Palmer likes Orioles' new park, even though it's hitter-friendly

April 05, 1992|By Jim Palmer | Jim Palmer,As told to Doug Brown

I can easily relate to Rick Sutcliffe. As the Orioles' Opening Day pitcher tomorrow, he won't be nervous, because he's so experienced, but he will be apprehensive.

His apprehension is based on everybody's eagerness to get the season off to a good start, especially in a new park. Everybody wants to see the Orioles win the opener, everybody except the Cleveland Indians.

A pitcher wants to do his part. Sutcliffe wasn't the club's best pitcher in spring training, but manager John Oates picked him because of his stature as a role model and the belief Rick will work 200 to 250 innings. Sutcliffe is an old hand at openers, having pitched a half-dozen of them.

Memorial Stadium, over its lifetime, was a park that favored pitchers, but I think Oriole Park at Camden Yards will be a hitters' park, like the new Comiskey Park in Chicago. The dimensions tell you that.

It'll favor not only left-handed power hitters like Sam Horn, but also anyone who hits to all fields. Cal Ripken, Glenn Davis, Chris Hoiles, Chito Martinez. Even a power hitter like Horn drives the ball hard to left on occasion.

Right field has a shorter porch, but a higher wall. I'm sure the wall will take some home runs away, but you'll also get some like you do at Fenway Park in Boston and Yankee Stadium, where the trajectory is more of a high arc than a long drive.

If I were a pitcher here, I'd worry about the power alleys. I mean, it's 364 feet to left-center field, compared with 378 at Memorial Stadium, and 373 to right-center.

Right field is going to add excitement to games, because of the unusual configuration. A double down the line could be an adventure. There's the tall, corrugated wall and a doorway that reminds you of Fenway, plus the screened-off area in right-center where the grounds crew sits.

At the 373-foot sign, balls are going to bounce off that wire, and, of course, off the scoreboard. The scoreboard is smoother than the one in left field at Fenway, without the sharp edges, but there will be some interesting situations.

The most difficult field is left, because there's so much room out there. It's 333 down the line, and then goes precipitously to 364 in left-center and to 410 in straightaway center.

That's why John Oates gave Brady Anderson playing time in left field in spring training, with the idea of taking advantage of his speed if he has to play left here. A left fielder has to be able to go quickly into the corner after a ball and also cut balls off in left-center.

That's where you're talking triple. We'll see a lot of triples if the ball gets by the center fielder and the left fielder can't cut it off.

There's less foul territory in the new park, which means we'll see pop fouls go into the stands that would have been caught at Memorial Stadium. That helps batting averages, of course.

In Oakland, you see just the opposite, a lot of foul ground. That's why the Athletics' batting averages are higher on the road than at home.

Overall, this is a hitters' park. That is, except for left field, where there's so much room.

The field is in terrific shape. So far, I haven't heard any complaints about bad hops. It has yet to be determined if the ball will carry here, although the warehouse will have a bearing on that.

Except for center field, this is an enclosed park. On Friday, for the exhibition game against the New York Mets, the prevailing wind was to right-center field. Yet the flags in left were blowing to left-center. I don't know if the wind is coming off that warehouse or what.

To the outfielders, it may seem like the wind is in their faces, and the ball is going out, but balls may be held up. It may take outfielders awhile to get acclimated.

The left-field line runs due north, so right will be the sun field. With that wrought-iron facade, I don't know if the sun will filter through. It may be high enough and the field sunken enough so that it won't bother anybody. There will be some shadows at times, of course, but that's unavoidable.

The wall may or may not cut the wind. I do know that the new press box and seating area at Fenway altered the effect of the wind on a game. The same thing happened when Diamond Vision was installed at Memorial Stadium.

The pitching mound has to be good because it was put in by Paul Zwaska, who learned the groundskeeping art from Pat Santarone, who was the best in the business. Contrary to what Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan have said, I always felt the mound was terrific. It was in consistently good shape, within the limits baseball allows.

The bullpens, in left-center, don't interfere with the fans' view. They provide better sightlines for players than any bullpens in baseball.

Memorial Stadium was a great place for baseball, except for some of the facilities below the stands. If Baltimore wanted to stay in the modern era, it needed this new park.

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