New Orioles owner David Rubenstein is making a splash at Camden Yards and beyond

The Baltimore billionaire is taking steps to become the most public, accessible, front-facing owner in Major League Baseball

David Rubenstein, the 859th-richest person on planet earth and the new majority owner of the Baltimore Orioles, stood in the left-field seats at Camden Yards with an inflatable flamingo around his waist.

Pool floaties, the kind typically donned by a toddler learning to swim, hugged each of his arms. Upon his head, diving goggles and an accompanying snorkel rested askew over an Orioles bucket hat. In place of his glasses were an enormous pair of ski shades with shiny, navy lenses. The accoutrements layered atop Rubenstein’s typical uniform: a navy blazer, a white shirt and a black-and-orange-striped tie.

The costume appeared in a 30-minute promotional video teasing Rubenstein’s involvement in Camden Yards’ Bird Bath Splash Zone. Section 86 is typically patrolled by an individual dubbed Mr. Splash, who showers fans with water whenever the Orioles score a run or notch an extra-base hit. Rubenstein copied Mr. Splash’s usual outfit — inflatable flamingo, goggles, snorkel, bucket hat — to announce that on May 10, the $3.8 billion man himself would handle the hose in the Splash Zone.

Unfortunately, on the day in question, this past Friday, Rubenstein forwent the Mr. Splash costume, opting instead for a custom City Connect jersey. Nonetheless, his theatrical presence in the Splash Zone was a hit amongst the fans. Before first pitch, he ran through an Orioles banner like a high school football player and walked down the section steps to a hero’s welcome. When a Jordan Westburg RBI single broke open the scoring in the bottom of the second, Rubenstein unleashed the waterworks.

Orioles owner David Rubenstein sprays fans in the Splash Zone during the second inning Friday at Camden Yards. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
Orioles owner David Rubenstein sprays fans in the Splash Zone during the second inning Friday at Camden Yards. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Earlier Friday, Rubenstein gave an Orioles-themed commencement speech at the graduation ceremony for the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington, D.C. During the event, the famous Oriole Bird stood on stage alongside the school’s red, white and blue eagle mascot, Clawed, and received an honorary degree from the university. A promotional video narrated by Rubenstein — in which Clawed and the Oriole Bird futzed around Camden Yards helping each other with various tasks — was shown as well.

The crossover could be seen as a small first step by the Orioles toward recapturing some portion of the fans in the nation’s capital. Before the Nationals’ arrival in 2005, the Orioles were Washington D.C.’s team. Presidents and politicians would make the hour-long journey up I-95 to throw out first pitches. Scores of fans from the area, as far south as Richmond, Virginia, would make the trip, too. That all changed when the Nationals came to town.

The Oriole Bird flocking to a graduation ceremony will not single-handedly change hearts and minds, but it’s a notable encroachment onto turf the Nats have dominated for the past 18 years. And with the Orioles’ recent on-field ascension — a 101-win season last year, the American League’s best record heading into play Monday — there’s reason to believe more Washingtonians will soon make the trek to Camden.

All together, the cheerful videos, the Oriole Bird schtick at AU and the Bird Bath appearances are part of a concerted strategy on the part of Rubenstein and his support staff to make the new head honcho the most public, accessible, front-facing owner in Major League Baseball. The bar, particularly in Baltimore, is incredibly low.

Rubenstein’s predecessor, John Angelos, developed a well-earned reputation for being adversarial and uncommunicative with both local media and the fan base. Once, spurred by criticism over a microscopic payroll, he promised to open the franchise’s books to the public. That never happened. On the rare occasions when he spoke publicly, mockery often followed. Even after Angelos’ 2018 hiring of general manager Mike Elias, who has overseen Baltimore’s rejuvenation into one of MLB’s best teams, the owner’s approval rating remained incredibly low.

Rubenstein, born and raised in Baltimore, has taken a completely different approach. Since assuming control of the club just before Opening Day, the 74-year-old has separated himself entirely from the drudgery and misdirection of the previous regime. Cynics might call it pandering, but being pandered to is a whole lot better than being ignored.

Sports ownership should be, above all, about stewardship. It is a business, yes, but too often, franchises are seen as piggy banks for personal profit rather than local institutions with immense public responsibility. Rubenstein, in the early going, seems to understand this dynamic.

Surely, he would not have purchased the club for many, many millions of dollars if he didn’t think it would be profitable; one does not become the 859th-richest person in the world by making frivolous investments. But Rubenstein’s motives for buying the Orioles go beyond the financial. This is a legacy-builder for a man who clearly cares about such things. It is an opportunity to reestablish the Orioles as a respected and beloved institution in his hometown, a chance to leave behind something lasting and meaningful.

When the dust settles in a few decades, Rubenstein’s legacy as an MLB owner will hinge on results. Did he upgrade the facilities and amenities at Camden Yards? Did he pay for contract extensions for Baltimore’s exhilarating young core? Did he spend enough in free agency to supplement that core? Did he make the Orioles matter in Baltimore once again?

Those questions will be answered in time. For now, the honeymoon phase is still going strong. And above all, it’s clear that Rubenstein is enjoying himself — as most of us would if we owned a baseball team.

Perhaps that’s what made his presence in the Bird Bath so refreshing.