MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

The orange scarf was in place, draped around the neck and shoulders of the Brooks Robinson statue on the square of Washington Boulevard and Russell Street, which means just one thing: It was Opening Day in Baltimore.

The square was packed with thousands of fans decked out in their black and orange for the annual pre-game party that has become a tradition in Baltimore. Spirits were high (and flowing) and the smiles were aplenty as the folks of this city are long past ready to put another winter behind them and embrace the fight, the possibilities and the Orioles Magic of their exciting young baseball team.

Inside the ballpark, there were big hits by Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman and Ramon Urias, as well as a defensive gem by Urias, the Orioles’ Gold Glove third baseman. There was a strong performance by Felix Bautista for the close and there was a caught fly ball, not a dropped flyball, in leftfield for the final out of the game that was a 7-6 Baltimore victory over the New York Yankees.

Ain’t the beer cold! It most certainly was, provided, of course, you could get one.

In fact, everything got cold as the game-time temperature was 57, but Camden Yards was heated up all afternoon as the noise has come back and the excitement for this Orioles club is real once more as the Birds played to a delighted sellout crowd of 45,017 fans who came despite the precautionary postponement on Thursday, which, as fate would have it, turned out to be a sunny day with temperatures in the 80s. Yet in spite of the cold, overcast conditions, these fans were on every pitch of the game.

“To see the streets of Baltimore be covered in Orioles jerseys is really nice,” said left fielder Austin Hays, who caught, did not drop, the flyball for the final out of the game. “We definitely feel the support and we’re excited, too.”

“That was great,” said Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo. “Thanks to all the fans who come and watch this game. That’s amazing. I (have) never seen that here in Baltimore and now we’ll start seeing it. It’s really an honor for me to start seeing that … We play from the heart, and the fans see that.”

Yes, it was all lovey-dovey on the field and in the stands Friday afternoon, but with several notable exceptions – namely, the vendors and the customer service at Oriole Park, or lack thereof.

The Orioles struck a new concessions deal at the start of the year with the Chicago-based Levy to be the ballpark’s new “hospitality operator,” ending the contract with Delaware North, the Buffalo-based company that had been in charge of food and beverage sales at Camden Yards since 2010.

In the January press release making the announcement, Levy is described as “the disruptor in defining the sports and entertainment hospitality experience,” which, based on what so many of us experienced on Friday, that must mean they don’t want the experience to be a good one, although Levy has plenty of experience in the sports concessions business, running the food service at Dodger Stadium and Wrigley Field, among other venues.

Perhaps I am being unfair to Levy. Perhaps they had nothing to do with the concession stands that were open – and many of them were closed for a sellout on Opening Day – being overrun with lines a couple of hundred deep for the entire game for even the simplest of ballgame necessities, such as a hot dog.

I, for instance, am not one for much more than a hot dog and a beer (or two) when I go to a ballgame, and the hot dog I had on Friday was pretty good; but, then, it should have been because I waited close to 40 minutes for it.

Why did I wait for so long? Because you now order everything on a kiosk and pay on the machine (Orioles Park is all-plastic, no cash) and then you wait for somebody to bring you your order. I waited for 40 minutes, because there were only three people working this particular double-concession stand on a sold-out Opening Day and they were literally putting the hot dogs on the grill as they were being ordered.

I apologize right now if staffing is not Levy’s responsibility, but if it is, shame on them. If it is the responsibility of the Orioles, then shame on them, for ultimately the responsibility is that of the hiring company.

If staffing is a problem – and I hear businesses saying it has been since the pandemic – then perhaps the companies doing the hiring for thankless, stressful and difficult work (you try serving 45,000 people) should pay a livable wage to prospective employees because nobody is interested in being paid crap for doing crap work.

It remains inconceivable to me that so few of the concession stands were open for business on the biggest day of the season for a Major League baseball team, and those that were open were so woefully understaffed.

If that was not enough, we went to the Orioles Store in the B&O Warehouse 15 minutes after the game ended and it was closed despite the hundreds of fans who attempted to enter through its locked door.

The Orioles, under the Angelos family’s reign of terror, have liked to cry poverty, and if that is the case (it is not), then no wonder. They had a license to print money on Friday and refused to use it, making the overall fan experience far from satisfactory.

And, by the way, the centerfield scoreboard, or information board, or whatever it is called, is an outdated joke and is on its last gasp. There is no information on it and you need Columbo just to help you find something as unimportant as the score. You need the Hubble Space Telescope just to read it.

Frankly, I don’t believe a word that comes out of the mouth of anybody named Angelos anymore. Where is the new lease with the state of Maryland? Where are the Orioles’ books that John Angelos promised to open? Where is the customer service? Where is any care for the blokes who continue to throw their hard-earned money their way?

The Orioles and the Angelos family have one heck of an opportunity with the team that is finally taking the field for them and with the excitement that surrounds it. As they have done for seemingly everything else they’ve touched since 1993, will they, with their own greed and stupidity, squander this, too, for themselves and for the city of Baltimore?

I just don’t see a happy ending to any of this.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT