BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Apr. 2, 2005; Aug. 5, 2006 (BAL 5, NYY 0); Aug. 1, 2009 (BOS 4, BAL 0).
ALL STAR GAME: 1993
This was the stadium that pioneered the renaissance in baseball stadium design that played a big role in the revival of the national pastime toward the end of the 20th century. Many people compared it to Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, so it is worthwhile to list the features they shared. Most obvious, the layout of the field is asymmetrical. This reflects the overall shape of the structure, which is a (rounded) "quasi-trapezoid" in which several parts of the outer perimeter are parallel or perpendicular to each other. In other words, the stadium was explicitly built to conform to the surrounding urban neighborhood, matching form with function. The newer suburban ballparks that incorporated asymmetrical designs where none is really called for come across as a bit phony. In addition, the upper decks wrap around left field and then abruptly halt, allowing fans sitting on the right side of home plate a view of the ancient "Bromo-seltzer" clock tower, built of stone. Unfortunately, that view was blocked a couple years ago by the constrution of a new hotel building next door. The right field wall is high (25 feet), relatively close to home plate, and angled away from the diamond, paralleling the adjacent street. (Actually that "street" is now a pedestrian walkway and a very popular "standing room only" area for fans eager to catch home runs.) Of course, on the other side is the old B&O Camden Yards railroad warehouse, which was renovated and incorporated into the stadium complex itself, with upscale shops and eateries. In fact, the stadium's outfield lights are mounted on the roof of that old building! Like Ebbets Field, this stadium gained a reputation as an easy place to hit a home run, but the short distance to right field (318 feet) is offset by the high wall on that side. Rather like Wrigley Field, the seating rows at the end of the first deck on the right side are angled toward the infield. (This is indicated by the gray line in the diagram, which represents the walkway dividing the upper and lower portions of the first deck.) During the early years when capacity crowds were routine, a temporary triangular seating section sometimes filled the space in the right field corner, where there is a vehicle entryway.
There were several innovations subsequently imitated by several other "neoclassical" baseball stadiums. First, the playing field is about 20 feet below street level, because massive excavation was more economical than building everything from the ground up. The overall aesthetic effect is more pleasing as well. Also, the exterior was made of red brick, which greatly enhanced its appearance. In addition, the bullpens were "terraced," such that the one in back was elevated a few feet so that the relief pitchers could get a good view of the game. In terms of the layout of the field, the closest imitation to Camden Yards was at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. (The two grandstands are almost mirror images of each other, left to right.) One clear edge over most other neoclassical stadiums is the relatively restrained use of "skyboxes," which are set in back of the small second deck.
The long, almost poetic name -- "Oriole Park at Camden Yards" -- harks back to Oriole Park, the home field of the original Orioles American League franchise, which played for two years (1901-1902) and then relocated to New York, becoming the "Highlanders," and later, the Yankees! Most people now call it "Camden Yards" for short. It also became known as "the house that Cal Ripken built," just as Yankee Stadium was called "the YankeeStadium that Babe Ruth built." (There is another connection: The Babe actually grew up in this very neighborhood, and his father's saloon was only a block or so away.) Ripken the Younger shared in the thrill of a World Series triumph in 1983, only his second year as a big leaguer. Cal Junior was a consistently excellent all-around player, not a showoff slugger. September 6, 1995 marked his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig's record, confirming his future Hall of Fame status. The Orioles were often pennant contenders during the years that he played, but they have won only one division title (1997) during the last 20 years. On October 8, 1995 Pope John Paul II said Mass in Camden Yards. In March 1999, the Orioles welcomed the Cuban national baseball team for a friendly game in Baltimore, amidst protests by anti-Castro activists.
CINEMA: Some scenes from the movie Major League II (1994) were filmed in Camden Yards, "playing the role" of Cleveland Stadium (a terrible miscasting), as was a scene from one episode of NBC's drama Homicide: Life On the Streets.
As part of the team's strategy to reorient themselves toward defense rather than slugging, in 2001 the Orioles modified the field layout to make home runs more difficult. The diamond was rotated two degrees counterclockwise, and home plate was moved seven feet back and slightly to the right side. As a result, the distance the the deepest corner just left of dead center field (417 feet) was, temporarily, the fourth greatest among all major league stadiums. After a year, however, they restored the diamond to its original alignment. In 2004, two rows of seats were added between the dugouts, reducing the backstop distance to about 54 feet. In 2012, a new rooftop table-seating area was added above the center field batter's eye, and the scoreboard wall in the right field corner was reduced by about four feet.
I have deep respect and admiration for the Orioles team, and not just because I'm a bird watcher. Since they moved from St. Louis and adopted a new identity in 1954, they have set a standard for success in a mid-sized urban market, much like the Cardinals, and have earned deep fan loyalty. As long as franchise owner Peter Angelos succeeded in keeping baseball out of Washington during the various expansion and relocation opportunities in the 1990s, however, I boycotted the Orioles as a matter of principle. After baseball finally returned to Washington in 2005, I was very glad to see games at this wonderful ballpark.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2007), Rosen (2001), Gershman (1993), USA Today / Fodor's (1996), Washington Post
FAN TIPS: David Russell, Christopher Jackman