In First Season, A Sellout Success

September 27, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

All things considered, the inaugural season of Oriole Park at Camden Yards hasn't been one for baseball memories.

"House of Magic II" has not yet been suggested as an acceptable nickname. In fact, there have been times when "House of Horrors" seemed more appropriate.

The most spectacular thing about the new park has been the steady stream of spectators, putting the Orioles on the threshold of an all-time baseball record for consecutive sellouts.

Barring another rainout, they will end their home season by playing before their 59th straight capacity audience tomorrow night. Toronto holds the record for consecutive sellouts, under identical circumstances. The Blue Jays sold out the last 59 games of 1990 and Opening Day of 1991, so the Orioles could break that record by selling out the first two games of the 1993 season.

But the numbers didn't add up to a home-field advantage. The Orioles nearly pulled off one of the most remarkable turnarounds in baseball history, but their record at Camden Yards was among the worst home marks in the majors. Despite winning 10 of their first 11 games in what has become a national showplace, they had only the 16th-best record (41-36) in the majors at home going into this weekend.

Among the teams that have performed better than the Orioles on their own grounds are the Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs -- four teams playing below .500 overall.

Still, Oriole Park at Camden Yards has had its moments. The fact that none can beat Opening Day is an indication of how the season has gone.

Rick Vaughn, the team's director of public relations, may have expressed it best when he talked about the April 6 opener. "The thing I remember most about this year," he said, "is standing on the field, listening to the Morgan State choir sing the national anthem, and thinking, 'This is it -- we're finally going to play a game in this park.'

"Of all the things that have happened, that's what I'll remembermost about this year," said Vaughn. "It's a feeling I'll never forget."

General manager Roland Hemond, whose affinity for Opening Day dates to his childhood, more than 50 years ago, expressed a similar sentiment. "Opening Day is always a magic moment, but that one left an indelible memory for me," he said.

"Seeing how great the park turned out, seeing Rick Sutcliffe pitch a shutout -- I think it set the tempo for the season. I have a beautiful picture of Sutcliffe throwing the first pitch hanging in my office. I look at it often every day. It gives you hope that a [pennant] clincher will be the next big memory."

For Sutcliffe, the 2-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians was an appropriate opening chapter for his comeback of the year story. It was also the first of several significant home games in which he participated.

On April 17, Sutcliffe pitched his second straight shutout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, an 8-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Randy Milligan hit two home runs, the second a grand slam. Sutcliffe was also the winning pitcher in a 1-0 victory over Toronto on June 5, a game that featured the most memorable play of the year -- Mike Devereaux leaping over the fence in left-center field to take a three-run homer away from Joe Carter.

Sutcliffe got off the hook when the Orioles scored four times in the ninth inning to beat Minnesota, 5-4, on May 7, one of the few comeback victories at home. And he was the pitcher of record Sept. 14, when Cal Ripken broke a 73-game home run drought in a 2-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

"Opening Day was like a dream come true for a guy who is 36 years old," said Sutcliffe. "Starting that game was special -- especially to have it turn out the way it did."

Milligan had a second two-homer game in a 6-4 victory over the California Angels on Aug. 26, when three seventh-inning home runs (Chris Hoiles, Milligan and Devereaux) wiped out a 4-1 deficit. Still, Milligan counted being a part of the four-run ninth inning in the comeback against the Minnesota Twins, and Opening Day among his highlights.

"The game against Minnesota sticks out in my mind," he said. "And Opening Day, everybody was so excited -- [the players], the fans, the opposition, the media.

"You can't sleep the night before -- then you come in here [the clubhouse] and meet the president . . . a beautiful day . . . the new park."

As for his pair of two-homer games, it was easy for Milligan to pick one over the other. "The first time," he said, "because the second one was a grand slam -- and I knew it was gone."

The past six months have produced a lot of highlights, and lowlights, to define the inaugural season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Here are some of the ones not previously mentioned:

* April 20: The Tigers' Alan Trammell, Cecil Fielder and Mickey Tettleton (still closest to the warehouse) hit consecutive home .. runs off Ben McDonald. The Orioles come back to win, 12-4, as Alan Mills gets the victory in his first game.

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