out in 1988 to support an 0-21 Oriole team and say 'We love you.'" Aparicio said. "That goodwill is gone. Since when do 30,000 Yankees fans and 30,000 Red Sox fans come in and take over our stadium? How in the world did that happen? That's not apathy, that's tragedy."
According to Aparicio, there is a misconception that people have stopped going to Orioles games because the team is losing. The Ravens were 6-10 last season, but the team will still sell out every game this season because the organization has a presence in the community and treats fans well in the stadium, he said.
"They blew the purple whistle two weeks ago and once that happens it's very easy for Ravens fans to discount the Orioles, until they start thinking about their pictures, their memories," Aparicio said.
Randy Lotz was thinking about his memories when he wrote the protest song that got so much of this started. Though he had a more positive vision for the protest, he said something is certainly better than nothing.
"That's exactly what I hoped would happen, that the song would be a catalyst for some type of protest movement, because there's really nothing much else you can do but let people know you're not happy with the current situation," Lotz said.
Aparicio wants to show the next potential owner of the franchise that though people are not happy with the current situation, this is not scorched earth; the fans are still here and ready to support the Orioles - just not under this owner.
"I want it to be a joyous recollection of the good times for the Orioles and to say this is what's missing from our lives, and it's Peter Angelos' fault," Aparicio said.
Though he knows many participants will wear purple to declare their allegiance to the Ravens, Aparicio is imploring people to wear black.
"To me, it's a funeral," he said.
Orioles officials did not return phone calls to comment on the protest. Just 15,000 tickets have been sold for the Sept. 21 game, according to Steve Freeman, director of designated hitters for the Orioles. The team averages nearly 27,000 in tickets sales per game.
"There's no way to tell how many new tickets were sold," Freeman said. "For a make-up game, all we have is the total, which includes whatever was sold prior to game being rained out, plus or minus those who exchange tickets for another game, and new people who buy tickets."
No large group ticket packages were bought, except for one batch of 100 purchased under the last name of Nestor, said Freeman.
Aparicio will simultaneously celebrate what the Orioles once were and mourn what they now are for an hour or two - he will lead people out of the stadium to march at 5:08 to pay homage to Oriole greats Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken, who wore Nos. 5 and 8 respectively - but he insisted he is not going back to Camden Yards after that.
"The Orioles have been a major part of my life and I miss them, but I can't go support them the way they are," Aparicio said. "And I'm angrier than anybody because of that," he continued, pointing to the picture of himself at 3 years old. "That's why I'm angry, because they took something I've enjoyed since I was that big, since I can remember."
Issue 1.21: September 14, 2006