Since the Orioles had a Practice Opening Day yesterday, it's only fair to weigh in with some careful, thoughtful, practice analysis. Here goes:
The new ballpark is awesome (that was the word offered separately by John Oates, Fay Vincent, Sam Horn and two 14-year-olds I talked to).
It's also bold, brash, beautiful and bitchin'. (These from the exclusive Littwin "B" collection of stadium adjectives. I'm saving the C-through-Z descriptives for the real Opening Day.)
The easy thing to do is to get carried away with the stadium -- let's just call it the best since Wrigley and let it go at that -- but fortunately I ran into a friend of mine who offered a sobering point of view.
"From everything I'd heard," he said, "I thought my life would change. I thought I'd get taller or better looking, but I'm the same as when I walked in. I guess it's just simply a ballpark, isn't it?"
Hmmm, well. There was another report from a keen observer of the local scene who said he'd seen a sign at a strip joint on The Block advertising "grand-slam entertainment" with a big diamond logo. So maybe just about everyone's got Camden Yards fever.
For most of the 31,286 who were allowed to purchase tickets, the day was a success. There were no traffic jams. Ed-die got the stadium's first standing ovation (also the first hit off the right-field wall and the first RBI). Mike Flanagan got the first win. They fixed the net behind home plate. Did I mention there were no traffic jams?
Some things went wrong. We lost the JumboTron screen for three minutes. Some of the cash registers malfunctioned. Trash blew on the field. Ed-die, ever gracious, chose not to acknowledge the standing O in any way. Nobody hit the warehouse. The weather was chilly. The game -- a 5-3 Orioles win -- was pretty sloppy.
Mike Devereaux offered this summation: "Ugly game, ugly weather, beautiful stadium."
So, we're back to the stadium. The game, an exhibition after all, didn't count, and all the firsts will get asterisks after them because they won't be entered into the hallowed record book. The stadium was the only star yesterday. It will be the star around here for a while.
It is, of course, a new stadium meant to look old -- but not exactly old. It is brand-spanking-new and you can practically smell the paint. They don't let the reporters step on the grass because the grass is not yet settled (it is apparently OK for players to walk on, though). I was sort of shocked by the dirt the players trailed into the tunnel to their clubhouse. You wanted to take a broom after them.
But the ballpark is supposed to get old and thereby gain character. Fred Wilpon, co-owner of the Mets, said the park reminded him of the late, lamented Ebbets Field.
"You know how they say at some parks you can smell the hot dogs a mile away?" he said. "At Ebbets Field, you could taste them a mile away. I get the same feel here."
What is nothing like Ebbets Field and nothing like anyone has ever seen is the Orioles clubhouse. They didn't get to have one in spring training, but they're paid back double, or actually about a hundred-fold. It's the biggest clubhouse in all of sports. To give you an idea how big, there were clocks on opposite walls that were two hours apart. Someone suggested that's because they were in different time zones. The clubhouse is so big that when it's nearly empty, it actually echoes.
Ebbets Field didn't have a training room with an Olympic-pool-sized Jacuzzi with its own TV set.
Ebbets Field also didn't have mahogany inlay in the lounge areas for club-seat holders. What did rich people do in the old days?
But outside, we're back to character. The wall in right field is supposed to provide character. Randy Milligan is calling it the mini-monster. An Ed-die line drive hit the wall on one bounce, and yet Ed-die was thrown out at second, which should give you an idea of excitement to come. (By the way, for you old Ed-die fans, he did slide.)
There is character in the skyline visible in center field, particularly the part owned by the Bromo Seltzer clock. There is a try at character in the asymmetrical dimensions, the green seats and the brick facade. But most of the character belongs to the warehouse. If you don't love the warehouse, looming over the mini-monster, you simply lack imagination. If you don't love the whole ballpark, you've got that same imagination problem.
What I'm trying to say is that on Practice Opening Day, as the ballclub worked mightily to get ready for the real one and the workers continue to put in the final touches, the new stadium, although it may not change your life, is already in midseason -- and spectacular -- form.