I made the 8 hour drive to Baltimore from Ontario to see the Blue Jays take on their AL East rival Baltimore Orioles in the famed Oriole Park at Camden Yards. This is my review of the Orioles’ home ballpark.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards (usually referred to as just “Camden Yards”) was the ballpark that started them all. By that I mean that it was the first of the retro-styled neo-classical ballparks and started a rennaissance in ballpark design that was adopted in Cleveland, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Diego, Washington, Phoenix, Minnesota and New York.
Camden Yards is influenced heavily by many of the old ballparks. Like Ebbets Field before it (and AT&T Park in San Francisco after it), the layout of the field is asymetrical in order to conform to the surrounding neighbourhood of Camden Yards. This one-time railroad centre’s most notable feature is the B&O Warehouse in right field which stands 439 feet away from home plate. The warehouse is the longest building on the east coast of the United States, measuring in at 1016 feet. The space has been converted to offices and the waiting list for a lease is years long. Also, like AT&T Park after it, Camden Yards has a wide concourse over a high right-field wall that serves as a popular “standing room only” section.
One interesting note: between the warehouse and the right-field wall there are plaques scattered on the ground that signify where sluggers have deposited home run balls. The Blue Jays are well represented with a 415 foot shot from Carlos Delgado. Only one player has ever actually hit the warehouse: Ken Griffey Jr., during the 1993 All-Star Home Run Derby.
No expense in the construction of Camden Yards was spared. The ballpark features an all-brick facade and steel beams and trusses. Had the ballpark been constructed with concrete pillars and posts, $20 million could have been shaved off the final cost of $110 million. Yet the ownership insisted on making this retro ballpark as authentic as possible and for that we are forever in their debt. The attention to detail is evident: the brick facade of the B&O warehouse matches the colour of the facade of Oriole Park and even matches the colour of the dirt in the infield.
Camden Yards opened its gates on April 6, 1992 and has been the Orioles’ home ever since. Unlike many of the retro ballparks that have succeeded it, Camden Yards has a very large capacity for fans – 48,876 in fact. Unfortunately for the Orioles, when less than 12,000 fans show up like they did on the weekend I attended, it makes the ballpark seem more cavernous than it actually is.
The sightlines are absolutely perfect from almost anywhere in the ballpark. All of the seats are angled towards the infield which is a luxury that a baseball-only facility like Camden Yards can afford. In fact, since its opening, there has only been one non-baseball related event at the ballpark (it was the Pope). Although the team & state could generate (much needed) revenue through non-baseball-related events, they take great pride in the fact that Camden Yards is a baseball-only facility and take great pains to ensure the field is in pristine condition. All of the concourses are closed so it is impossible to see any of the game when headed towards the concessions.
Toronto fans are always curious about ushers at foreign ballparks. Are the ones in Baltimore as militant as the ones at home? All but one usher was very kind, courteous and accommodating. There was one usher, in fact, who was quick to offer to take a picture. Once camera was in hand, he just couldn’t contain himself; I wasn’t sure if I was dealing with an usher or a paparazzi. He said he was used to it and takes pictures of fans all the time. I don’t doubt it. Moving seats, rows, sections was not an issue at all.
Of all of the concessions offered at Camden Yards, the one I had heard most about was Boog’s BBQ. I had both the pork and smoked turkey sandwich; both were disappointing. The signature beer item in Baltimore is something called “National Bohemian” – or as Baltimoreans call it, “Natty Boh.” By no means is it unpleasant, but it is most likely the most unremarkable beer I have ever tasted in my life. More like Natty Boh-ring.
The concession areas I do recommend are the Orioles Chop House and the Weed & Lemonade. The Orioles Chop House serves up the best chopped steak sandwich I’ve ever had at a ballpark. As for the Weed & Lemonade – it’s not what you think. For those who have read by Great American Ballpark review, you know how I flipped my lid for Iced Tea Vodka & Lemonade. At Camden they have stands that are dedicated to serving up this tasty beverage at the ballpark. It’s so very delicious.
(Note: everyone raves about the crab cakes at Camden Yards, but having a shellfish allergy, I was unable to partake. You’re going to have to find out how good they are on your own.)
During one day game I attended, the humidex was 44°C. Because of the heat, the Orioles handed out free cups of ice throughout the game, much like the Blue Jays handed out free bottles of water during the heat wave this year. Class move.
The retro-theme of the ballpark is well represented in the scoreboard. Although not as awful as the monochrome scoreboard in Detroit, Camden Yards’ version is not much better. It displays the lineups with batting averages and some video between innings. That’s about it. One neat feature, however, is “The Sun” on top of the scoreboard. Baltimore’s news paper, “The Sun,” is the board’s prominent advertiser, and if one is keeping score, the “H” in “The” brightens to signify that the batter has been credited with a hit. The “E” brightens to signify an error.
Another interesting ballpark-specific tidbit is related to the singing of the American national anthem.
Near the end of the anthem, there is a line that goes “Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave.” The O’s fans shout out O!! during the Oh! part. It’s kind of a cool signature move.
Speaking of anthems, like in Cincinnati, there were many Jays fans on hand to sing O Canada (for some reason Orioles fans didn’t scream out the Oh! in O Canada). Again I was very impressed. On my way up to get myself an Arnold Palmer, I ran into one special Jays fan: Russ Lawrie. Russ is the father of Blue Jays third-baseman Brett Lawrie, and was in Baltimore for the weekend as his son was called up for the series. Mr. Lawrie is super friendly and knowledgeable and he told some pretty interesting stories about his son. For instance, when Brett was in grade 9 in high school, he played for the basketball team. He asked his Dad to bring his video camera to the pre-game warm ups. The 5’9″ (at the time) whiteboy Brett proceeded to take off from the foul line and throw down a tomahawk slam dunk. For those of you ready to “throw down” a pics or it didn’t happen response, rest assured the elder Lawrie has it on tape.
Russ also talked about his experience in dealing with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and Alex Anthopoulos specifically after Brett was traded from Milwaukee to Toronto. Throughout his entire tenure with the organization, Brett has never been lied to and never has the club broken a promise to him. Anthopoulos has clearly communicated his expectations to the Lawrie family and has been nothing but professional. This was not necessarily the case in Milwaukee, and the changing culture in Toronto from previous regimes will only make it easier for the franchise to attract players from other organizations.
Lucky for both the Lawrie family and myself, Brett played admirably in his debut. I even got some footage of a Lawrie base hit to the right side:
Even luckier, we all had the good fortune of seeing Brett Lawrie’s first Major League home run:
Click to play
I caught up with Russ after the game and he was one proud Papa.
Moving on, Camden Yards has a lot of unique peculiarities and quirks that make it such a fun ballpark. The press box was designed to mirror the pressbox in the movie The Natural. The design stays true to the original – including the absence of air conditioning. Interesting fact: the director of The Natural, Barry Levinson, is a Baltimore native.
The musical selections are peculiar as well. Instead of singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” like most ballparks, the fans sing along to John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” Why? Could any city be less country than Baltimore? If anyone knows why this happens, please leave a comment in our comments section.
After every home run, the scoreboard will play a video of Frank the Tank from Old School or the Venga Boys’ classic, We Like To Party.
Over the right-field fence lies the Camden Yards flag court. This court has 14 flagpoles arranged in 3 rows – one for each division of the American League. Each team’s flag is flown according to divisional standings. Neat.
A few items from the Orioles’ original home, Memorial Stadium, were brought to Camden Yards. Standing next to the flag court is the right field foul pole that was brought to Camden Yards from Memorial Stadium. This is a nice touch as the Orioles remember their roots by incorporating a piece of their history in the construction of their new ballpark.
The Kentucky Bluegrass on the field is so pristine it is breathtaking. Having been a a ballpark groundskeeper myself during summers in University, I can really appreciate a well manicured field. Although the grass isn’t as nice as at AT&T Park, for a ballpark that experiences winter, the condition of the field is truly remarkable. Baltimore has only the second female head groundskeeper in all of baseball and Nicole Sherry does a magnificent job.
Just above the centrefield wall, below the batter’s eye, lies a lawn that is missing a few strips:
Many casual fans will wonder what it is, since it certainly looks out of place. In actuality, it is Camden Yards’ personal sod farm, harvesting grass to use for any damaged portions of the field at a moment’s notice.
Over the left field fence you will see a peculiar orange seat in the midst of a sea of green. This orange seat marks the landing spot for Cal Ripken Jr.’s 278th home run as a shortstop, breaking Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks’ record for the position. The home run was hit on July 15, 1993. Ripken finished his career with 345 home runs as a shortstop and 431 overall.
Although not technically part of the ballpark itself, Camden Yards has a neighbourhood eccentricity in the “Ice Cold Water Guy.” Like Comerica Park has the “Eat ‘Em Up Tigers” guy, the “Ice Cold Water Guy” creeps around the ballpark, entertaining/accosting fans with his megaphone and selling … you guessed it … Ice Cold Water.
I dare you to watch the above video and not have the song stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
Of course, as we all know, statues are a big part of the ballpark experience… for whatever reason. Camden Yards does it up right (or maybe wrong) with a 9-foot statue of native Baltimorean Babe Ruth, titled “Babe’s Dream.” There is one notable flaw in the statue, however. If you look closely, you will see that the statue Babe is holding a right-handed glove. Babe threw left-handed.
Adjacent to Babe’s Dream is a courtyard that has statues of all of the retired Baltimore Orioles numbers. They include Earl Weaver (#4), Brooks Robinson (#5), Frank Robinson (#20), Jim Palmer (#22), Eddie Murray (#33) and most importantly, Cal Ripken Jr.’s #8.
If you’re looking for a place to party after the game, there’s not too much going on. Baltimore is a run down, dirty carcass with 2 bars in the vicinity: Pickles and Sliders. Both are lame and disappointing. For all intents and purposes, Baltimore has no post-game party zone.
It’s hard to believe that the “House that Cal Built” is already 19 years old. In fact it feels like a newborn, which is a testament to how well the park has been maintained as well as its classic design. I can’t find any glaring fault with the park whatsoever, other than the fact that it is located in dirty downtown Baltimore. If I were to transplant the ballpark to the site of Petco Park in San Diego, it would be a close finish for the top spot. As it stands now, it ranks #3 on my ballpark review roundup.
I recommend to any baseball fan to make the trip to Baltimore to see Camden Yards. It really is a special place to watch baseball.