'Free the birds': Orioles fans walk out in protest

Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- Nearly a thousand disgruntled Orioles fans walked out of Baltimore's game against Detroit en masse on Thursday, culminating a demonstration aimed at team owner Peter Angelos.

A majority of the protesters wore black T-shirts that read "FREE THE BIRDS," and many carried signs that had "For Pete's Sake" on one side and "Free the Birds" on the other.

They filled parts of six sections in the upper deck, then walked out in the middle of the fourth inning at precisely 5:08 p.m. -- in honor of former Oriole stars Brooks Robinson (No. 5) and Cal Ripken (No. 8).

The group walked in line through the lower deck before departing.

Baltimore is in the midst of its club-record ninth consecutive losing season, all of them under the leadership of Angelos, who gained control of the franchise in 1993.

"We are here to show our dissatisfaction with his role, and some of the stupid decisions he has made," said 43-year-old fan Eric Hunter. "We want someone in there who will spend the money to do the things that will bring the fans back."

Angelos defended the fashion in which he runs the team, which last reached the playoffs in 1997.

"Whoever joins that protest has no comprehension of what it costs to run a baseball team," Angelos said in a telephone interview from his law office in Baltimore. "When you get down to facts, putting together a team that can compete in the AL East means having a payroll between $100 million-$110 million. That money comes from the consumer, and I have chosen to keep ticket prices to a minimum.

"Our payroll is $75 million, and our ticket prices average $22. Some of the teams we compete against charge an average of $45," Angelos said. "We're going to have to match the competition. How to do that is a decision I will make in the future."

The rally was organized by Nestor Aparicio, owner of radio station WNST-AM and the nephew of former Oriole shortstop Luis Aparicio.

"We have a chance to make a memorable civic statement about how we, as fans, are fed up with the embarrassment that the Orioles have become," Aparicio said.

"He is a very unimportant person who has delusions of grandeur," Angelos said. "To begin with, to leave in the middle of the game is an abuse of the players who have worked hard and played their hearts out."

Aparicio spoke beforehand of bringing in between 3,000 fans and 10,000 fans, but the group fell far short of that amount. Still, they made their presence known by chanting and rooting for the Orioles from well before the game started.

Raymond Burke, 54, wore a dark suit over his black "FREE THE BIRDS" shirt.

"This is all part of my kids having the experience that I had as a kid coming to the games -- of experiencing the great teams and teams that meant something to the community," he said.

After the game, Orioles vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan said, "They showed a lot of passion and exuberance. They want to win and we want to win. Hopefully, we're headed in that direction in the offseason."
It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this. Their schedule certainly doesn't help them much.