Oriole Park at Camden Yards at 20 years old

First off I’d like to thank Kyle Bailey and the crew at The Clubhouse on “Super Sports 101.7-FM” in Blacksburg, VA. They had me on as a guest yesterday afternoon to discuss the Orioles’ upcoming season. In looking at their webpage it appears to be a great station for local sports in that area. If you’re ever in that region of Virginia, be sure to tune into 101.7-FM, and thanks to the great folks there for having me on yesterday!…

Not only is Friday the first game of the Orioles’ 2012 campaign, however Camden Yards is also having a birthday…a 20th birthday to be exact. The Orioles have festivities planned for Friday’s game and beyond, which I feel will not fail to disappoint. According to the Orioles, Friday’s pregame ceremony will go as follows:

  • 12 PM  – Gates to the ballpark open earlier than normal so fans can watch batting practice for both teams (12:25 for the O’s, and 1:25 for Minnesota).
  • 2:30 PM – Pregame ceremony hosted by MASN’s Jim Hunter. Players and coaches for both teams will be introduced, including starters and reserves.
  • (approximately) 3PM – Rick Sutcliffe will throw the ceremonial first pitch to Chris Hoiles to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ballpark. Fans might remember that the Orioles signed Sutcliffe over the 1991-92 off season to anchor the rotation. He got the Opening Day assignment from manager Johnny Oates, and thus was the first Oriole pitcher to take the mound at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. 20 years later, he’ll reunite with his battery mate – Oriole legend Chris Hoiles – to throw out the first ball on Opening Day to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the stadium
  • Tenor Rolando Sanz will sign the National Anthem and God Bless America as an American flag from Ft. McHenry is unfurled in center field. Just prior to the actual start of the game Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis will publicly receive their 2011 Gold Glove awards, which I feel is a nice touch.
  • All baseballs used in Oriole home games in 2012 will have the Orioles’ 20th anniversary stamp on them.
  • Bronze sculptures of each Oriole Hall of Famer will be unfurled at various games throughout the season.
  • To keep with current trends in newer ballparks, the Orioles have created a party deck above the center field batters eye which will include [Rick] Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant. The party deck will be open and available to fans to sit and watch the entire game if they choose to do so.

Kudos to the Orioles and to Major League Baseball for finding a way to have Opening Day in Baltimore on the exact anniversary of the ballpark opening. I remember April 6, 1992 very well. I was in sixth grade, and we always had a half day on Mondays. So I was always able to get home in plenty of time to see the Orioles’ first game. I’ll never forget how bizzare it was for me to see the Birds wearing their home whites but playing in a beautiful state-of-the-art facility as opposed to the familiar backdrop of Memorial Stadium. President George H.W. Bush, himself once a pitcher at Yale, was on hand to throw out the first ball – a slider in the dirt. Notables such as Larry King, Kevin Costner, and Wesley Snipes were also in attendance that day.

For the record, Sutcliffe threw a two-hit shutout that day and the O’s won 2-0. However it’s the games that have come after that one game that mean more than anything else. When I finally got to attend a game with my Dad in the new park myself, I can remember having to park all the way back on Charles St. due to the crowd. However it was like walking into a place I had never been, but yet in which I felt comfortable. Camden Yards is uniquely “Baltimore.” The brick facade outside the stadium which melds with the timely and stately B & O Warehouse reminds us of the immigrants who built this great city brick by brick. Part of the idea behind the structure was that each seat gave a fan a unique view of downtown Baltimore. Eutaw St being incorporated as part of the park was an indirect tip of the cap to Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park, however in my view it’s surpassed that (and I’ve been to both).

The park being uniquely “Baltimore” is not just confined to the structure. Camden Yards was one of the first parks to incorporate local food favorites such as crabs, BBQ, etc. Certainly a park truly gets it’s character from the great games and the great fans that have been in it. Obviously the ultimate Camden Yards memory is probably Cal Ripken (my boyhood idol) tying and breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record. But there are a lot of great Oriole Park memories for Oriole fans, and (unfortunately) even a few for fans of other teams. That’s part of baseball.

When I think of the majesty of Camden Yards, I’m always reminded of Terrence Mann’s (played by James Earl Jones) line in Field of Dreams:

“America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

We can certainly look at things in any manner that we wish in that one would hope that the team that calls Camden Yards home would have been better over a period of time. However re-read that quote again…the Orioles themselves are a part of the Baltimore community. They’ve been erased, rebuilt, and reased again. However they’ve marked the time in this community from Jim Gentile, to Brooks Robinson, to Eddie Murray, to Cal Ripken Jr, and even now to Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. They remind us that all once was good…and WILL be again. Happy birthday Camden Yards!

Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala

Tags: Camden Yards Orioles

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