- First visit: Sunday June 6th 1996
- Most recent visit: Wednesday August 30th 2017
Our first visit to Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore MD occurred June 6th 1999, more than seven years after the park opened. A two and one-half hour trip from central NJ, we found the ballpark with little difficulty. Parking was plentiful, with lots near the park, as well as adjacent to M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL Ravens. With plenty of time before the scheduled 135 pm start, we decided to explore the environs. After entering the ballpark area, we strolled down the south portion of Eutaw Street, which runs between stadium and the Baltimore and Ohio Warehouse. A carnival like atmosphere brought Eutaw Street alive early that afternoon, with plenty of places to eat and drink. We were STUNNED to see the prices of the offerings along the street, unaccustomed to paying that much for food or drinks near a ballpark. Rather than indulge, we kept walking, eventually surrounding the stadium on our way to the home plate entrance.
Of course, what we did not yet understand is that we were witnessing the birth of the “new” way of seeing baseball games. Oriole Park at Camden Yards (also known as Camden Yards) is generally acknowledged as the first of the new wave of MLB ballparks, and Eutaw Street was our introduction how the environment around the stadium would become a vital part of the overall experience. In fact, MLB parks that followed would adopt this approach, offering a wide variety of food and beverages, whether outside the park or inside with restaurants and bars.
Camden Yards was designed as a replacement for Memorial Park, the home of the Orioles since their arrival in 1954. Designed to vaguely emulate the new Comiskey Park in Chicago, Camden Yards was the first MLB stadium since Ebbets Field (the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers until the late 1950s) to incorporate an existing building as park of the architecture of the stadium. B&O Warehouse, extending the length of Camden Yards’ right field wall, gave the ballpark an unmistakable landmark recognizable to even the most casual baseball fan. On the way back toward the home plate entrance, we discovered statutes outside of the park. Orioles greats Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray were immortalized in bronze, as were Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken. Though new to us, this type of tribute would become nearly ubiquitous in the cadre of new MLB parks that would follow.
Once inside, we wandered the lower concourse, which wrapped around the playing field. We discovered that Camden Yards had three tiers of seats extending from left field behind home plate to right field foul pole, which comprised most of the 48,000 plus seats in the ballpark. Unlike older MLB parks, the seats near the left and right field foul poles were angled toward home plate. This simple gesture greatly increases the fan experience in these areas, and would become the norm for new stadiums during the next decade.
Walking along the lower concourse, we found the picnic area in right field, just above the auxiliary scoreboard/video board extending the length of the right field wall. This was the first dedicated fan gathering area we had seen in an MLB, and again it would serve as a model for ballparks to follow. Of course, the B&O Warehouse dominated the view in right field, becoming synonymous with Camden Yards. Just to the right of the green batter’s eye in centerfield was the main videoboard. Located atop the bleachers in centerfield, the board was surprisingly small for a new park, though in this case a smaller video board was not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than presenting an overbearing presence, the smaller videoboard was adequate as well as unobtrusive.
Continuing along the lower concourse toward the left field foul pole, we encountered the bullpen, which was composed of two levels. At the time, Camden Yards was the first MLB park to sport the two tier bullpen, and this layout would be copied by other newly constructed parks. Finally, we climbed to the upper deck behind home plate to get pictures to create a panorama of the stadium. From that vantage point, we realized that portions of the outfield wall blocked the view of downtown Baltimore. We didn’t think much about it at the time, but featuring a city skyline would become the centerpiece for stadiums that followed (most notably PNC Bank in Pittsburgh and Busch Stadium III in St Louis). Apparently, there was some criticism concerning the blockage of the view of Baltimore, but from our perspective, it did not detract from the beautiful ballpark.
We did not have a camera for our first Camden Yards visit, and I cannot recall where we sat that day. Baltimore hosted the Philadelphia Phillies for the afternoon contest. Philadelphia prevailed in what would become a slugfest, and my scorecard for the game survived the trip home. Considering that we had only visited multipurpose stadiums (as well as Yankee Stadium), digesting what we had seen at Camden Yards was almost overwhelming. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were seeing the future of MLB parks, a blueprint that was employed by other MLB clubs when planning and building their new homes.
We have returned to Camden Yards on a number of occasions during the following two decades. During one our visits, we ventured away from the park, wandering down to the Inner Harbor. Originally a shallow water port used mainly for commercial shipping, the Inner Harbor gradually transformed into a visitor’s haven, complete with recreational facilities, shopping and dining. My attraction to the Inner Harbor consisted mainly of the boat traffic in that portion of the Chesapeake Bay. On this occasion, we were fortunate to see the USS Constellation, a ship from the 19th century. She was designed and built for use in the Mediterranean Sea and Africa in the 1850s, but was summoned home during the Civil War to patrol for Confederate ships. The Constellation served various roles afterward, before finding a permanent home in the Inner Harbor. This find was particularly satisfying for me, as that trip combined two of my passions: baseball and American history.
Each visit to Camden Yards was like greeting an old friend, and quickly became one of my favorite parks in MLB. Most of our visits were on weekends, as my brother came down to visit me when I moved to Maryland in 2013. Most games were against either the Phillies or other AL teams, but to date none of the games were important to the playoff fortunes of the Orioles. One of the games that does stand out was against the Boston Red Sox in July of 2013. David Ortiz had just grabbed national headlines by assaulting a dugout phone with his bat after a called strike three with which he did not agree. During this first at-bat of the game we saw after that incident, we was booed mercilessly by the large partisan crowd. To the chagrin of the hometown fans, Ortiz hit a two run homer run in the third, as Jon Lester and relievers shut down the Orioles offense in a 5-0 Boston victory.
Needless to say, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a trailblazer from the very start, sparking a revolution in the way ballparks were built that lasts to this day. In addition, it should be noted that the Inner Harbor is just a short walk from the park. If you find yourself within range of the ballpark during baseball season, check to see if the Orioles are in town. You won’t be disappointed!