Fans barred from Orioles games harkens Siena’s ’89 ‘measles’ team

Due to civil unrest in their city, the Baltimore Orioles will host the Chicago White Sox at 2 p.m. t
Siena played basketball to an empty house due to a measles outbreak on campus during the 1988-89 season. (Photo courtesy of Siena College)
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Siena played basketball to an empty house due to a measles outbreak on campus during the 1988-89 season. (Photo courtesy of Siena College)

Due to civil unrest in their city, the Baltimore Orioles will host the Chicago White Sox at 2 p.m. today at Camden Yards in a game that will be closed to the public.

It’s the first time in Major League Baseball history that a game will be played in front of no fans. Only media, players and club officials will be allowed to attend. Police resources are still on call to quell any lingering violence.

But this will not be the first time teams have played before an empty house.

You could hear the sneaker squeaks of the 1988-89 Siena men’s basketball team as it marched toward the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, as the Loudonville college played all its games down the stretch in front of empty stands.

The reason: An on-campus measles outbreak.

The epidemic hit in February. To thwart an outbreak, for nine games Siena played in front of empty stands, including through the North Atlantic Conference Tournament at the Hartford Civic Center. Siena — they would not be dubbed the Saints until later — won the conference tourney and earned its first berth into the NCAAs.

“It’s a different way of competing,” said Tom Huerter of Clifton Park, a sophomore on that team who now does color commentary for its games. “There was two things: One, there was no reaction if a good play was made. Two, our coach (the volatile Mike Deane) couldn’t yell as much.”

John D’Argenio, vice president and director of athletics, was Siena’s sports information director at the time.

“It was really surreal,” he said this morning. “We would go to all these gyms .. and you could hear everything on the court. It was almost like you were watching an exhibition or intrasquad game.”

Huerter said the Orioles and White Sox will notice the absence of fans, but not in the heat of the action.

“It’s one of those things you think about more when the ball is not live,” Huerter said. “It wasn’t as much of a fact when the game is going on because you’re so dialed in.”

Siena was dubbed “The Measles School” when it arrived at Greensboro, N.C., for its first-round matchup against Stanford.

D’Argenio said Siena’s star, Marc Brown, was visibly angry after one pre-game press conference because reporters just wanted to talk about the measles outbreak and not the team.

“The measles thing was a sideshow to the game,” Huerter said. He said the team didn’t mind the “Measles School” moniker as much as something else.

“It was more that they didn’t give us a chance to beat Stanford,” he said.

Siena, a 14 seed, in fact did upset the Cardinal 80-78. Brown scored 32 points. There were thousands in the stands.

“That was one of the things that motivated our guys, that ‘We can now play in front of our fans and they can see how good we are,'” D’Argenio said.

There is another local angle to the Orioles’ story: The attendance for this Orioles game will, be, well, zero. The previous low was a Sept. 28, 1882 game played in Worcester, Mass., between the hometown Ruby Leggs and the visiting Troy Trojans. The crowd? Six. Neither team was around the following year.

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