Last week, my family went to the Orioles-Yankees game in Baltimore. The Orioles may have the talent level of a high school baseball team, but it was a fantastic game. The Yankees won 6-4, Aaron Judge hit his first two homers of the season and Clint Frazier, a personal favorite player of mine, had the game-winning three-run bomb, his first home run since 2017. As a New York fan, it was a great game to see in person.
But talking to my mom after the game, who albeit is not the biggest sports fan in the world, she couldn’t help but have mixed feelings. The Yankees had won, and an exciting come-from-behind victory at that, but she felt a nagging guilt of sorts.
Because on that night at Camden Yards, one of the most beautiful parks in the league, there were more New York fans than Baltimore. Practically their entire section was clothed in pinstripes. Instead of feeling like she was in enemy territory, my mom wondered if the Orioles and their fans were the ones who felt like the enemy.
Opposing fan take-overs are far from a new or uncommon problem in sports. Although I wasn’t present at that particular Baltimore game, I’ve been to plenty of games at Tropicana Field in Tampa when the Rays take on the Yankees. If New York goes yard, the crowd gets loud. If a home-field Ray does the same, it’s barely a whimper.
As a Yanks fan, I have the luxury of never having to worry about feeling outnumbered at Yankee Stadium. Neither do Boston fans, or even that other New York team, even in the midst of rough seasons. But in smaller markets or areas where baseball isn’t as popular, it’s far more difficult to fill seats with home fans.
At those Yankee fan dominated Rays games, I can’t help but feel the same way my mom felt. Imagine playing for the Rays and returning home after a long road trip only to face yet another stadium filled with more opposing fans than friendly ones. Not all their games are as unbalanced as against a team with such a national fanbase, but the sad reality is that those opposing fans aren’t stealing seats from home fans. If those seats weren’t filled by opposing fans, they’d be empty.
It’s tough for players, but let’s be real, they’re getting paid millions of dollars to play baseball. My greater sympathy lies with the fans, especially families who pay plenty of money only to be drowned out by the road fanbase.
Imagine a Tampa fan taking his young son or daughter to their first Rays game, eager to cheer on their team for the first time alongside other Rays fans. Instead, the family is greeted by an overpowering presence of loud, obnoxious (I can say that because I am one) Yankee fans. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Part of what makes going to the stadium fun, and what justifies the price tag instead of sitting on the couch at home, is being surrounded by allied fans. Jumping for joy after a walk-off hit in your living room by yourself is one thing. Hearing an entire stadium erupt along with you is another.
So with that in mind, it’s understandable why the Camden seats see more pinstripes than orange. Orioles fans would rather sit at home and watch the game than pay to be drowned out by opposing fans.
It’s a chicken-and-the-egg situation. What casual fan is going to want to pay good money to see a struggling team alongside opposing fans, and what free agent is going to look at an empty stadium and say, ‘That’s where I want to play!’ and sign on? So the seats remain unfilled, and the team continues to struggle.
Here’s the part in the column when I explain how to fix this problem. But I don’t have a solution. There really isn’t any. Stadiums can’t screen ticket-buyers ahead of time and only let in a certain number of opposing fans, especially when they’re desperate for as many ticket sales as they can get.
Improving the product on the field is not only difficult with a sparse fanbase, but it’s not even a surefire way to get home fans in the seats. Last season, the Rays went 51-30 at home, the fourth-best mark in the entire league. With that kind of success, you would hope to see an increase in attendance. Well, they averaged just 14,000 fans per game—only the Marlins brought in less.
Does the MLB need to get out of Florida? Perhaps. But I can’t help but think about that same young Rays fan. Isn’t being outnumbered in your own park better than not having a team at all?
Fans shouldn’t feel bad for cheering on their team in an opposing team’s park. I just wish the home fans were always just as loud.