Yes, Oriole Park is a classic ... disappointment, that is

John Steadman

June 24, 1992|By John Steadman

What Baltimore didn't do is build the perfect ballpark. The bow-takers are everywhere, including Herbert Belgrad, Bruce Hoffman, Larry Lucchino, Don Schaefer and even Mickey Steinberg. The line forms to the right for others eager to join the parade to the podium.

We reluctantly admit to being disappointed over the final ballpark result because, after so much trumpeting and enormous construction costs, the facility is no better than the third-best in major league baseball, behind Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and SkyDome in Toronto.

Baltimore fell short of expectations. In fact, it doesn't compare to a no-longer-existing facility in Washington, known as Griffith Stadium, which had an immense playing field, outstanding sight lines but too few seats. Fans in Baltimore's leftfield say home plate is too far away and the lighting leaves something to be desired.

The expenditure of 265 million of your dollars, accrued via the State Lottery (monies that otherwise would have gone to more noble public causes), paid for this new playpen utilized exclusively by the Baltimore Orioles. For $265 million, it ought to surpass Memorial Stadium and Bugle Field in appearance and functional ability. Does it?

It's appalling to see a bush-league sign, "Hit It Here," displayed in right-centerfield, even if the sponsoring lottery system, via your participation, made it all possible. The advertisement should be removed. It cheapens the surroundings. The next thing is the possibility of lottery machines.

Allow us to stress this criticism is not intended to squelch hometown pride . . . merely a plea to be objective and keep the park in some kind of sensible perspective, which hasn't happened.

Baltimore and Maryland shouldn't get any deeper into self-aggrandizement. All reasonable limits in bragging have been exceeded. After all, what has been built is a mere baseball park. You can't get any more pedestrian than that. It doesn't compare to the Sistine Chapel.

The seats, unfortunately, are inferior to what the Orioles and Maryland Stadium Authority promised. Remember what now turns into an empty assurance of "not a bad seat in the house"? Either there was a serious error in planning or a mistake by the contractors. Too many fans under the second deck are unable to watch a fly ball because the overhead obstructs the view. A major annoyance.

Batted balls may be interfered with by spectators. Fans should not be able to reach down from seats in leftfield and get involved with fly balls that have a chance to go for home runs or bounce off the wall for extra bases. It puts an unfair burden on umpires to see so many hands competing for a catch and then, in a flash, make the correct call.

The same for overthrows at first and third bases, where it's easy for a fan to pick up a ball that has been thrown away or mishandled. The infield grass, growing on a sand base instead of clay, because of the modern drainage system, is appreciably slow, which takes away the importance of having infielders with quick reflexes. Hops have become slow motion.

Bitter complaints are heard from ticket buyers located from third base to leftfield and first base to rightfield. The error was in not angling the seats toward the pitcher. This literally leads to a nine-inning pain in the neck. Chiropractors ought to be on standby to help patients get their heads screwed on right instead of having to hold them at 45-degree angles as they leave the premises.

Admittedly, much excitement has accompanied the opening of the park. The reviews have generally been positive. But, again, back off and assess what's there. It's not that what Baltimore has is so exceptional, but rather that those it's being compared with are so dreadful. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Atlanta and other cities made the mistake of building dual-purpose facilities to house both baseball and football.

Baltimore, to its credit, didn't do that. What it put up is for baseball only. If you have an awareness of history and ballpark architecture, you must admit there isn't anything original about the park. It is a composite, encompassing ideas taken from other cities.

A cross section of design features were lifted from Fenway Park, Tiger Stadium, Ebbets Field, Shibe Park, Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park and Yankee Stadium. What Baltimore tried to do is purloin relics of the past instead of being innovative.

From a playing aspect, which is most important, it offers an advantage to the hitter. Pitchers decry the short fences, but the dimensions are here to stay.

The Orioles are on their way to establishing a record Baltimore baseball attendance that will approach 3.5 million, so the public apparently is not too discerning or discriminating.

It's a ballpark that in harsh reality falls short of being what it has been proclaimed.

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