If the first Baltimore Orioles batter at the new ballpark hammers a single next April, it could mean one of two things.
Either Rickey Henderson, acquired in a 12-for-one swap, is the team's new leadoff man.
Or, more likely, the Orioles are making good use of one of the many clubhouse toys awaiting them at Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- brightly lighted, centrally located batting and pitching tunnels.
Work on the practice chutes is progressing nicely. Lighting and painting have been completed. And last week, workers spent a few days rolling out the wall-to-wall carpeting for the 100-foot-long tunnels. No shag rugs here. For the practice-room floors, the Orioles chose -- what else? -- AstroTurf.
The Orioles have had practice rooms before. They've just never had any as comfortable or convenient as the ones that await them at the new ballpark. At Memorial Stadium, their foul-weather training area was a musty room down the right-field line.
At Oriole Park, the setup will be slightly different. There will be two practice rooms located just off the main corridor that connects the Orioles clubhouse and the dugout. Each room will be outfitted with two batter's boxes and pitching mounds groomed by the Orioles grounds crew. Even the hitting background will be perfect -- to give the batters every chance, the walls behind the mounds have been painted black. There are no practice tunnels behind the visiting team's dugout, but opposing players will have limited access to the Orioles rooms.
Janet Marie Smith, Orioles vice president for planning and development, said players and coaches contributed to designing the new indoor digs, with assistant general manager Frank Robinson and bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks offering the most input.
"The first concern was quantity -- they wanted four [pitching mounds and home plates] that would be easy for the home team to use," Smith said, referring to the increase of the pitching-hitting area from Memorial Stadium to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Smith said that the ballpark planners also did their best to light the indoor batting and pitching cages to approximate the conditions of a regular night game at the ballpark.
"Obviously, it's not quite the same, because you don't have studio-bright light [in the indoor practice areas]. But the players had an interest in simulating the lighting conditions on the playing field," the team executive said.
There are indications that the Orioles will hold some off-season workouts at the new ballpark before they depart for spring training in mid-February.
The Orioles won't move downtown until several other clubhouse rooms are finished, including the weight room and the trainer's room, Smith said.