Orioles’ Bird Bath Splash Zone is a hit with fans

Jake Cole knew what he was getting into, having chaperoned a field trip for a group of children to Baltimore’s most exclusive club a month earlier. That July night ended with more than a dozen kids from his mother’s day-care center shirtless and soaked by Mr. Splash, the Orioles mascot who sprays a garden hose at fans in Section 86 at Camden Yards every time the home team records an extra-base hit or scores a run — or whenever he feels like it.

When the Orioles invited Cole and a group from the day-care center back to the popular section known as the Bird Bath Splash Zone for a day game in late August, the kids challenged him to paint his body. The 31-year-old obliged, covering his torso and arms with a bright orange base layer and writing “LET’S GO O’S” in black across his personal canvas.

“It’s not waterproof paint, so it is going to get real orange here, real soon,” Cole told me about a half-hour before first pitch, when I asked him what to expect from my first time watching a game among Baltimore’s wettest fans. “You’ll feel the energy in this section. It’s amazing.”

Take me out to the sprayground

The idea for the Bird Bath Splash Zone, which debuted in May and has added to the excitement of the Orioles’ most successful season in years, came from within the clubhouse.

Inspired by an Adley Rutschman-led skit during the team’s spring training talent show, the Orioles adopted several water-themed celebrations for different hits this year. After a single, players mime turning on a faucet. After a double or triple, they do the “sprinkler,” while their teammates in the dugout take swigs of water before spraying it out of their mouths in unison.

Two weeks into the season, Orioles left-handers Cole Irvin and Keegan Akin introduced a funnel attached to a hose to celebrate home runs.

While some fans began calling the prop the Dong Bong, spurring criticism that the celebration promoted binge drinking, Irvin and his teammates insisted the family-friendly device was inspired by memories of drinking out of a hose as kids and should be referred to as the Homer Hose.

“Don’t worry,” Irvin said in the clubhouse one day, according to the Baltimore Banner, as the mini-controversy swirled and the Homer Hose’s future was in doubt. “Before long, they’re going to have a splash zone, and everybody is going to love it.”

Irvin was only kidding, but the comment was the genesis for an idea that eventually made its way to the Orioles’ marketing department.

After settling on Section 86 in left field as the site of their new splash zone and relocating a few season-ticket holders who preferred a dry game-watching experience, the Orioles created Mr. Splash, the team’s Chief Hydration Officer, who would be responsible for ensuring fans were sufficiently soaked. Two different people serve as Mr. Splash, according to Jennifer Grondahl, the Orioles’ senior vice president of community development and communications. The team has also welcomed two guest splashers, with Orioles legend Adam Jones and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) both doing the honors in July.

The Orioles opened the Bird Bath on May 12, in the middle of a 10-game homestand. Tickets cost $20. Within a couple weeks, the 156-seat section was sold out for the remainder of the regular season.

“This is an amazing team, and it’s not just the success that they’ve had on the field,” Grondahl said in a phone interview. “It’s also the energy that they bring every day to the ballpark. I think the Bird Bath is a perfect encapsulation of that.”

There’s a warning on the Orioles website where fans could purchase Bird Bath tickets before they sold out. “You may get wet,” it reads, in bold red letters. “We encourage fans to secure their belongings in waterproof bags before entering the birdbath.”

I bought a ticket on StubHub for $50, including fees, to the Aug. 30 Wednesday matinee against the White Sox, and brought an all-weather outdoor journal that had been gathering dust in a drawer and a Ziploc bag for my phone and keys. An usher at the top of the section checked tickets and issued neon-green wristbands to better keep track of potential trespassers.

Five minutes before first pitch, Mr. Splash (whose festive outfit includes a mask and snorkel, inflatable water wings, a custom jersey and a flamingo float he’s named Adley wrapped around his waist) bounded down the steps of Section 86 and issued another warning to the Bird Bath’s patrons about getting wet.

“Does anybody want to be reseated?” Mr. Splash asked at the end of his spiel. “I didn’t think so.”

It didn’t take long to get acquainted with Mr. Splash, who spends the game on a platform between the sharp jut of the left field wall and the Orioles’ bullpen, leading cheers and keeping fans hydrated. The section erupted in anticipation after Gunnar Henderson led off the bottom of the first inning with a double, then cheered when Mr. Splash waved his hose back and forth like a gardener watering his tomato plants. Anthony Santander followed with a double to score Henderson, resulting in another soaking. Two rows behind me, Cole was already a dripping orange mess.

“We want more! We want more!” a group of fans chanted after the Orioles added two more runs in the inning. “Where’d all the paint go?” someone shouted at Cole.

The Orioles have averaged nearly five runs per game at home since the Bird Bath opened, and their only game without a run or an extra-base hit at Camden Yards during that span was a July 1 loss to the Minnesota Twins. (Another disclaimer: You may not get wet.)

Ryan Thomas of Frederick, who took the day off work to check out the Bird Bath for the first time, likened the first-inning shower to being on a log flume ride at an amusement park.

“Since they introduced it, I’ve wanted to make it out here,” said the 39-year-old Thomas, a lifelong Orioles fan wearing an orange Cal Ripken Jr. jersey. “It fits the culture of what they’re trying to build. It’s great marketing, and it’s just so fun to sit here, especially when it’s this hot. You get rewarded for the Orioles being good.”

A drought ensued after the Orioles’ wet and wild first inning, prompting a chant from Cole’s day-care center contingent. “We need a splash! We want one now!”

Mr. Splash granted their wish, picking up a pump-action water soaker and shooting it toward them. I was directly in the line of fire, which was unfortunate, because this water was considerably warmer and less refreshing than the water from Mr. Splash’s hose.

A solo home run by Santander in the fourth inning cut Chicago’s lead to 7-5 and provided some much needed relief from the sweltering sun. A few rows in front of me, 52-year-old Robert Donatelli and his 31-year-old nephew, Michael Butta, approved.

Butta has a partial season ticket plan behind home plate, but he told me he prefers to sit in the Bird Bath whenever possible, and I can understand why.

“The Splash Zone is the most fun, most electric, most exciting experience you can have at a baseball game, period,” Butta, who wore an Orioles Hawaiian shirt, floppy hat and orange inflatable water wings purchased online, said a few innings later. “Obviously I’m biased, but all I know is it’s the most fun I’ve had at a game, and everyone I take says the same thing. It’s just the best, because it gives you a way to celebrate with the team and like the team. The vibes are always at an all-time high.”

“I saw playoff games in ’83 and 2014, but this is electric,” Donatelli said. “The team is having fun, everyone in the stands is having fun, it’s a win-win for everybody. It’s cool to see everyone coming back to Birdland. Plus, you get the kids involved, which is huge.”

The Orioles led off the bottom of the ninth inning with consecutive singles, but the rally fizzled and a double play capped their 10-5 loss. By this point, I was completely dry.

“You guys are awesome,” Mr. Splash yelled as the Bird Bath began to empty. “The best fans in baseball.”

Afterward, Mr. Splash signed a baseball for Mason Critzer, who was celebrating his eighth birthday and wore an outfit almost identical to the Bird Bath’s mascot, right down to the flamingo float. Butta gifted Critzer one of several extra pairs of inflatable water wings he’s started bringing to games “to spread good vibes” and complete his look.

The feedback about the section, where costumes are common and one fan recently took in a game dressed as swimming legend Michael Phelps, has been entirely positive, according to the team, which recently announced several meet-and-greets with Mr. Splash outside of the ballpark.

“People want to be there,” Grondahl said. “I think the biggest challenge has been not having availability for the Bird Bath, but I think we want to keep it an exclusive experience.”

The Orioles are averaging fewer than 24,000 fans per game, which is nearly 6,000 more than last year but still only 21st in the majors. With the team, which is 2.5 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East, having secured its first playoff appearance since 2016, the Bird Bath figures to become an even hotter ticket — even as the weather gets cooler and the prospect of getting sprayed becomes less appealing.

“You might have to bring a raincoat for that,” Donatelli said.

At least some waterproof paint.

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