ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Grayson Rodriguez almost did a double take when he heard the resounding “O” during the national anthem at Tropicana Field on Saturday.
No, the Orioles weren’t in Baltimore. But the deep sea of orange down the third base line was jarring to see and hear so far from home.
“It almost sounded like Camden Yards,” Rodriguez said. “It just means a lot to have the fans on the road helping us down the stretch.”
Tropicana Field recorded a sellout Saturday and was 2,000 short of one Sunday, in large part due to the Orioles fans who traveled to support their team. The Rays have sold out only one other time against the Orioles in the last 10 years — Opening Day 2022, a game the team typically has no empty seats for, regardless of the opponent.
In total, about 88,000 attended the weekend series, the most for a four-game set at Tropicana Field this season. Comparing it to a three-game series, only the Yankees, the league’s most popular team, and the Braves, the MLB’s best team and only a six-hour drive from Tampa, drew better.
Tropicana Field, with all its, uh, quirks, isn’t exactly a destination stadium. But the Orioles are finally winning again, and the fans — most of whom stuck with the team during the dark days of the rebuild — want to be a part of it.
A few of the fans were from Sarasota, where the Orioles’ spring training complex is, and made the 50-minute journey. Others went out of their way to be there. John Montgomery was in West Palm Beach to visit his parents but took a detour across the state with his son to cheer on the Orioles.
They were in the sea of orange Saturday when the Orioles beat the Rays 6-5. The fans were in on every pitch, embracing the team as it moved into sole possession of the American League East. It is two games ahead of the Rays now.
“Met people from all over the region,” Montgomery said. “Fun times.”
It’s not just in Tampa Bay. Fans are flocking all over the country to watch their beloved O’s try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Manager Brandon Hyde first noticed it during the Orioles’ 10-game winning streak last July. Wrigley Field, a stadium Hyde knows better than most from his five-year stint as a bench coach there, had a small contingent of Baltimore fans behind the visitors dugout.
This year fans took it a step further: The entire section was overflowing with orange.
“We love all the support and appreciate it,” Hyde said.
Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minnesota, you name it. Orioles fans have been all over this season, and they aren’t planning on slowing down.
Cal Abadin, a fan from New Orleans, is meeting the Orioles in Seattle on Aug. 11 to celebrate his birthday, then following the team down to San Diego and back to Baltimore for series against the Rockies and Red Sox. He has hotels booked for the World Series too, just in case.
Colin Lidston, who lives in New York City, and his parents, who reside in Cockeysville, made that trip to Wrigley this year. They make an effort to see the team locally, but this was the first time in over a decade that they traveled. Wrigley is special, but watching their team finally contend is even better.
Kari Rostad of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and her family were in Chicago too. They plan on being part of a large group of Orioles fans in Philadelphia this week. Mike Belzner, who went to Atlanta this year, will also be among them. He’s not only traveling but ushering at Camden Yards so he can be there every step of the way.
“Just makes it that much more fun they’re good now,” Belzner said.
The fans have yearned for these moments. They’ve watched players such as Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson come up the system, yearning for the day their team was finally over the hump. And now they are all getting to experience the highs of winning together all over the country.
“This team is so likable and plays hard and right,” Kris Santos, who traveled from Norfolk, Virginia, to Minnesota with his wife earlier this year, said.