The initial decision by the Orioles and Rays to play tonight’s series finale at Tropicana Field didn’t hold.
Conversations during batting practice led the Orioles to conduct a second team meeting, with only the players, who later invited manager Brandon Hyde into the room and shared their desire to skip the game.
Hyde phoned Rays manager Kevin Cash and the sport had another postponement. And there would be more as the fight to eliminate racial injustice intensified after Sunday’s police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
“As we came in from batting practice, we had another clubhouse meeting,” Hyde said during tonight’s Zoom conference call. “Our guys expressed more of their thoughts on the situation and I think there were a lot of people hurting in the room. The team decided they would like to not play tonight.
“I came in the room and we discussed it a little more and I told them that I was going to support any decision. And that’s what they decided.”
The Orioles issued the following statement on their Twitter account:
“After continued reflection and further dialogue, Orioles players have decided to not play tonight’s game against the Rays as they join athletes around the country in expressing solidarity with victims of social injustice and systemic racism.”
The Rays issued their own statement.
“Like the Orioles, our team struggled with the decision of whether to play this evening. The decision was made not to play, and we stand firmly with all those fighting for social justice and to end systematic racism.”
Union representative Chris Davis isn’t with the team because he’s on the injured list and must remain home or at the alternate camp site in Bowie. Pitcher Alex Cobb huddled on the field with Rays representative Tyler Glasnow.
The turning point was the second meeting. Younger players hesitant to speak earlier had found their voices.
Cobb noticed a “different feel” after batting practice. He wanted to keep the details in-house and to be “a team and not highlight any one individual of what they did or did not do or where their stance is.”
“I’ve had a lot of great conversations with some great teammates. I’m very thankful for all that,” Cobb said. “But today it was a lot of people interacting who may not have interacted previously.”
“The guys are just trying to stand as one right now,” said reliever Dillon Tate. “Ultimately, we realized that there’s a lot of pain and guys are feeling hurt about the situation and we just want to stand with one another. Since one of us is feeling that way, or two of us, however many it may be, we’re all going to stand as one and make the same decision. So that’s why we’re not playing.”
Tate is one of four Black players on the team, along with reliever Mychal Givens and outfielders Cedric Mullins and Mason Williams
“I have a voice, just as the rest of my teammates do and as far as being African American, that does have something to do with it, yes, but me being a member of the team has more of a bigger piece in the picture,” Tate said. “So me just being a member of the team is me having input, just as everybody else, the other guys we have there.”
Hyde wasn’t on the field for batting practice because he had to fulfill his media obligation and make a few calls relating to a series of roster moves.
“I was told by a couple of our players that they would like to meet again when they came off the field,” he said. “I was supportive of it and I let them have their own meeting without the coaches in the room. And then they came and got me and we discussed it some more and you could see in their faces that there was a ton of emotion in the room. And they decided that they wanted to postpone tonight.
“I was definitely following throughout the day what was happening throughout baseball. Just watched the Mets, that was a powerful situation there at Citi Field. I was just following along. I wanted to see how other teams were reacting. I didn’t know what to think. I felt like with our team meeting initially we had some guys speak, but I think what happened was it just sparked further conversation with our guys on the field, and I think there’s some guys that maybe had some emotions in a big clubhouse setting, started to express those more in some private conversations out on the field. And according to our players, as well as some coaches, it was a consensus that they needed to meet again.”
Said Tate: “Ultimately, it’s just guys being comfortable around one another and sometimes it’s a little tough to speak up in such a big group setting, guys not having that seniority or time, experience, so it just had to be a conversation that was sparked amongst the team and guys being able to just sit and speak freely and be real with their thoughts and feelings. And that was how things were able to come to a change as opposed to the first meeting that we had.
“The guys are having open dialogue with one another and that’s the most important thing, so even if guys don’t feel that initial want to come out and speak their mind, guys are doing that amongst teammates, so that is the most important thing. That’s where a lot of learning is going to happen, just getting that opinion and experience from somebody that is in your same shoes. And I guess in this case, same shoes, I’m talking about age. Guys are all around the same age group, so it’s important to get somebody else’s experience, too.
Tate said he just wanted to be in unison with his teammates.
“If there is a guy that felt a certain way, it’s my duty to support him in any way that I can,” he said. “And it was the same with the rest of my teammates. Guys were coming up and saying, ‘We support you,’ and that was the biggest thing. That’s how I felt and it was reciprocated with the guys, so we’re glad that we were able to come to that agreement and take this day as a time to just reset almost and take a breather. So tomorrow we’ll get back and we’ll get at them and get ready to go.”
It’s apparent that some of the lesser experienced Orioles drove the decision to not play.
“Everybody knows that the most difficult thing to do is public speak, to be able to form your thoughts, but as you get older, you’re able to handle that a little bit better,” Cobb said. “But when you’re young and you’re trying to make your way in this game and you’re dealing with something as heavy as what we’re dealing with, speaking in front of your teammates can be probably the hardest thing you would have to do as a professional. But I’m thankful that those guys were able to get in their comfort zone and talk with one another and really share their emotions.
“The last thing we wanted to do tonight as a team was have anybody go out there with a heavy heart or not fully dedicated to the game. It’s a game we’re going to make up in a couple weeks, a doubleheader. At the end of the day it’s not going to make a difference. And if it helped some people grieve tonight and helped them deal with the situation we’re dealing with as a society, than that’s all you can ask for.”
Cash had assumed that the game would be played. Hyde alerted him to the second meeting and made a final call after the players voted to stay off the field.
“He was extremely supportive, extremely patient and handled it extremely first class, like he always is,” Hyde said. “He totally understood. And then I called the front office and went from there.”
The Orioles and Rays played last night, an early start time making it harder to meet and come to an agreement to postpone. Tate didn’t know whether they would have preferred to head back to their hotel. He only knows what transpired today.
“From what you saw today, we’re not playing, so that’s how the team felt,” he said. “We just acted as a group and that’s the move that we decide to make.
“I think what our team wants people to know on the outside is that we all bleed the same blood. We are all one and we’re all the same and we’re all just trying to come together right now and that’s the message that our guys are definitely showing and displaying.”
Hyde has been sensitive to his players’ feelings throughout an unprecedented season, a second-year manager trying to guide them through a pandemic, the shocking news of Trey Mancini’s colon cancer and now the latest crisis relating to racial inequality that’s led the sporting world to make its loudest statement by silencing itself.
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself in any way,” he said. “I’m the leader of this team. It’s my job to support our players to the upmost, to communicate with our players as well as I possibly can, and I feel like we’ve done that. I’m really proud of our players, I’m proud of how they’ve acted through this whole difficult year.
“There’s a lot more people in the world who are having a lot more difficult time than I am, so I’m not the one to feel sorry for myself through this.”
Said Cobb: “I can’t think of one manager who would have to deal with one of these issues in one particular year, handling it flawlessly and every single day it seems like there’s something new coming up that he’s had to deal with. He brings guys into individually, he talks to us as a group and I can see it weighing on him at times. I think today was emotional for him, but every single situation he’s handled with class and a lot of respect for everybody involved.”
Hyde fielded his last question tonight, again about leading his club through a turbulent time, and became choked up.
He wanted to finish.
The best he could do was offer a partial response and an apology.
“Well, I think that you lead the best way you can, and I feel like I’ve been ... ” he said as began to fight back tears. “Sorry. Let’s do it tomorrow or the next day.”
Cobb is battling his own emotions. He supports his African American teammates and a brother who is a police officer.
“I’m learning to not look at it through those lenses anymore,” he said. “I think in the beginning, you had to be one side or the other. You had to be for our police or for our inner city communities and I just don’t think that was the right way to look at things. And I will always respect every single person who puts on a uniform and goes out to protect us, but I also have had too many moments where I look into my teammates’ eyes or my friends’ eyes and I can see that they’re dealing with some real struggles and their hearts are heavy and we need to find a way to start the conversation of mending the two sides rather than picking a side.
“I don’t know what that avenue is. It’s something that’s evolving each day. I think what we’re seeing in our communities now with our athletes, there was a lot of friction before and I think it’s starting to mend a little bit and that’s a good first step. But I pray that we’re able to find a way for everybody to just love everybody.”
The Orioles don’t make a return trip to St. Petersburg, Fla. The Rays are in Baltimore from Sept. 17-20, allowing for a doubleheader.
A makeup date will be announced later.
Next is a four-game series against the Blue Jays in Buffalo. Neither team has announced its starting pitchers. There’s more important business at hand.
“I haven’t thought about tomorrow for one second,” Hyde said.