BALTIMORE – In the back row of Section 86 of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Danny Hoff and AJ Uebel treated themselves (and sometimes a few spectators) to a bottle of water as their beloved Baltimore Orioles played -rally and then rolled over the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-3 behind Cedric Mullins’ home run.
The waterworks are in full swing as the Orioles inaugurate a new cheering section Friday night. Dubbed the Bird Bath splash zone, the stretch of lower left-field seats offers fans the chance to get hosed after extra-base hits and key moments, in celebratory solidarity with the water-themed tradition of their young team: the sprinkler for big hits and the “home run hose.”
Orioles officials said they sold 2,000 tickets in the section within 48 hours of announcing its existence. That’s why Hoff and Uebel — 25 and 26 years old, respectively — barely got seats in the designated area and mostly outside Mr. Trump’s radius. Splash, the character taught by the team holding water.
However, they were completely drenched in the optimism bubbling up in the ballpark.
At their age, they had never seen the Orioles win a World Series. They have never seen them win a game in the ALCS. Their fandom consisted of three Buck Showalter playoff teams scattered in the mid-2010s and stuck between two long stretches of a goalless baseball wilderness.
“Tickets used to be cheaper,” Uebel said of the off-season years. “So that was great. But other than that, it’s tough. “
The direction, if not the results, began to change a few years ago. The Orioles endured three 100-loss seasons between 2018 and 2021, part of a ground-up rebuild under former Houston Astros architect-turned-Orioles general manager Mike Elias. But with the arrival of prize catcher Adley Rutschman in 2022, the Orioles almost immediately began to show flashes of light.
“My whole teenage years growing up, we were breastfed, so it was hard to follow, but I played baseball, so I wanted to,” Hoff said. “Now it’s getting more exciting.”
More exciting. At 25-13, the O’s are tied with the Atlanta Braves for the second-best record in MLB and have riveted the internet in ways that Elias could never have analyzed or quantified.
“It seems valuable to have a team that has togetherness and character and kind of fun, quality people on the team,” Elias told Yahoo Sports, giving manager Brandon Hyde credit for the atmosphere in the clubhouse. . “But we are really lucky that we have good people in this team. They are good guys, and you see them having fun with each other.
“I think it’s easy for the fans to fall in love with these guys.”
Hoff beamed as he talked about how the Orioles were suddenly a fun team to catch, a group of young, ascendant players — the most popular stars around his age — making a connection with town through H20-infused hi-jinx and social media allowing everyone to enjoy them.
The feeling, it turns out, is mutual.
How Oriole players bring fans to the splash zone
The Orioles really want you to know that they aren’t making any insinuations with the “homer hose,” even though the internet quickly dubbed it a “dong bong” for the practice that is usually executed with beer, not water. Whatever the original purpose, however, it did not lead directly to the Bird Bath fan section.
James McCann, a veteran catcher who joined the Orioles this offseason in a trade from the New York Mets, doesn’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but the new ballpark feature was hatched amid clubhouse consternation. about potential misinterpretation.
“And someone joked and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. At the end of the season, there’s a splash zone where the fans do it with us,'” McCann said. “So I don’t know who said what, but it’s like — actually, that’s one that’s a good idea. And I think some of the right people heard, and it took off in marketing, and here we are. “
Jennifer Grondahl, the Orioles’ senior vice president for community development and communications, recalled McCann and pitcher Cole Irvin brainstorming ways to get fans involved and eventually allowing the group’s relationship with take it publicly. Currently, Grondahl said, Mr. Splash characters will be based on the section and will spray the fans every time the Orioles on the field make the sprinkler signal or hit a home run. (The signal, as McCann demonstrated in one of the season’s many viral moments, isn’t always given.)
Given more time to think about how to implement the splash zone, he said they could add to the experience later.
“It’s a different game – 10 years ago, you wouldn’t really interact with the fans unless it was signing an autograph in the stands. Now, I mean, you can have social media, you can interact with with effectively anyone,” McCann said before Friday’s game. “So I think, you know, including the fans in a celebration like that and the interaction from a player to a fan kind of brings the game closer to the fans.”
It takes a little time for the first participants, who are eager to join the fun, to get their first cue. The Orioles struggled early against Pirates starter Johan Oviedo in the series opener. But then Mullins, the center fielder turned All-Star, broke the dam by hitting a triple in the fifth inning.
To end the night, he started a furious Orioles rally, capping it off with a three-run homer in the eighth that capped the cycle. Austin Hays, the left fielder and one of the longest-serving Orioles at age 27, was enthusiastic.
“Mr. Splash flew it there. I know the fans love it. They were angry tonight,” Hays said. “Give that man a salary over there. She is electric for the boys.”
Whether they realize it or not, McCann said, the young Orioles feed off each other — and the energy they inspire at Camden Yards.
“It’s contagious,” he said. “Whether you won the night before or you lost the night before, having fun and bouncing back helps limit the roller coaster ride.”
Can a sprinkler wash away years of loss?
In Section 86, fans agree on a few things: Rutschman is an MVP candidate, the sprinkler celebration is fun and they’ll feel better about the Orioles’ chances of competing in the stacked AL East if they get a even a high-level, veteran pitcher.
A 43-year-old lifelong fan named Tim bought goggles just for the occasion to cheer on the exciting players from the Bird Bath but could only muster cautious hope about the budget decisions of the team. yes.
“You have to upgrade the major league roster with some kind of spending,” he said after noting his own considerations for the night. He kept it “mellow” for his first visit to the splash zone by only wearing goggles and not adding a life jacket.
This, everyone seems to know, may just be the beginning of an undefined era in Baltimore.
“I think we said from the beginning, when Mike Elias was brought in and when John Angelos, our CEO, was put on the management team, that we would try new things, be open to new ideas,” said Grondahl. “And I think this idea, this concept is kind of indicative of the symbiotic relationship between the clubhouse and the front office and all the positive culture that’s been built over the years.”
After the first sign of success last season, Elias was upset about hedging his bets and trading former closer Jorge López to the Minnesota Twins. He was quickly vindicated when Félix Bautista took over as a more dominant closer. This time around, the move looks even better, thanks to Yennier Cano, the Cuban setup man who joined the deal. Cano threw 18 2/3 innings, striking out 22 and allowing a hard-to-criticize total of zero runs.
It’s less clear how well stocked the Orioles’ rotation is for a summer battle with the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox. Baltimore’s pitching staff, as a whole, is roughly average in park-adjusted ERA-, but the starting rotation has taken lumps, ranking among the 10 worst in the game by that same metric. Many of its members — including elite prospect Grayson Rodriguez and Friday’s starter Kyle Bradish — are in the early stages of what could be great careers, but a winter headlined by veteran mid-rotation starter Kyle Gibson didn’t inspire the same enthusiasm as Mr. Splash.
For now, though, the Orioles have won big by giving their fans a team to love, to love, to dream about. Hoff said he’s looking forward to buying playoff tickets, now that he has the money to spend on them. Uebel, drenched by the end of the night, said he goes to several games every season, sometimes every month, even during dark times. At some point, he acknowledged, the upward trajectory will collide with the realities of competition. And he needs the Orioles to keep winning.
“I live in Hoboken [in New Jersey], so a lot of my friends are Yankees fans,” he said. “And usually they have the upper hand, but now it’s our turn, so I’m ready for it. I’ll be ready to talk when I get back.”