When Oriole Park at Camden Yards holds its official unveiling Monday afternoon, it will mark the successful conclusion of an uphill, 12-year crusade by William Donald Schaefer to locate a sports edifice in downtown Baltimore. He is responsible, more than any other individual, for the ball park's creation, and for the rapturous kudos from across the nation that this trail-blazing baseball stadium has received.
It was back in 1980 that then Mayor Schaefer said a new stadium at Camden Yards would give Baltimore its "best shot" at keeping the Orioles in town and simultaneously boost the fortunes of downtown development. No one listened to him, though, until Robert Irsay pirated the Colts football team out of Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984. The trauma of that loss triggered the steps that led to a Camden Yards sports complex.
Along the way, former Gov. Harry R. Hughes played a key role by first proposing and pushing for creation of the Maryland Sports Authority and then appointing a little-known Baltimore lawyer with scant interest in sports, Herbert J. Belgrad, to chair this panel. He would become the guiding force, along with his executive director, Bruce Hoffman, in winning the trust of legislators and keeping the project within budget limits -- and on schedule.
That this ball park has won well-deserved praise for its architectural integrity, its faithfulness to both the city and baseball tradition, is a tribute to the late Edward Bennett Williams and the new Orioles ownership group led by Eli S. Jacobs, both of whom fought doggedly to assure the best of modern conveniences would be blended with old-time ball park flavor. No detail was too small for the Jacobs team in guaranteeing baseball nostalgia at Oriole Park.
Mr. Schaefer was right from the start about the site he selected. Camden Yards is simply ideal -- a link between old and new, between downtown and commuter routes to the suburbs and to Washington, between the industrial past and the high-tech future, between surf and turf, between grass and concrete. All this can be found within the view of fans sitting in the ball park. It is an area that is on the cutting edge of the city's -- and the region's -- future development boom.
Two of the crown jewels of Mr. Schaefer's years in Annapolis will be on display Monday -- Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the light-rail trolley line extending from suburban Timonium to the stadium's gates (with later extensions to Glen Burnie, Hunt Valley, Pennsylvania Station and BWI Airport). Both appear to be instant hits. They should revive the governor's reputation as a visionary leader who dares to turn dreams into reality. The ballpark that fans tested out for the first time yesterday is in fact if not in name "Schaefer Stadium."