For media, it was more than just walk in park COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY

March 26, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

Four hundred reporters, walking through dugouts, investigating sightlines, checking out the bathrooms in luxury suites. Four hundred reporters bumping into each other as they scribbled notes, shot pictures, taped interviews.

Four hundred reporters -- and there wasn't even a ballgame.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards was crawling with media representatives yesterday as the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Orioles threw open the ballpark for the national press.

For more than two hours, reporters and photographers from Washington, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and all over Maryland roamed the field, the seats, the food stands.

CNN came to look. ESPN was there. So was U.S. News & World Report. Television reporters interviewed print reporters. Print reporters interviewed each other.

And let's drop any pretense that this was high-pressure work. Hey, this was a day at the ballpark, a day in the sun with the boss' blessing. This was playing hooky with the principal's approval.

Beneath the professional veneer, they were just a bunch of kids who got into the game early. Some acted like it. While throngs of reporters were interviewing Oriole and stadium authority officials, some visitors were busy handing their cameras to friends and posing, tourist-style, for snapshots.

"Where are the free mugs?" one reporter, only half-joking, shouted as he arrived on the fancy club level.

Robert Wyatt, the construction manager who has supervised every step in the building of the $106 million project, stood near the visitors' dugout and beamed at the horde.

He wasn't surprised at the turnout. Attracting people has never been difficult for the ballpark. During construction, the problem was keeping people away. Some days, a couple of hundred curious passers-by would make their way onto the site, only to be shooed off.

Wyatt found that unusual. Of course, he conceded, he's not always supervising construction of a ballpark. "Usually, it's a waste-water plant," he said. "No one comes around to see that."

But this is a ball field, a place of excitement and nostalgia and romance. Jim Gauger, executive sports editor of the Trenton Times, sat in the stands and looked out toward the new video board welcoming fans to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, with the city skyline rising behind it.

"What I thought of when I walked in was 'The Natural,' " he said, referring to the baseball parable of good and evil set in the 1930s.

"I like the idea that you're so close to the field. I'm familiar with Veterans Stadium [in Philadelphia], where you need binoculars. This is great," Gauger said.

All around, construction crews pressed on with their work. Painters were slapping black paint on handrails. Sparks were shooting off welders' torches. The grounds crew was trying to level the infield before today's rain.

Down in the Orioles locker room, only one of the lockers so far had a nameplate affixed: the area reserved for No. 8, Cal Ripken. It became an attraction. Some of the guests -- obviously not jaded professional reporters -- took turns snapping pictures of each other in the famous locker or next to it.

Upstairs, security agents were busy rooting through the private boxes, checking out the floor plan for President Bush's Opening Day visit. On the club level, where the more affluent fans can relax in plush chairs or have a bartender mix a drink, reporters gazed at the dark polished wood, the softly colored green and taupe floor tiles, the dark green carpet.

"I expect never to be rich enough to be here again," said Bob Anbinder, news planning editor at Channel 2.

A tour guide in one of the private boxes said she believed it was "Lou Lucchino's private suite, but I don't know." Actually, the first name of the Orioles president is Larry. She stood at the base of the spiral staircase that led up to a second level. "You're not

allowed up there," she said pleasantly. "That's why I'm here."

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