Orioles game with no fans leaves this reporter with an empty feeling

The Orioles and White Sox playing in front of empty stadium brings back surreal memories for Chris Dufresne

The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox, at this moment, are playing a baseball game in front of empty seats.

This bizarre development was mandated by Major League Baseball in wake of protests and outbursts of violence in the city of Baltimore.

How surreal.

More: Dispatches from the 'ghost game'

No one has seen anything like this in sports since USC's basketball team hosted Drexel last November at the Galen Center (attendance: 855).

This is as close as we’ve come to less than a big-league baseball sellout since 2011, when 347 fans attended a Florida Marlins game in South Florida. That trickle-in crowd figure, though, could be blamed directly on Hurricane Irene.

The Oakland Athletics of the late 1970s flirted with people shutouts during one of penny-pinching owner Charles O. Finley’s semiannual fire sales.

On April 17, 1979, the A's scored a 6-5 win over Seattle at Oakland Coliseum before a “tickets sold” crowd of 653. The actual attendance was reported to be about 250.

You probably don’t remember John Henry Johnson starting that game for Oakland.

I have never, in all my years, attended or covered a major college, or professional event, with no fans in attendance.

But, Lord knows, I’ve tried.

They did a study in the early 1970s on why automobiles owned by California Angels fans rarely needed new brakes.

The answer turned out to be obvious: You never needed to touch them on your way into Anaheim Stadium.

The Angels closed the 1972 season with a five-game home stand against Minnesota and Oakland that drew 37,498. That averaged out to  7,499 patrons per game.

There must have been a bunch of late-season call-ups in the lineup, right?

Uh, no: Here are few of the pitchers who took the mound in that series: Nolan Ryan (twice), Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Rollie Fingers, Clyde Wright, Andy Messersmith and Blue Moon Odom.

Professionally, I’ve had two noted brushes with stadium emptiness.

Never in the annals of sports has there been anything like Cal State Fullerton’s football program of the early 1980s. The Titans, stuck without a home stadium, incredulously decided to build one from scratch. 

This is no joke. The Titans, remember, were a Division I program in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn.

Looking for home identity, coach Gene Murphy’s Titans rented the bleachers used to line Colorado Boulevard during the annual Rose Bowl Parade.

Part of getting in shape at Fullerton's summer training was erecting the stadium around the Titan track.

Total home attendance for the 1981 season was 13,625. A home game again Boise State on Nov. 7 drew an estimated 2,000.

The footnote in the Titan record book lists home games that year played at “TF: (Titan Field, temporary bleachers)."

I thought that couldn’t be topped until I was assigned to cover a sinking-ship sporting disaster known as the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League.

The Express, which was born in 1983 and died in 1985, played home games in the vacuous Los Angeles Coliseum.

The team at the end was on life, but not fan, support. The Express’ final game at the Coliseum, against the Denver Gold, drew an announced crowd of 3,059. I knew that number to be like everything else in franchise lore: a whopping lie.

The crowd was significantly smaller because I was able, from the press box, to count the live gate. The correct attendance was at, or near, 1,500.

Steve Young, who played quarterback for the Express in 1984 and 1985, used to say it was so quiet in the Coliseum he used to have to whisper in the huddle for fear of defensive players hearing the calls.

It must have felt a lot, today, like Camden Yards.

Luckily, though, baseball managers use hand signals to relay the plays.


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