World beats a path to Oriole Park

MIKE LITTWIN

April 05, 1992|By Mike Littwin

OK, it's time to dust off the "Welcome to Baltimore, Hon" signs and put 'em out in the front yard.

Tomorrow is the big day.

It's the long-awaited, maybe-too-much-anticipated, coming-out party for the new ballpark at Camden Yards. Everyone who can rustle up a ticket will be there. What I like most about the day is that it's a dress-up affair and a come-as-you-are party at the same time.

The ballpark handles the dress-up part. It's all paint and spit and polish, and there are work crews out there right now -- paintin' and polishin' and spittin' their little hearts out. The few parts of the ballpark that aren't green actually shine.

The rest of us just have to be ourselves. Wear whatever you like. The president will probably show up in a suit, but I'll be in jeans and sneaks.

You see, the beauty of the ultra-new, skybox-filled, closer-to-D.C., refuge-for-rich-folk ballyard is that it's meant to evoke this homey, fit-into-the-neighborhood feel -- and it pretty much does unless you're sitting on the mahogany inlay in the club lounge. If nothing else, Baltimore is neighborhoods. From what other stadium in what other city can one look outside to gaze down upon someplace called Ridgley's Delight? That's a neighborhood name that Studs Terkel, if not George F. Will, could appreciate. That's working-class poetry, folks. That's Baltimore.

And here to celebrate the opener will be media from around the world. "Good Morning America" is broadcasting from the ballpark. Joe Garagiola and Willard "They Say It's Your Birthday" Scott will be here for live cut-ins for the "Today Show." NHK-TV will be here from Japan to show the game on a delayed basis for prime time back home. I guess they want to see how that Sony JumboTron big screen goes over. The Orioles have issued 660 media credentials. Everyone will be here.

Don't worry, though. We're going to be a hit. They're predisposed to like us anyway, and they can't help but love this beautiful ballpark that on the day it opens is already, well, almost venerable, with the brick facade and the sweeping arches and more green than they've got in all of Ireland. There are too many things in life -- say the recent Orioles teams -- that disappoint, but the ballpark will not be among them.

And then there's the surrounding area. For starters, you know the TV boys will want to tell the world about the Lexington Market.

And the Bromo Seltzer Tower clock, framed in left-center, is going to get big play.

Of course, the harbor. Francis Scott Key should get a mention, too, because how do you have baseball without the national anthem?

Heck, we've got a stadium site from which they excavated both a saloon that Babe Ruth's dad owned and the Ruth family outhouse. Folks, you don't think this plays on TV?

And then there's the old railroad warehouse, looming beyond the Tall Wall in right field as a tribute to the imagination and to recycling. The best word for it is funky, and funky is not something you get much in baseball these days. It's 1,016 feet long and 51 feet wide, meaning it's not the most useful building imaginable. But neither is a new baseball stadium for that matter, not when you had a perfectly good one before.

These days, ballparks are monuments to our civilization, such as it is. They're your modern-day cathedrals. Oriole Park at Camden Yards might as well be the Roman Colosseum, with the most important difference being that we've got beer running out of tubes.

For sure, the attention that it brings can't hurt. Charlie Gibson's not going to tell the "Good Morning America" audience about the murder rate or speculate on library closings for the City That Reads. He's going to talk about renascent Baltimore and the harbor and the aquarium (we won't tell him about the whales) and the downtown ballpark that the architects love and that city planners from around the land are talking about. What Baltimore does that all cities want to do is to bring people downtown, and on Practice Opening Day, they came downtown and there wasn't even a traffic jam.

Back in the '83 World Series, Howard Cosell made a big deal out of a reborn Baltimore, and you didn't think that did the convention business some good? The new stadium is going to have similar impact.

And with any luck, the good feeling will last. My guess is that Baltimore's best hope for gaining a franchise when and if the National Football League expands is to underline the success of this new downtown ballpark, which is probably going to draw 3 million people. If an NFL team comes here, we'll build them a football stadium right next to it and have another party.

You can bet the NFL owners will be watching the party tomorrow with some interest. Fortunately for them, the TV networks are providing access. What they're not giving out, though, are any spare tickets. And, by the way, in case you were wondering, I have no idea where you can get one.

COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY 1

Today

* 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 the new ballpark. Tickets are $3, available at regular ticket outlets. They also go on sale 9 a.m. Sunday at Oriole Park.

Tomorrow

* Opening Day: Orioles vs. Indians, 3:05 p.m. gates open at noon. The game, sold out, will be televised on Channel 2.

Special Section

* Inside today: Orioles '92. A preview of 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 AL East, and previews of the other divisions.

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