Here's the Ticket

March 29, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

The tall wall in right field will cast a Fenway-like shadow in Baltimore this summer. The ivy that someday will serve as a lush, leafy hitters' background in center will plant thoughts of Wrigley.

It's almost time for Baltimore to unveil its own classic ballpark -- one that will combine some of what's best in baseball tradition with much of what's good in modern design.

Welcome to Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- the hottest ticket in town.

Its sweeping brick arches and erector-set-like structural steel frame gives it the distinctive look of a ballpark that is well-connected, both to its downtown neighborhood and to baseball's past.

The wrought-iron gates won't officially open until April 6, but already it is being mentioned in the same breath with the sport's most revered ballparks, including Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

Its classic good looks are enhanced by views that are gorgeously unobstructed.

The 48,041 seats might be baseball's most comfortable and are neatly tailored in dark green, with aisle seats adorned with the Orioles' 1890s logo.

Hot dogs and peanuts still will be available, but the menu extends far beyond your typical ballpark fare, with crab soup to complement your grilled lamb chop or roasted breast of chicken.

We were told this would be the perfect place to bring a friend, a family of four or just an Orioles cap; that we'd mourn the loss of Memorial Stadium -- until Opening Day 1992.

We were told, all right. But who could have imagined this?

OK, so the ballpark name is about five syllables too long. That aside, Oriole Park at Camden Yards is all the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Orioles have been promising for the past four years, since the night Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced to a howling crowd at Memorial Stadium that the state was building a new ballyard and the Orioles had agreed to play there until 2007.

The biggest winners are baseball fans, from Cumberland to Salisbury, from York, Pa., to Richmond, Va. -- Orioles territory. The purists among Orioles fans also may notice that the new stadium has far more to offer than just good looks and good food.

Inside, the Orioles' ballpark is spacious and functional. Exposed pipes hang high above the main concourse. Simple, unadorned signs point visitors to every destination from the women's room to the newly refurbished MARC rail line station.

Getting around the new ballpark figures to be a breeze. Concourses are one-third wider than at Memorial Stadium; ramps slope so gently that a trip to the upper deck isn't even good exercise; a combination of elevators, escalators, stair towers and the user-friendly ramps should help to empty the ballpark within minutes of the last pitch, assuming fans can be persuaded to leave.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a wealth of information, spewing forth everything from expanded notes and statistics about the game on the field to out-of-town scores updated continuously on a 15-foot-high scoreboard embedded in the right-field wall.

For fans who don't consider a pitching change in the Cleveland game to be entertainment, there are more exotic choices: JumboTron, a 22-foot, 9-inch tall Sony television with a picture you'd be thrilled to get in your living room; and dueling bird weather vanes, which, from their perches atop the scoreboard, turn gently into the wind.

And there's never a reason to carry a wristwatch to Oriole Park at Camden Yards; three huge clock faces are visible from most sections of the main seating area -- the scoreboard clock, the Bromo-Seltzer Tower clock and the clock recently restored to the main cupola of refurbished Camden Station.

The most engaging view is not of the irregularly shaped playing field; it is the sights outside the ballpark, from the twisting streets of Ridgely's Delight to the bustle of the University of Maryland law school, home field to tomorrow's crop of player agents. The brick-faced ballpark seems to fit easily among its new neighbors, as inconspicuous as a major-league stadium could be.

From the open-air concourse that wraps the upper deck, the city is a patchwork of tarred roof tops, the occasional bare tree and, off in the distance, the circular lid of the B&O Railroad Museum, golden in the late-afternoon sun. At the stadium's doorstep, signs of a business boom are everywhere, as restaurants and pubs gear up for their new baseball-thirsty customers.

One gritty community did not live to see Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Before Cal Ripken moved in, the 85-acre site belonged to a city middle school, a sausage plant, a steam plant, a doughnut shop and a dozen other occupants. Some moved away, others shut down so baseball could come downtown.

The new Camden Yards is acres and acres of lined parking spaces and a baseball ballpark whose beauty has sucked the breath out of some of the city's hardest-boiled residents -- including the governor.

"When you go in there and look at the field, you can't believe it -- it's spectacular," Schaefer said of the ballpark.

And, remember, the Orioles just rent. Oriole Park at Camden Yards belongs to us.

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