BALTIMORE – By the time Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis launched a ball skyward Wednesday at Camden Yards, a taped version of the national anthem had come and gone. Catcher Caleb Joseph had feigned signing autographs to imaginary fans, tipping his hat to the adoring … seats. A foul ball had found its way into the stands, only to bounce back out again. And a group of fans that had plastered itself up against the fences beyond left-center field had begun chants of, "Let's Go O's! Let's Go O's!"
Davis' home run ball landed on Eutaw Street, normally buzzing with barbecue-eating patrons, rolled to a stop and stayed there, untouched.
What took place at Camden Yards — a Major League Baseball game with no fans in the stands — had never occurred before, a 2-hour, 3-minute moment of silence for the city. Baltimore's 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox was, by turns, eerie and amusing, comical and poignant.
With their city hurting, the Orioles spent much of the time leading up to their first game in three days trying to grapple with the situation, trying to figure out their place in a community torn apart by widespread rioting following the death of an African American man who suffered injuries in an incident with police.
"We've seen good," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "We've seen bad. We've seen ugly. … It's not an easy time right now for anybody. It doesn't matter what race you are. It's a tough time for the city of Baltimore."
The center field scoreboard posted the statistics of the player who stood at the plate. The Orioles lined up neatly on the field while a canned version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" pumped through the speakers. They played music between innings, music for the Orioles as they walked to the plate. And when Baltimore righthander Ubaldo Jimenez unfurled the game's first pitch, the pop into Joseph's glove seemed to echo.
In the middle of the seventh inning, the organ played "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and there was no one to stretch. John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," an Orioles tradition, came next, and no one sang along. An inning later, the press box announcer made the most obvious declaration of the day: "Today's paid attendance: Zero."
And when the home team closed out the victory, they were the only people around to offer each other congratulations.
"Like a ghost town," relief pitcher Zach Britton said, "but you're playing baseball."