After the first day of class, Oriole Park warrants a report card of high marks


April 07, 1992|By JOHN STEADMAN

That the new downtown stadium is being caressed with well-deserved accolades is to be expected. When a total of $265 million goes into the creation of a project built for fun and games, it should answer the needs of team and spectators -- and earn glittering reviews.

The Orioles staged their grand opening in exceptional style. Pre-game festivities were well planned and executed, better than anything the team has done on special occasions in the past.

The president, who throws from the left but doesn't think that way, and the governor didn't exactly command a standing ovation. But the audience was compassionate on a day that was intended to be positive, so they got more cheers than boos. Gus Triandos should have been as fortunate.

It was an exceptional kind of a housewarming, the Orioles beating the Cleveland Indians in a 2-0 classic.

The paid crowd of 44,568 was the smallest Opening Day Baltimore attendance since 1979, but, of course, the new stadium doesn't have the capacity of the old homestead, Memorial Stadium. After the game, some residents west of Russell Street were singing their proud neighborhood anthem, "Pig Town Is Gonna Shine Tonight."

With a desire to measure the strengths and weaknesses of watching baseball at the new stadium until at least the year 2025, an attempt was made to examine the park carefully. Wind currents and temperature changes will alter the flight of the ball so this important aspect of the park must be addressed as the season progresses.

Although early in the game, so to speak, here's the report card:

Playing field -- Ideal. Spacious. A fair park for hitter and pitcher. "A".

Stadium architecture -- Pleasing to the eye. Lacks originality since it's a composite of other ballparks, past and present. Looks as if it belongs in Colonial Williamsburg. Wide, easy-to-walk ramps. "B".

Crowd noise -- Because the structure is so open, cheers and jeers don't sustain the same density of sound as in other enclosures, specifically Memorial Stadium. "B".

Seats -- Comfortable but some fans leaving from the middle of a row still have to disturb those in adjoining seats, forcing them to stand. This is contrary to what was promised. Seats located from third base to left field and first base to right field mean spectators need to turn their heads at an almost 45-degree angle to see the pitcher. Attorney Paul Harris, former athlete and coach, said, "The person responsible for this should be arrested." "B".

PA system -- Needs slight adjusting. Should improve. Lacks maximum clarity. "A".

Seating capacity -- Not enough. "B".

Safety -- Some potential trouble. Lack of overhead screen behind home plate enables foul pops to fall into the seats. And those same deflected balls chance going into the section where some handicapped ticket holders are seated. Slashing line drives down either foul line create a never-ending problem, unless you prefer the protection of a catcher's mask. "C".

Locker rooms -- Immense. Players need an intercom system to talk to each other. Whirlpool, sauna, Jacuzzi, weight room and indoor batting cages offer the best facilities in baseball. Almost too luxurious. Resembles an exclusive country club. "A-plus".

Scoreboards -- Clear. Brilliantly illuminated. "A-plus".

Parking -- On-site spaces slightly exceed 5,000 but adjoining streets are too narrow to accept the huge number of cars accommodated in Memorial Stadium neighborhood, which is understandable since Camden Yards area was built at least two generations earlier. "C".

Traffic -- A difficult chore. "C-plus".

Public transportation -- The only way to travel. Need more rail cars. "B-plus".

Concessions -- Food is better than average stadium fare, but prepare to go broke. Long backups at some stands. "B".

Ticket takers and ushers -- The best. "A-plus".

Press box -- More than ample space. High quality staff. "A-plus".

Luxury suites -- Only the rich can afford them. "A".

Grounds crew -- Professional. "A".

Rubber warning track -- Too much bounce to the ounce. "B".

Restrooms -- Ample. "A".

Warehouse -- H.L. Mencken said wink at a homely girl, not necessarily marry her. "C".

View -- Center-field vista has a charm that's pleasing. "A".

General comment -- Third best park in baseball, next to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Toronto SkyDome, with retractable roof. Better than 24 others. Considering the cost, would have preferred something more innovative. "A".

So now Baltimore begins an exciting adventure in what is a glorious new sports venue. The facility was needed 20 years ago when then Gov. Marvin Mandel first proposed it be built in Camden Yards. Better late than not at all. It assures continuity of major-league baseball, the sport that's more important to a city's identity than any other yet invented.

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