Orioles should open the gates and let early-bird fans catch batting practice

BASEBALL

April 12, 1992|By JIM HENNEMAN

Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened to rave reviews last week, and properly so, but that's not to say there weren't any glitches.

While trying to get everything in proper working order, the best thing the Orioles have going for them is a light home schedule in the first month of the season. Other than the first three games against the Cleveland Indians, only a four-game Easter weekend series against the Detroit Tigers remains on the April schedule.

For the most part, the club has gotten its message across clearly and often to the fans, who heeded advice about mass transit, parking and arriving early. But, as prepared as the Orioles hoped to be, they weren't completely ready to handle the crowds that showed up hours before the games.

One way to help alleviate the situation would be for the Orioles to open the gates a half-hour earlier. With the new park likely to remain the hottest attraction in town throughout its inaugural season, this should help relieve the congestion.

It would give those who arrive early a chance to take a good look at the new ballpark, and encourage others to arrive early, thus reducing traffic and transit problems. The club should also open the will-call windows earlier. The horrendous wait at those windows was easily the biggest problem for the first three games.

The idea of being able to watch the home team take batting practice on a regular basis makes sense. Baseball's policy calls for the gates to open 1 1/2 hours before the start of a game, which is only minutes before the visiting team starts to hit.

The Orioles have made a practice of opening the gates for special events two hours before the game. It wouldn't be a bad policy to implement on a permanent basis, especially in the first year of the new park, when each date figures to be a special event.

And, if the fans are being encouraged to arrive early to ease the traffic crunch, they should at least have the option of having something to do in the park, rather than waiting for the gates to open.

*

First impressions: Ex-Orioles pitcher Steve Stone took advantage of a break in his schedule as television announcer for the Chicago Cubs to come see the new park Wednesday night.

He said he was stunned by what he saw. "Did you ever think you'd see something like this in Baltimore?" asked Stone, who won 25 games and the Cy Young Award in 1980.

"What a ballpark," Stone said. "It's spectacular."

Umpire Al Clark, who worked the first series, also had an interesting observation. "I'll tell you what it reminded me of," Clark said.

"I was standing out in the field Opening Day and I realized that this park reminded me of my father telling me what his father told him about famous old baseball parks."

*

Changing of the guard: It didn't take Jack Morris long to change some standard procedures for Toronto Blue Jays pitchers. The veteran right-hander threw 145 pitches while beating his former Detroit Tigers teammates on Opening Day.

That was 22 more pitches than any Blue Jays pitcher threw in a game last year. For years, Toronto has had an unofficial 100-pitch limit, meaning any time the starter threw that many and got in trouble he was a candidate for removal.

Morris' performance commanded a lot of attention from the rest of the starters. One who wasn't overly impressed, however, was left-hander David Wells. "I threw 75 in one inning," he said of a ragged exhibition appearance against the Orioles last month.

*

Fancy meeting you here: The Blue Jays' Derek Bell, touted as a leading contender for American League Rookie of the Year honors, had his campaign sidetracked. He broke the hamate bone in his left hand in the second game of the season -- while fouling off a pitch.

He went to Virginia to be operated on Thursday and saw a familiar face in the waiting room. Cleveland Indians third baseman Jim Thome, also on the disabled list, had left the team in Baltimore to go for an examination of his injured hand.

*

Pressure perspective: Bobby Bonilla might be the one guy who can handle being a high-priced free agent in New York. For openers, he grew up in the Bronx, so he's got an idea about the taste of the Big Apple.

In addition, the New York Mets outfielder seems undaunted by the expectations that come along with his $5.9 million, five-year contract. "You want to look at pressure -- look at kids growing up today," said Bonilla.

"I wouldn't want to be a kid today with all the pressure they are going through. Families are getting laid off, and somebody is going to tell me I'm going through pressure playing a baseball game?

"You better tell that to someone else," said Bonilla. "I mean, it's not there."

*

Padded disabled list?: The St. Louis Cardinals were one of many teams hit by opening-week disabilities. Manager Joe Torre's disabled list includes four pitchers.

At least right-hander Bryn Smith made it into the season. He lasted two innings before giving way to an elbow malfunction.

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