I am standing over home plate in the new stadium at Camden Yards -- not in a dream, not even in a field of dreams, but on a semi-private tour of what is a grand and wonderful construction site that is beginning to shape up into what promises to become a grand and wonderful new stadium.
I am wearing a hard hat. That's one of the many great things about visiting a construction site, which, much more than baseball really, brings out the little boy (or girl) in us. Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority and leader of this little expedition, has "Bruce" on the back of his hard hat, whereas mine only has "Guest," but I don't mind. All I know is I'm on the site with the giant steel girders and men drilling holes in concrete.
It's exciting. We walk past several massive cranes, one of which, I'm told, will lift as many as 450 tons. I quickly calculate that that is even more than John Williams and Buster Douglas weigh combined. I can't help wishing, though only to myself, that I could climb into one of those suckers and make the cranes do whatever it is they do.
Although the stadium won't be ready until Opening Day 1992, and probably not a moment before, you can tell now, though only with some prompting, that some day they'll play baseball there. You can see the steel girders rising into the sky -- although not too high; this stadium will be what architects like to call intimate -- where the stands will be. But what I wanted to see was home plate, the ultimate reference point for a stadium.
As I said, when I did get to home plate, I was standing above it -- way above it. That's because the field hasn't been excavated yet. On Opening Day, and forever thereafter or until this stadium is prematurely deemed obsolete, we will enter the stadium at the plaza level. The field, and perhaps 40 percent of the seats, will be below the plaza level while the sky and the remaining seats will be above it. They can't excavate the field yet because they need the high ground in order for the cranes to do their work.
But there is a home plate. It's at the bottom of a metal tube, which is covered by a piece of wood, a high-tech kind of deal. Home plate was about five feet below me, and about 10 feet
above where it will eventually rest. And yet, you could stand there, imagine a bat in your hand and look out at the warehouse that will frame the stadium. It looks about 200 feet away, the length of a medium pop fly.
Of course, it's not quite that close. The right-field line will be 319 feet from home plate, and there will be an outsized right-field wall, as you must have read, that is, of course, a rip-off of the left-field wall in Fenway Park, an attempt at making instant Baltimore tradition. Still, I like the idea. I like the idea of a stadium that reflects its urban surroundings, and the idea of a stadium that will keep the semi-hideous railway warehouse in place as a reminder of the site's origins. The building -- actually about a 500-foot home run away -- is so ugly it's campy. They're going to clean it up, put in new windows (most of the panes are broken), make offices for the Orioles on one end and develop the other. I think it will be a hit.
Otherwise, the view from home plate is of downtown. There are the Bromo-Seltzer clock and the other recognizable buildings. What you can't see, from the field or from the street now as you pass by the site, is the massive basement area that houses the workings of the stadium. It's a lot of concrete, and the people doing the building were explaining how everything would fit together. I nodded, dumbly.
There are around 200 blueprints for the stadium, which seems to me as impossible to build as all those medieval European cathedrals were. Of course, those cathedrals took about 500 years, and the stadium about two. There are about 500 subcontractors, however, and just getting the color coordination tough enough before you begin figuring the geometry properly so that there aren't gaping holes between your seat and the guy's next to you.
One thing I did understand was that under the cement, along with the electrical wires and sewage lines and other pipes, were lines that carry the beer -- I'm not kidding -- from the basement to each concession stand. Is this an age of miracles or what?
Everyone at the construction site was optimistic about getting the stadium in on time and at cost. Optimism is an easy thing, of course, but it was hard not to feel good while touring this unnamed stadium-to-be. I saw where the light rail will drop people off and the new ramp off I-395 where the traffic jams will occur. Standing there, you could imagine the not-yet-built field and wall and stands and concessions and parking. And if you listened closely, you could hear the full-throated roar of the crowd. Or was that a jackhammer?