Orioles outfielders will toe rubber, too New warning track to have synthetic top

February 23, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Back.

Back.

Back.

And he makes a one-handed catch . . . on the synthetic rubber granulate with a polyurethane binder.

Ohhh, doctor.

What's this? The first play-by-play call of a chemical reaction? No. It is a glimpse of outfield play as fans soon will know it at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Like every major-league stadium, the new park is equipped with a warning track -- about 18 feet wide and circling the playing field.

But the similarities end about there. Unlike the old track, which was composed mostly of crushed rock and brick dust, the new one was cooked up by scientists.

In most cases, the Orioles have avoided synthetics at the new ballpark. The warning track is different. The Orioles gave top priority to keeping players safe.

"Memorial Stadium's track served its purpose, warning players they were about to meet the fence. But because of the hardness, it was dangerous," said Orioles vice president Janet Marie Smith, one of those who selected the new track.

The new warning track will not be a throw pillow. But Smith said: "It is much easier on a player. It has resilience. It doesn't scratch you the way crushed brick might."

The new track has three layers, two of which you would not want to fall on in bermuda shorts. First is a 6- to 8-inch layer of stone. On top is a 2-inch coating of asphalt. Then comes the layer that fans will see and players will appreciate -- a half-inch rubberized coating.

Last November, about a third of the outfield section of the track was completed -- from the left-field foul pole toward center. After a lengthy layoff, work resumed last week and will continue as long as temperatures hit 50 degrees, the minimum needed to work with the warning-track goop. The work can be finished in four or five days, said Tom Mitchell, sales manager for Martin Surfacing, the Hunt Valley-based company doing the work.

Don't expect to see huge mud puddles gather on the warning track. Or any puddles. Like the playing field, which sits on top of a state-of-the-art drainage system, the warning track will be dry minutes after virtually any downpour.

"We don't expect pooling or puddling on the warning track, like you see at Memorial," Smith said. "Like everything else, it has been designed with better drainage properties."

The warning track also has an appealing, if slightly offbeat, color. Many ballparks with rubber tracks have colored them day-glo orange. (See Veterans Stadium, Riverfront Stadium, Royals Stadium, any stadium built after 1969.)

At the Orioles' new ballpark, the warning track won't be dirt, but it sure will look like it.

"They wanted us to customize to match the dirt, to give it as much of a natural look as possible," Mitchell said.

So, Martin Surfacing got busy. When entrepreneurs announced they were selling vials of Memorial Stadium infield soil last year, Mitchell said, "We were one of the first people to buy."

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