Oates' high grass must grow on Orioles


April 05, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

There's still plenty of settling in to do, but based on their trial run Friday, the Orioles aren't thrilled with one feature of their new home at Camden Yards: the infield grass.

The playing surface can be described in a word -- slow. That is about the only thing the hitters learned -- much to their chagrin -- during Friday's exhibition game against the New York Mets.

Ironically, that is the one area of the new park that has been specifically tailored to benefit the Orioles.

"It is slow by design," manager John Oates said when asked about the playing conditions. "It was done by request.

"It's a little slower than I had anticipated, but I imagine that will change some when it gets hotter and the ground dries up some," said Oates. "I think it's to our benefit to have it play a little slow. We don't have a lot of guys out there [in the infield] with a whole lot of speed. There are a lot slower fields than this -- Detroit for one."

VTC The hitters expressed some concern with the slowness of the infield grass, but otherwise said it was too early to tell how the park will play. "That will unfold routinely down the road," said shortstop Cal Ripken.

"You have to find out how the field plays and that's going to take some time," said Ripken, who had a single and double in Friday's exhibition game. "I can't get a feel for it yet. It does look like there might be more triples, especially in left-center field. That didn't happen a whole lot in Memorial Stadium. As far as how the ball is going to carry, we'll just have to wait and see."

Any thought that the new park was especially tailored to fit Ripken offensively was dismissed by the shortstop and assistant general manager Frank Robinson, who has been involved in the layout from its inception.

"Nobody ever said anything to me," said Ripken.

"There is absolutely nothing to that," said Robinson. "I think it's going to be a fun park to play in, but it will be very fair.

"It's not necessary to tailor your club to play here and I think we did a smart thing by not trying to do that," said Robinson.

One person who is in perhaps the best position to compare the Oriole Park field to that at Memorial Stadium is Pat Santarone, the former groundskeeper who took care of the old field for 22 years and assisted in the installation of the new field.

How long will it take for the field to mature?

"By June it will be playing as good as it ever will," said Santarone. "Right now, the ball isn't going to get to the infielders as quick as it will in June, so the infielders might have to make an adjustment on double-play balls. But the speed will gradually increase."

But no more than Dr. Oates prescribes.

"I'm all for high averages," said Oates, "but if it [the slow infield] helps to win games, then it's better for us."

Although the park comes equipped with many built-in angles, the players said it will be a relatively easy adjustment. "There's no doubt that a throwing arm will come into play out there," said right fielder Chito Martinez, who fielded a ball off the wall and threw out Eddie Murray at second base in Friday's game.

"There's three different kind of bounces out there -- off the scoreboard, the padding and the canvas-type surface between the scoreboard and the foul pole. The ball will come off each a little differently," said Martinez, "but I don't think it will take long to figure it out."

Center fielder Mike Devereaux noted two distinct differences between Oriole Park and Memorial Stadium.

"The walls are padded very well," he said, "but there's concrete behind it, so there's no 'give.' At Memorial Stadium, the fence would give several inches. I don't think you're going to see too many catches with somebody running hard into that wall."

The warning track, which is synthetic, also comes into play. "It's going to make it tough to stop -- and diving on that, you'll leave your skin behind," Devereaux said.

The debate over whether Oriole Park will be a hitter's or pitcher's park is likely to rage until midsummer.

Santarone predicts the new park will yield a good number of home runs.

"The winds normally come out of the northwest, and they'll come in here past the [left-field] stands and then swirl out," he said. "I think you'll see a lot of home runs out by that 364 sign [in left-center]."

The hitters generally gave the park good reviews.

"It's the best [hitting] background in baseball," said Sam Horn, the big left-handed hitter who figures to benefit most from the Tall Wall in right field. "There's nothing but that green wall and the baseball -- and that's in the daytime. It should get even better at night. This is a grade-A class park -- from the clubhouse to the field. I just hope I'm here awhile to enjoy it."

However, some of the right-handed hitters didn't share Horn's opinion of the background. "During batting practice, I noticed that big building just to the left of the scoreboard," said catcher Chris Hoiles. "But I wasn't aware of it during the game, and I don't think it will be a factor at night."

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