As the clock ticks toward Opening Day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles fans the world over (including parts of Gardenville) are asking one question.
At the new stadium, which bullpen will be for the Orioles?
Team officials haven't decided yet, maybe because there isn't much of a decision to make.
The bullpens at Oriole Park almost will be identical. Each will be 80 feet long and 30 feet wide. Each will be equipped with two pitching rubbers and home plates. To ensure a homey atmosphere, each will come complete with an 18-foot-long heated dugout, a telephone, a water fountain, a restroom and even a cable TV hookup in case Orioles pitchers want to study their throwing motions or, say, Gregg Olson ever gets hooked on "One Life to Live."
The similarities between the bullpens won't end there. From inside looking out, they'll even offer the same view of the ballpark, give or take 6 feet of elevation. Both will be just beyond the outfield wall in left-center field, in a side-by-side configuration you will not find at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium or almost anywhere.
The Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority didn't start out to be different. First, they planned to build the bullpens in a conventional way, one in the present location and the other a comfortable distance away beyond the wall in dead center. But then they had a better idea, particularly for fans who prefer baseball tickets that cost $4. With a little architectural shuffling, they managed to create extra space in center field for about 250 additional bleacher seats, the cheapest -- and among the scarcest -- in the new ballpark.
The new bullpens won't exactly be a place for introverts or relief pitchers seeking political asylum. In the years leading up to the building of the stadium, the Orioles collected hundreds of design ideas from their fans, including one concerning the bullpens that they took to heart. People didn't want to rely on friends with high-powered binoculars for reports from the Orioles bullpen. They wanted to see for themselves. So, both warm-up areas at the new ballpark will be lifted up. The first bullpen will be 4 feet above the playing field. The second will be about 6 feet higher.
Janet Marie Smith, Orioles vice president for planning and development, and the team's ballpark liaison, sees the difference already, which is not bad, considering that the bullpens still are mostly concrete and mud. "If you walk around the ballpark, you can see the bullpens from virtually everywhere," she said.
There is a lot of work left on the bullpens -- rolling down sod, installing bathroom fixtures, connecting the telephones. But most of that won't be done until the weather improves, maybe as late as March. In the meantime, stadium workers are concentrating on inside projects. The biggest one has just begun on the seventh and eighth floors of the B&O warehouse, where work finally has begun on the stadium club, still expected to be ready for Opening Day.