We had been to the historic venue of Fenway Park in Boston.
We had been to the cookie-cutter concrete multi-purpose blandness that was Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
Our third stop would take Bill and I to the newest, latest, and greatest baseball stadium to dot the American landscape. The next game we would see on our quest to view a contest in every Major League Baseball park was the glittering (and still slightly unfinished) Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Just how new was the stadium? Here are two answers to that question.
The first answer revolves around a postcard. During this trip, I made it a side quest of mine to buy a postcard at every stadium. For the venue in Baltimore, the building was so new (how new was it?) that the picture on the postcard of the stadium was not of the stadium itself but of an architectural model of the place. It is a tad tough to see in my blurry photo, but the buses, cars, and people in the postcard are all toys.
You can even see my ticket stub from that May 7 game between the Orioles and the (at the time, World Champion) Minnesota Twins.
This stadium was also so new that the sign outside touting this location as “Oriole Park at Camden Yards” wasn’t even finished.
We arrived at the stadium in plenty of time before the scheduled 7:35 pm start so that we could walk around the venue and drink in the atmosphere of this modern throwback to a bygone era.
Below is a picture of Eutaw Street where a multitude of souvenir and food vendors would be out serving up their wares when the gates finally opened up. The building on the left is the B&O Warehouse where plaques are installed whenever a player slams a home run that actually hits that brick building.
Once inside, I was able to walk my way down behind home plate and snap the following pair of pictures to create the following panorama.
To highlight how much baseball has changed, I give you this. When we started our journey in May of 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the newest stadium in the Major League Baseball stable. Or, put another way, it was the twenty-sixth oldest stadium (out of twenty-six).
Twenty-five years later, as the 2017 baseball season kicked off, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is now the tenth oldest stadium in the Major League Baseball stable. Or, put another way, it is the twenty-first newest stadium (out of thirty) as a score of new venues have been built over the past quarter of a century.
In our book that recounts our journey, The Smell of Astroturf in the Afternoon, we write about all of the retro and “traditional” features of Camden Yards that the architects, HOK Sports Facilities Group, designed into the venue. However, there was one event that was overheard that showed me what the true essence of baseball is and it was something that no architect could ever design.
This is that story (pages 68-9).
For all of HOK’s expertise, I witnessed the ultimate traditional baseball event and it was two seats over from me. In a black jacket to protect himself from the chill sat a child who could not have been a day over ten years old. On his head was a brand-new black Orioles hat that was obviously too big for him as it was bending the tops of his ears down. Seated next to him, the man who bought the child the hat, was his father dressed casually in blue jeans and penny loafers. On the kid’s lap was a 2’x2′ piece of white posterboard with orange letters that read “Go Orioles!!” With this sign, he was hoping both to be on TV and show his team support. He was fidgety, but that was more from excitement than boredom. With every contact of ball to bat, the kid was out of his seat eagerly awaiting the outcome hoping that THAT hit would guide the ball into his mitt so he could tell all his friends he caught a Sam Horn or (dare to dream) a Cal Ripken Jr. home run. He constantly asked his dad questions about what was happening: “Why wasn’t that a home run? Why is he coming on the field? What does E5 mean? Why is three strikes a strikeout?” At every question, his father would calmly do his best to answer: “Because that was a foul ball. That’s a relief pitcher. That means the third baseman committed an error. I have no idea.”
I lost touch with the game as I became transfixed by the learning process that was happening next to me. Father was teaching child and child was learning from father. They left in the bottom of the sixth inning (c’mon, it was a school night), but I wonder how long this instruction would go on until the kid knew all he could about baseball. The father had probably been the child once asking his father question after question about baseball while attending a day game or huddled next to the radio. I was witness to a direct line of knowledge being handed down the generations. This is one of the last vestiges of oral tradition left in America.
With it grass, cotton candy vendors, roving singers belting out “Happy Birthday”, asymmetrical dimensions, iron gates, Mingling Area, spacious hallways, picnic areas, orange brick, downtown location, upper deck with a sunroof, sunken playing field, ads on the outfield walls, two-tiered bullpens, and B&O windows waiting to be blown apart, Oriole Park at Camden Yards would have no “traditional” appeal if the event that took place two seats over from me had not been repeated over the years in places with names like Ebbets, Polo, Fenway, Sportsman’s, Wrigley, Crosley, Yankee, and Memorial.
That’s the story.
P.S. If you want to know our next stop on this sporting adventure, stay tuned.