Despite snow flurries and a chilling wind, thousands of people turned out at Oriole Park at Camden Yards yesterday to get their first good look at the place.
Fans in parkas, office workers in pinstripes and the merely curious came to the ballpark at lunchtime. Admission was free.
And last night, hundreds more gathered outside the stadium for a pep rally to greet Orioles players just back from Florida, many of them seeing their new baseball home for the first time.
The rally was a brief affair, but not a disappointment to the baseball fanatics collecting free pennants and balls handed out by a costumed Tony the Tiger in a cereal promotion and then getting autographs on them from players.
Veteran catcher Rick Dempsey was the biggest crowd-pleaser, climbing over a barrier fence to be with the crowd after the rally as other players headed away, into the stadium confines.
"Everything is so first-class. It's breathtaking, it's so exciting," said Mr. Dempsey, apologizing for an inability to say how much it meant to him -- and how much more exciting it will be if he makes the team's final cut and takes the field at Monday's Opening Day.
In the earlier ballpark open house, people strolled through the stands and sampled the food. The reviews were mainly raves, except for problems with traffic and parking near the stadium.
"I tell you, when I came through here it just overwhelmed me," said Jim Lusby, 42, a season ticket-holder from Finksburg. Peering out from the plaza above the high right-field wall, he pronounced the new stadium's old-time atmosphere "magnificent.
"I feel like I'm back in yesteryear," he said.
"But the traffic does look like a problem, I'll tell you that," he said. He tried Interstate 95 to Russell Street but found it backed up, and so went to Plan B, an end run via Martin Luther King Boulevard and Baltimore Street.
On game days, he said, he'll probably come early, park at the Inner Harbor and "make a day of it."
Jim Butler, 70, said he isn't much of a baseball fan anymore, but he drove to the ballpark from his home in Alexandria, Va., just to see what all the excitement is about.
"I think it's beautiful," he said. And "easy to get to."
From the Capital Beltway, to I-95 to I-395, "you don't have to make a left turn or right turn, just point the car," he said. "It's marvelous for people from D.C. and Northern Virginia."
"I haven't been [to a ball game in Baltimore] for quite a while, but this will bring me back, maybe," he said.
While people tried out the seats, snapped pictures and ate lunch, Aubrey Rose, 57, an Orioles usher for 29 years, stood by like a proud father, answering their questions.
"I haven't even seen the team on the field and I feel more close to the game than at Memorial Stadium. There are no obstructed views," he said.
"It's got to be state of the art," he added. "Even though I've been with the outfit 29 years, nobody can make me believe Comiskey Park [the new Chicago White Sox stadium] can touch this in any kind of way."
Down in the stands above the first-base line, Steve Nuetzel, 19, of Monkton pointed out to his mother, Gail, stadium details such as the ornithologically correct Oriole weather vanes flanking the old-timey scoreboard clock.
Although the field was vacant, Mr. Nuetzel said the ballpark evoked a feeling of "real authentic baseball, the way baseball should be played."
He rated the wider plastic seats "a little more comfortable" than those at Memorial Stadium. "And they're not as cold, either."
As for the parking, he just chuckled a bit and called it "confusing."
The loudest and most unanimous complaints heard were about the ball net draped above the seats behind home plate. Unlike the net at Memorial Stadium, this one is white nylon, and it hangs only nine feet above the seats,
making it difficult to see through.
"Everybody's complaining," said an usher.
"These seats are terrible," said William Burns, 73, of Lutherville, as he and his son, Bruce, 42, of Parkton, sat beneath the net, polishing off lunch. The two Italian sausage hot dogs and two beers cost them $13.50, but it was the obscured view through the net that really bugged them.
"They're going to have to do something about this," Bruce Burns agreed.
The Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority have decided to scrap the net and erect a 20-foot vertical chicken-wire screen behind home plate. It should be ready by game time Monday.
Numerous streets and intersections will be closed temporarily Sunday as Baltimore celebrates the opening of the baseball season.
The activity begins with an 8-kilometer footrace from Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards.
Later in the morning, areas of the downtown will be blocked off for the Orioles parade down Pratt Street.
The following intersections and streets will be closed to all but local traffic for the duration of the race from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.:
* Westbound 33rd Street at Loch Raven Boulevard.
* Westbound 33rd Street at Ednor Road.
* North 33rd Street from Ellerslie Ave. to the Charles Street service drive.
* North 29th Street from Charles Street to Maryland Avenue.
* Westside of Maryland Avenue from 29th Street to Mount Royal Avenue.
* Westside of Maryland Avenue from Cathedral Street, Liberty Street, Hopkins Place and Sharp Street to Camden Street
* North Camden Street from Sharp Street to Russell Street.
* Right lane of southbound Russell Street from Camden Street to the ballpark entrance.
The Orioles parade begins at 11:30 a.m. from President and Pratt streets and will head west on Pratt and then south on Eutaw Street to Camden Street
City police officers will be blocking off intersections along the route. Parking will be prohibited on those portions of Pratt and Eutaw.
4 The parade is expected to last about 90 minutes.