Four years in the making, Oriole Park at Camden Yards made the quantum leap from drawing board to ballpark yesterday.
As stadium openers go, this was a good day for ice sculptures, pulsating comebacks and new beginnings.
The Baltimore Orioles' come-from-behind, 5-3 exhibition victory over the New York Mets served nicely as the exclamation point on a stadium opening that was almost without flaw.
Traffic flowed around the ballpark about as smoothly as beer through the insulated copper tubing inside. Many fans arrived early, having heeded the warning of potential trouble spots.
A crowd of 31,286 found more spacious restrooms, more convenient concession stands and, for the most part, shorter lines all around.
There were only minor glitches in the dress rehearsal. The scoreboard went dark at one point when a circuit breaker was accidentally tripped. Not all cash registers at the ARA concession stands were programmed for the menu. And not everyone was thrilled with the sight-lines from their seats.
But overall, there wasn't much to complain about.
"I'm relieved," said Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which joined with the Orioles in the stadium project.
"The things I noticed that bothered me were that we need a few more trash cans. I thought the club level got trashed more than I'm used to. I found a beer spilled on a brand-new chair.
"But I think we hit 98 percent. We'll be a little more ready [for Monday's season opener against the Cleveland Indians]."
The only thing that would have made for a better ballpark debut was warmer weather. The crowd was dressed more for football -- in parkas, fur coats and blankets -- than baseball because of 48-degree temperatures and a bone-chilling wind.
That made appropriate an ice sculpture that stood just inside Gate D. The sculpture was of a left-handed batter flanked by two oriole birds.
Most appreciative of the successful grand opening was Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who compared this day to the opening of Harborplace.
"Everybody opposed me," Mr. Schaefer said. "I took two, three years of abuse: 'Why do you want to build a stadium? Why do you want to build it there?'
"All of a sudden, you can see why. This is the right place, no question. Already you can feel the impact for the region and the state. It'll be tremendous."
Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the stadium authority, compared Mr. Schaefer to a "father who's given birth after the longest pregnancy. It was a painful pregnancy because the governor was mistreated by the public and the media to some extent.
"This is the jewel in his crown of redevelopment in Baltimore. It can only mean a lot of satisfaction."
The fans who came yesterday quickly got caught up in the excitement. Jim Kuhlman drove from Annandale, Va., with his two sons, Jason and Matthew, and a friend, Michael Latimer. They left home early to beat the traffic and pulled into the parking lot at 11:20 a.m. After some leisurely sightseeing at Harborplace, they made their way to the stadium.
"It's a good complement to the Inner Harbor," said Mr. Kuhlman, who will be back for Opening Day. "We'll come up early, and go to Harborplace or the aquarium."
For John and Rodney Turner of Lochearn, this was a chance to sit in on history.
"This will be a memory for me and my son," John Turner said. "It might not have been the season opener, but it was the first game played here."
Rodney Turner's only complaint was that from his terrace box seat along the third-base side, he could not see the top of the center field scoreboard.
"But I'm going to love it," Rodney Turner said of the stadium. "I'm 24 years old and this is the first time I've been around a new ballpark."
Mr. Belgrad was gratified finally to have a game in the stadium.
"I am pleased to see people in the park," he said. "It's been five years in the design. Today was a day of reality. The problems that developed today can be corrected in a timely manner."
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
Exhibition game at RFK Stadium: Orioles vs. Boston Red Sox, 1:35 p.m. TV: None
Oriole Advocate 8K Race: From Memorial Stadium to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 8:30 a.m. Race is filled.
*Opening Week Orioles Parade, 11:30 a.m.: A 1.5-mile parade along Pratt Street will feature Orioles, celebrities and marching bands.
*Orioles workout: 2 p.m. at new stadium. Tickets are $3, available at regular ticket outlets. They also go on sale 9 a.m. Sunday at Oriole Park.
*Opening Day: Orioles vs. Indians, 3:05 p.m. Gates open at noon. Game is sold out. TV: Channel 2.
*On SUNDAY: Orioles '92. A special section previewing the coming season, as American League Most Valuable Player Cal Ripken Jr. and his teammates begin play at the new ballpark. A look at the Orioles' chances in the American League East as well as a rundown on the rest of the major leagues.