I had tickets to the "ghost game," the baseball game played last Wednesday between the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox. Instead I watched it on television--bore witness, really--and it was as surreal as you'd think. No one was there to chase home run balls. The only cheering came from the dugouts. All that was left was a game played by a team that tried to remind us that what's required in Baltimore is empathy and not judgment.
This column will not resolve the conflicts in Baltimore. This column can't even adequately put police killing unarmed black men into perspective. A column can recite statistics about mass incarceration, quote the angry, or moralize about burning down pharmacies in neighborhoods where residents have lower life expectancies than in North Korea, but that means nothing, really. You already know what you think.
I have been going to Orioles games since my dad took me to see them play the Yankees in 1979. Reggie Jackson struck out, Eddie Murray hit a home run, and Earl Weaver got ejected. I was hooked. Through the good and very long bad times, I've been loyal to my Orioles in ways that make my wife worry about my mental wellbeing.
In the 1980s, we'd walk to Memorial Stadium from my dad's rowhouse. Later, when my dad moved west, my uncle and I would drive into Baltimore from DC and park for free in the surrounding neighborhoods. We'd stow our valuables in the trunk and worry out loud about whether our car would be there after the game, but in all my trips to Oriole Park at Camden Yards the only crime I ever witnessed was committed by an umpire.
And why would it be any different? The bad neighborhoods were clustered miles away in West Baltimore, far from the touristy Inner Harbor where the Orioles play. We sat in seats surrounded by mostly white fans enjoying a game while a mostly black city experienced a very different life a few miles from us.
How different? When I started taking my sons to Orioles games, I worried that we would get separated in the crowds. "If anything happens, just run towards a police officer," I'd tell them. I have a black friend, the son of an FBI special agent, who was told growing up to appear docile and unthreatening in front of cops. We grew up in two very different Americas.
That's why Orioles manager Buck Showalter refused to condemn the rioters when asked if he had advice for Baltimore's youth.
"You hear people try to weigh in on things that they really don't know anything about," he said. "I've never been black, OK? So I don't know, I can't put myself there. I've never faced the challenges that they face, so I understand the emotion, but I can't."
In our rush to condemn the looting and to celebrate the mom who whupped her delinquent son, we--and I'm talking about all us Buck Showalters who haven't walked a day in a black man's shoes--skip right over listening.
Listen to Adam Jones, the Orioles centerfielder who has built a few community centers in Baltimore and is a frequent volunteer at charity events. In a few short words, he built a bridge from his experience to those who watch him play from the stands.
"I feel the pain of these kids. Let's not forget: I grew up on similar tracks as them. I understand 'em," he said before the ghost game. He condemned the rioting, he said, "but it's understandable, because these kids are hurt. These kids have seen the pain in their parents' eyes, the pain in their grandparents' eyes over decades."
This might be a good opportunity to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Someone smart said that once. It might have been Buck Showalter. When the Orioles return from curfew-imposed exile, I'll be there. But this time I'll be rooting for Baltimore and not just the Orioles. We're all in this together, and it's time to start acting like it.