Orioles, White Sox to play in Baltimore but fans will be shut out

For first time in the MLB, fans will be shut out as Orioles play White Sox in violence-torn Baltimore

Usually before an Orioles game in Baltimore, fans mill on Eutaw Street near the smoke that wafts from Boog's BBQ. They sip on National Bohemian during the game and dance to John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" at the seventh-inning stretch.

It's part of the natural rhythm to a ballgame at Camden Yards, a flow that will be interrupted entirely Wednesday. For the first time in Major League Baseball, fans will be shut out of a game when the Orioles play the Chicago White Sox.

As protests and outbursts of violence continue to roil Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, the Orioles closed their series finale against the White Sox to the public, an unprecedented move in major American sports.

"It's definitely going to be unchartered territory," Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said.

The Orioles had already postponed the first two games of the series and relocated its weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays to the Rays' ballpark. A third postponement would require scheduling gymnastics. The teams share only one off date, when they could play a doubleheader but not three games.

But officials worried about the safety of the fans and clashes between fans and protesters. Camden Yards sits near the nexus of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which has undergone a renewal starting in the 1990s, and the poorer neighborhoods of West Baltimore, where much of the violence has occurred.

The unrest has at times spread toward the ballpark. On Saturday, the mayor asked the Orioles to keep fans in the stadium following a game as protesters blocked an adjacent intersection. Officials hoped to avoid a similar situation.

"We were just trying to respond to the wishes of the public officials and protect the integrity of the schedule," said Dan Duquette, the Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations.

This is believed to be the first time a major-league game has been played without paying spectators, according to MLB historian John Thorn. Minor-league games have been played in empty stadiums before, and fans aren't essential.

But the Orioles still must decide upon changes, big and small, not usually an issue at a typical game.

Of primary concern is the transportation of the players, umpires and other staffers to and from the stadium. And there are the smaller questions that could make for an eerie setting.

Will someone sing the national anthem? Will the public-address system make announcements or play walk-up music? What about the seventh-inning stretch and John Denver's country anthem? Does the scoreboard stay on? The Orioles did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

MASN announced it will air the game as regularly scheduled.

Closed-door games are more familiar in Europe to avoid riots and clashes between fans or to punish fan bases for incidents such as widespread racism.

Baseball has responded to similar situations with postponements. In 1967, the Detroit Tigers postponed three games as riots engulfed the city. In 1968, baseball canceled all scheduled games on the day of Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral.

In Los Angeles, as riots erupted after the Rodney King verdict in 1992, the Dodgers postponed four consecutive games. They made up the games with four doubleheaders in six days.

The Associated Press and Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.

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