Orioles outfielders are learning their trade anew this week. In two games on location, this is what they have learned about patrolling the outer limits of Oriole Park at Camden Yards:
* The thick grass slows the hardest-hit balls and cushions the hardest falls.
* Caroms off the out-of-town scoreboard in right field drop with a thud, but don't ricochet wildly, as once feared.
* The outfield wall does not have a lot of give. Actually, it is safe to say it has no give at all. That's concrete behind 4-inch padding, and woe be to the outfielder who hits it running full speed.
"You just hope you don't get hurt when you hit it," said David Segui, penciled in as the starting right fielder for the Orioles' first night game at Camden Yards tonight.
"The bottom line is, you've got to catch the ball. If you hit the wall, something's going to give, and it's not going to be the concrete wall. I'm sure the time will come when someone will have to hit it."
In no time at all, the concrete wall has captured the attention of the Orioles outfielders.
"You have to be aware of it," said center fielder Mike Devereaux. "You have to know how to hit it to cushion the blow."
Devereaux had a close encounter with the wall in the second inning of Monday's opener, when he flagged down a tracer shot by the Cleveland Indians' Sandy Alomar on the warning track in right-center.
He got a poor jump because of glare from a tarp behind home plate. Once he realized he had misjudged the ball, he "had to turn tail and go after it." He made an artful, over-the-shoulder catch two strides from the wall. Yesterday, he said he sensed the closeness of the wall, and it made him appreciate what he and the Orioles had on 33rd Street.
"The wall at Memorial Stadium would give about 8 inches. If this fence doesn't give at all, or only this much with a pad . . ." he said, holding thumb and forefinger 2 inches apart.
Devereaux didn't finish the sentence, preferring not to consider the crash. The wall at Memorial Stadium was a temporary wall, although there was a 14-foot-high concrete wall down either line.
Left fielder Brady Anderson had his first brush with the Camden Yards wall during batting practice. He coasted back for a fly ball, and gently bumped his shoulder against the unyielding fence. He quickly got the idea that this was no wall to trifle with.
"You try not to play the ball any differently. I'll probably have to find ways to cushion myself against the wall, maybe with my feet. If you get good at it, you can use it to your advantage. I plant my feet on the wall pretty good. It's something you can get used to doing. Other [visiting] players are going to have to watch out, or they'll get hurt."
There are other aspects to playing the outfield that have come to the Orioles' attention. Devereaux chuckled sympathetically when he considered Cleveland center fielder Kenny Lofton's dive on the warning track for a ball in the opener. Lofton hit the synthetic track and screeched to an immediate halt -- short of the catch. There apparently is no sliding on this warning track.
Then there is the prospect -- for Anderson, anyway -- of retrieving would-be home runs from the clutching hands of fans in the seats behind the left-field wall.
"Hopefully, the fans will reach down when we hit them," he said, "and they'll let us catch the others."
Playing right field for Segui or Joe Orsulak, who started in the opener, may not be quite as tricky as expected, though.
"It's the sun field on day games, and it's tough," Segui said. "But there's no trick to playing the wall out there. The ball dies off the wall."
Early impressions are that Camden Yards is a pitcher's paradise. Of the 11 hits on Opening Day, only one went for extra bases (Chris Hoiles' RBI double that one-hopped off the warning track into the bullpen). Wind helps create that impression.
"It swirls," Segui said. "It hits the [B&O] warehouse and comes back."
Anderson said the ball carries best to left-center so far, but said that anything hit high in the air to left will be knocked down by the wind currents. He pointed to a shot Leo Gomez hit in Friday's exhibition that looked as if it might reach the seats at first, but turned harmlessly into an out. All that may be subject to change once summer weather arrives.
"Once the weather warms up, it could be a hitter's park," Devereaux said.
What effect the 1,500-watt, halide light bulbs have in tonight's game also is uncertain. The Orioles haven't worked out under the lights yet, but they have been assured there will be no dark spots.
"Night games will be a lot easier to see," Devereaux said. "Most of the stadium lights are computerized to light up the whole field. The way they set up the light system will be fine."