Slowly getting used to the reality of the new stadium

Jacques Kelly

October 21, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

A downtown ballpark is going to take some getting used to.

The other day, I spent some time along Camden, Pratt, Paca, Eutaw and Russell streets and Washington Boulevard while small armies of construction workers labored on Oriole Park, Camden Station and the Central Light Rail Line.

There was plenty of dust being raised where the new Crescent City garage is under construction on South Eutaw Street. And the sports bars -- Pickles Pub, Bleachers, Sliders, Balls, P.J. Cricketts and the Strike Three Lounge -- seem to be anticipating the new business that awaits them next April when the new stadium opens.

It's hard to call this west end of downtown a real neighborhood, although it is certainly surrounded by some thriving residential districts -- Ridgely's Delight, Otterbein, Pigtown, the Lofts (the old garment manufacturing area) and, if you walk far enough, Federal Hill. I'll guess many of these places will push initially for restrictive traffic rules to keep baseball fans from parking on their streets. In time, the fans will learn where all the convenient and "secret" neighborhood parking spots are.

The environs of the downtown ballpark do not compare favorably with comfortable-as-an-old-shoe Waverly, with its elms and maples and charming houses.

On the last day of regular season play, I watched the fans leave the Stadium Lounge. Others crisscrossed along Waverly's Tinges Lane, 33rd Street, Old York Road and Westerwald Avenue. It occurred to me that these classic streets, which seem lifted from a Baltimore Christmas Garden, imparted Memorial Stadium with the intangible feel of community baseball that won't be achieved in the new, corporate-friendly ballpark.

On the other hand, the new ball field does conform neatly to its downtown location and already seems more at home there than the Baltimore Arena, which has looked awkward and out of place for the past 30 years.

And let's hope that Oriole Park succeeds in becoming a strong downtown presence, enough of a force to fill all the vacant retail space (new restaurants, perhaps?) in first-floor office buildings along neighboring Pratt Street. All this takes years and years to establish. The charm of Memorial Stadium and Waverly did not unfold instantly either.

And about that clumsy name, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The term Oriole Park has plenty of history going for it. There was an old Oriole Park, where the International League Birds played, at 29th and Barclay streets.

But the term "Camden Yards" is off base. Baltimore never had a Camden Yards.

What we do have is Camden Station, the once important Baltimore and Ohio Railroad terminal. The station property was not, strictly speaking, a rail yard, which implies a storage area for rail cars. The property was a bustling arrival-and-departure point for B&O trains. Most people don't realize it, but state-run commuter trains still chug in and out of a Camden Station track every work day. And the CSX's main north-south (former B&O) route through Baltimore still traverses this area via the Howard Street Tunnel.

The old Camden Station, by the way, is now being refurbished after many years of shameful neglect. When the restoration project is finished, the building will look as it did in the 1860s when it was erected. Masons replaced a large brick tower base this summer and are now working on the elaborate Italianate woodwork on the station facades. Some time next year, a set of tall spires go back up.

But as to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The name of the place won't make too much difference. Baltimoreans will refer to the spot as the "New Stadium" for years and decades to come.

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