By Steve Ginsburg
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - It was a perfect April afternoon to take in a ball game, but the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox played before a sea of 45,971 empty seats on Wednesday afternoon, setting an unenviable record of sorts in a sport driven by statistics.
After a night on turmoil in the streets of Baltimore on Monday, officials decided it was simply too difficult to assure the safety of fans coming to Camden Yards, the city's venerable downtown stadium. The violence erupted days after the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody.
Wednesday's game was the first time in Major League Baseball history that two teams squared off with not a single fan allowed in the stadium. The eerie silence appeared to suit the Orioles, who drubbed the visiting Chicago White Sox, 8-2, in one of the strangest big-league games ever played.
"For record-keeping purposes, today's official paid attendance is zero," the Orioles pressbox announcer told a clutch of reporters, and hardly anyone else, watching the game from the vast emptiness of Camden Yards.
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said he was shocked by the anger and emotion of the city the last few days.
"I’m not real happy about playing in an empty stadium," said Davis. "But we also understand that there’s a bigger picture here."
A week-long curfew imposed in the city on Tuesday forced officials to start the game at 2:05 p.m. EDT (1805 GMT), five hours earlier than first scheduled.
The national anthem opened the festivities, giving the appearance of business as usual. But the normality ended there.
Foul balls lay in the empty stands the entire game. There were no vendors, no Oriole mascot, no cheering or booing. The crack of a batted ball was exceptionally loud in the empty stadium.
About 50 Orioles fans looked inside from a perch outside the Camden Yards gates in left field. A faint cheer of O-R-I-O-L-E-S could be heard during the team's six-run first inning.
Some 20 more fans looked in on the game from a terrace at the Hilton Hotel across the street from the stadium. Garrett Baldwin, who lives three blocks from the stadium, paid $250 for a room that offered him access to the spot.
"It's so bizarre. It's so strange to see," the 24-year-old Baldwin said of the game. "It's not great history but it's positive in the fact that they're still playing the game in this town."
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)