Oriole Park at 30: What's old is new
This month marks the 30th anniversary of the launching of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, perhaps the best thing that has happened to baseball in a generation.
Since the gates to the ballpark first opened on that sun-splashed April afternoon, the entire sport has looked inwards, in a sense, hearkening back to bygone days. Oriole Park christened an old new era in baseball. Before it opened, baseball stadiums were often large, sterile symmetrical concrete bowls often shared with football teams.
One stadium looked and felt indistinguishable from another. From Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to Cincinnati to St. Louis, one stadium with AstroTurf looked and felt like the next.
Then came Oriole Park, and its quirky dimensions with one part of the outfield deeper than the other and dead center field not the deepest part of the park.
In what was a controversial move at the time, the team left in place the old railway warehouse which became a part of the ballpark, so much so that it was a supporting piece of Cal Ripken Jr’s consecutive games streak.
And there was the size of the park itself. Then-Orioles manager Johnny Oates cracked that the team’s clubhouse was so large that he had to dial a one for long distance to reach third base coach Cal Ripken Sr. between offices.
But the clubhouse and the concourses are the only big things about Camden Yards.
The park was built intentionally smaller than its predecessor Memorial Stadium to replicate the intimate size of ballparks of the past, like Ebbetts Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. And although Rick Sutcliffe, the Baltimore starting pitcher on that first day, threw a five-hit shutout of Cleveland, Oriole Park has proven to be a hitter’s playground, what with home runs galore, especially to left field.
The club has had difficulty attracting quality pitching, in part, because of the short fence and the resulting long balls which tend to raise earned run averages and lower win-loss records. Orioles management moved the left field wall back 27 feet and raised the fence almost six feet for this season.
Oriole Park has become a precursor around baseball, as the aforementioned cities and others have built Camden-like facilities with smaller dimensions and fewer seats.
It’s turned out to be a smart bet. As baseball’s popularity has waned, or at least relative to football and basketball, teams have gambled that by adding more amenities at the park, while reducing the inventory of seats there, the game will be a hotter ticket.
Of course, in places like Philadelphia and St. Louis, management has added an extra component to the mix: winning.
Both the Phillies and Cardinals have won World Series titles since their new ballparks opened, something the Orioles surely can’t say.
The Orioles’ old new home has, to be sure, proven to be a house of magic, for fans and players alike, as well as for the sport. But the last 30 years have demonstrated that even a ballpark as amazing as Oriole Park can’t make poor decisions disappear.
And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.
Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.