Finalist for Nicest Place in America: Oriole Park in Baltimore, Maryland
hen Thomas Moore, 11, stepped up to the plate at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, the crowd went wild. It was the biggest applause the park had ever heard for someone in Moore’s position.
“I was very surprised; I didn’t know that that was going to happen,” says Moore.
What happened was the Baltimore Orioles and its fans were recognizing Moore as a Birdland Community hero for something he did that nobody in the city will ever forget. After seeing a picture of a young cancer patient on social media, Moore let his hair grow for two-and-a-half years, then donated three wigs’ worth of it to kids battling through chemotherapy.
This selfless middle schooler had no idea what was in store for him when he decided on his act of kindness. “I just thought I got invited to an Orioles game,” he says.
Moore is one of just 50 heroes recognized by the team—and the one who has so far inspired the biggest reaction. He waved and smiled when he was shown on the big screen, and he enjoyed being congratulated by strangers throughout the course of nine innings. Just as thrilling: Before the game, he had the chance to talk to Orioles star outfielder Adam Jones, because his seat was behind home plate.
“We talked about my hair donation,” Moore says. “I felt even more proud of myself. And I was already proud.”
Jones marveled that Moore was a role model for other kids.
“When you see somebody that young, with that much charisma, passion for life, compassion for others, it’s pretty crazy,” Jones said after meeting Moore. “It just shows you how great this world can be.”
In addition to meeting one of his heroes, Moore got to meet someone who looks up at him as a hero, Mo Gaba, an 11-year-old who is fighting cancer and benefitted from one of Moore’s wigs. A frequent caller on Baltimore sports radio shows who has even interviewed Orioles players, Gaba had the honor of throwing out the first pitch. Baltimore’s sports radio listening community has helped raise more than $33,000 via a GoFundMe page to help with Gaba’s ongoing medical care. His cancer treatments haven’t broken his spirit or affected his enthusiasm for the game.
“He was very cool—I think we could be friends,” Moore says. “I wish that I was as energetic as him. [And] he’s not scared to talk to new people.”
The other Birdland Heroes include a school bus driver who risked her life to save 20 students after the bus caught fire, three men who fought flood waters to rescue trapped motorists, and a Medal of Honor recipient.
Why Oriole Park Is the Nicest Place to See a Ballgame
Oriole Park isn’t just a nice place on weekends, when it honors Birdland Heroes. Since opening 25 years ago, the park has been consistently touted as the friendliest place to watch a ballgame in America. The O’s fans, being from down-to-earth “Balmer,” banter freely with any visitor. They joyously turn “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave” during our anthem into a live meme, staying quiet until the only word that matters to them: “O!” Given the welcoming, good-natured atmosphere, when you leave after a game, you tend to feel good.
First-timers to the ballpark often leave with a special treat: A personalized certificate commemorating their visit. They’re available at no cost at the ballpark’s three Fan Assistance Centers. Although no formal announcements are made to let people know that the certificates exist, between 300 and 600 people leave with calligraphed certificates in hand after each game.
“When the ticket-takers see a family wearing the opposing team’s jersey or they have a small child, they tell them to find us,” says Pam Fields with the Fan Assistance Centers, who has worked at Oriole Park since Opening Day in 1992. “We’ve done them for people as young as six weeks old and as old as 95 years old. We make each one feel like they’re the only first-time person ever.”
Last year, Ryan Wagner of Columbus, Ohio, brought his girlfriend to a game at Oriole Park for the first time.
“I was amazed at the fact that we received a certificate,” says Wagner, who immensely enjoyed his experience. “It’s the little things that matter the most.”
Fields loves the constant astonishment that visitors express about the certificates and the welcoming vibe that they receive, especially when she interacts with people from out-of-state.
“People come in wearing the opposing team’s jersey,” Fields says. “They’ll say, ‘You won’t do a certificate for us because we’re from somewhere else.’ But we say: ‘You’re a fan of baseball. It’s all for the love of the game.’”