'Free the birds': Orioles fans walk out in protest

BALTIMORE -- Nearly a thousand disgruntled Orioles fans
walked out of Baltimore's game against Detroit en masse on
Thursday, culminating a demonstration aimed at team owner Peter

A majority of the protesters wore black T-shirts that read
"FREE THE BIRDS," and many carried signs that had "For Pete's
Sake" on one side and "Free the Birds" on the other.

They filled parts of six sections in the upper deck, then walked
out in the middle of the fourth inning at precisely 5:08 p.m. -- in
honor of former Oriole stars Brooks Robinson (No. 5) and Cal Ripken
(No. 8).

The group walked in line through the lower deck before

Baltimore is in the midst of its club-record ninth consecutive
losing season, all of them under the leadership of Angelos, who
gained control of the franchise in 1993.

"We are here to show our dissatisfaction with his role, and
some of the stupid decisions he has made," said 43-year-old fan
Eric Hunter. "We want someone in there who will spend the money to
do the things that will bring the fans back."

Angelos defended the fashion in which he runs the team, which
last reached the playoffs in 1997.

"Whoever joins that protest has no comprehension of what it
costs to run a baseball team," Angelos said in a telephone
interview from his law office in Baltimore. "When you get down to
facts, putting together a team that can compete in the AL East
means having a payroll between $100 million-$110 million. That money comes
from the consumer, and I have chosen to keep ticket prices to a

"Our payroll is $75 million, and our ticket prices average $22.
Some of the teams we compete against charge an average of $45,"
Angelos said. "We're going to have to match the competition. How
to do that is a decision I will make in the future."

The rally was organized by Nestor Aparicio, owner of radio
station WNST-AM and the nephew of former Oriole shortstop Luis

"We have a chance to make a memorable civic statement about how
we, as fans, are fed up with the embarrassment that the Orioles
have become," Aparicio said.

"He is a very unimportant person who has delusions of
grandeur," Angelos said. "To begin with, to leave in the middle
of the game is an abuse of the players who have worked hard and
played their hearts out."

Aparicio spoke beforehand of bringing in between 3,000 fans and
10,000 fans, but the group fell far short of that amount. Still,
they made their presence known by chanting and rooting for the
Orioles from well before the game started.

Raymond Burke, 54, wore a dark suit over his black "FREE THE
BIRDS" shirt.

"This is all part of my kids having the experience that I had
as a kid coming to the games -- of experiencing the great teams and
teams that meant something to the community," he said.

After the game, Orioles vice president of baseball operations
Mike Flanagan said, "They showed a lot of passion and exuberance.
They want to win and we want to win. Hopefully, we're headed in
that direction in the offseason."