The azaleas of Rexmere

Gwinn Owens

May 15, 1991|By Gwinn Owens

IN EARLY MAY, as has been my custom for 37 years, I strolled past the fantastic flowering of azaleas on Rexmere Road -- but this was the last time. I am filled with a sense of loss.

I was bound for Memorial Stadium, and enjoying this brief but extravagant display of color has been my own pregame spring ritual. I have so often wondered: Who are the people of what must be the most beautiful neighborhood street in Baltimore? Surely, they must be imbued with a sense of beauty and a love of people. Without complaint, they have allowed me and hundreds of other baseball devotees to park on their street.

By now the flaming sea of azaGwinnOwensleas is almost gone, and by next year the multitudes en route to see the Orioles also will be gone. Memorial Stadium, the friendly giant in this lovely community, will be the silent grave of a thousand thrills.

As Baltimore's baseball moguls and power politicians glory in anticipation of their new "traditional" stadium in Camden Yards, they would do well to contemplate not only what they are gaining, but what they are losing in the desertion of Memorial Stadium. And then do everything possible to make Camden Yards as user-friendly as the old stadium has been.

I am among those who boosted the new stadium, because of certain inherent flaws in the old one, and because I believe that the long-term survival of the Baltimore franchise (the most important thing) depends on drawing people from Washington and the suburbs between the cities. Camden Yards is better situated for this purpose.

And yet, reflecting on the simplicity of going to a game on 33rd Street, I am apprehensive for the future. At present I can get from home in the northern suburbs to my parking space on Rexmere Road in 15 minutes, plus another 10 minutes of pleasant walking. The experience is seldom hectic or difficult.

At Camden Yards, apparently, I will have to park in the stadium lot (I have only parked in the Memorial Stadium lot twice in 37 years) or pay to park in a downtown garage -- where, I am sure, the charges will be all the traffic can bear. There will not be a network of streets radiating in all directions, as there is around Memorial Stadium, where traffic is dispersed quickly. In future years, one artery -- Russell Street -- will take most of the load.

(Traffic experts will point out that next year I can take the Central Light Rail, which will run a block from my house, directly to the stadium. That would be sensible and delightful but, unfortunately, I live in Ruxton and my "improvement" association has decreed that there will be no station in Ruxton to pollute our prestigious isolation. My reaction to this is utter rage that a few Mercedes-driving tyrants can so order the course of my life. They allow me only to wave at the train as it goes by.)

I point out all the potential Camden Yards discomforts not to downgrade the hopes for the new ball park; as one whose principal summer entertainment is baseball, I want to see it prosper. If this is to happen, however, the Orioles organization, the Stadium Authority and the relevant public officials ought to be anticipating and attempting to offset what they are losing at Memorial Stadium.

They are forsaking the ambience of what may be major-league baseball's most amiable ball park, trading a neighborhood landmark for a calculated downtown business venture.

Yes, the new stadium, judging from its emerging reality, will be a good one, but how can it match the easy enjoyment of Memorial Stadium, symbolized by the azaleas of Rexmere Road?

Gwinn Owens is the retired editor of this page.

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