Workers constructing own field of dreams at Camden Yards

Ken Rosenthal

April 08, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

Just last week Dave Walsh was on the job at the Orioles' new downtown ballpark, building the tunnel that will connect the visitors' dugout and clubhouse, thinking about what it all will mean.

"It's neat knowing Bo Jackson will be walking up and down this hall," said Walsh, 25, an engineer from Burtonsville. "You've got to keep that in the back of your mind. What you're building is a piece of history."

Granted, Bo might still be limping next Opening Day, but you get the idea. Walsh is one of 475 workers currently employed in the construction of the ballpark. This isn't Iowa, but he's caught up in the excitement of building a real-life field of dreams.

Today, as the Orioles open their final season at Memorial Stadium, the workers at their new yard will no doubt crank up their radios, trying to catch a few pitches above the roar of jackhammers.

These are Orioles fans, nearly every one. They've painted their scaffolding orange and black. They've decorated their hard hats with team decals. They've even drawn baseball stitches on the headache balls attached to 300-ton cranes.

"When they first told me I was coming to build the Orioles' stadium, I kind of jumped up and down thinking great things," Walsh said. "It's a joy to work here. I'm honored. I know 20 years from now I'll be glad I was part of this. How many times do you get to build a stadium?"

Such is the prevailing sentiment at Camden Yards.

Take it from Roy Daniel, 44, an ironworker from Westminster: "There was no problem with me wanting to be here. I knew it was coming up. I definitely wanted the job."

Or take it from Don Raven, 36, a surveyor from Arbutus: "It's gratifying to be here. In the beginning there was nothing. Now you can see all the steel, see it taking shape."

The ballpark is said to be 51 percent complete. Its grand arches are visible from Russell Street. Its steel light standards rise over the Inner Harbor. Inside, the grading of the lower deck continues. The field will be landscaped this fall.

Daniel recalls only one job that was more fulfilling -- the Bay Bridge. Ed Pierce, 35, a heating-ventilating-air conditioning worker from Glen Burnie, said, "It'll be a monument when it gets done. Another landmark."

Many workers look forward to the day when they can take their kids to the new ballpark and say, "I helped build this." In fact, some of them already do. "I brought my son down," Raven said. "He thought it was pretty neat."

From a kid's standpoint, this isn't just another boring skyscraper. From a construction standpoint, that's part of the fun. Walsh, a former pitcher at Maryland ("Tell Frank!"), previously worked on two office buildings in Washington, D.C. He said the projects barely compare.

"In an office building you're usually dealing with four sides," he said. "Here we're dealing with geometric dimensions. Everything works off home plate. In that sense, you have to use a lot more mathematics."

Or, as Pierce put it, "There's not a whole lot of repetition on a stadium. It's not floor one right after another, all the same thing. It takes a little bit of thought."

Not that the workers sit around all day debating physics. In fact, their mission often seems twofold: Finishing the ballpark, and securing Opening Day tickets for next year.

To the latter end, they constantly pester assistant project manager Kim McCalla, who has no control over the situation. "We bug her every day," Walsh said. "I told her even nosebleed seats would be nice."

McCalla smiled, but she has this recurring nightmare: Hundreds of workers returning to the park next Opening Day for "last-minute repairs" -- polishing doorknobs with Q-tips, investigating faucets and the like.

More than 1,000 people will have worked at the ballpark by the time it is complete. An Orioles official said the club is considering ways to accommodate them for the '92 opener, but offered no guarantees.

Meanwhile, McCalla is planning a time capsule to honor the workers, some of whom joke about leaving their own marks. "I'm not going to say I've dropped some things in the concrete," Walsh said. "But I know where things are."

Now if only they could get tickets -- what a reunion it would be.

"It would be a party to end all parties," Daniel explained, "We know where all the beer lines are."

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