Tomorrow's dress rehearsal for Monday's official opening day at Camden Yards will be the start of the second season, not just for the new ballpark but also for the streets around it.
The inaugural season last year for the Orioles' new home was a huge success inside and outside the ballpark. Thousands of fans accustomed to crawling up and down 33d Street in years past learned new paths to their seats. They reached the ballpark relaxed and ready to enjoy the game. Let's keep it that way.
Transit and traffic officials have their fingers crossed. Their fears a year ago that the streets around Oriole Park at Camden Yards would be congested with cars insisting on parking right at the new ballpark were not realized. Local fans took to the idea of using public transit or garages a few blocks away from the ballpark.
But the attraction of the new light rail system and the convenience of the park-and-ride lots seemed to fade toward the end of the season. More drivers began heading right for Camden Yards in expectation of finding a close-in parking spot minutes before game time.
There won't be as much publicity this year, but the alternatives to driving right up to the ballpark are as good as or better than last year. A few services have been dropped for non-use, and budget cuts have closed Metro on Sundays. (An express bus service from Owings Mills will replace it.)
But the light rail service, last year's novelty, will serve hundreds more fans. Starting Monday it will operate (initially on game days only) to Linthicum in Anne Arundel County. By July it will operate to Glen Burnie, with 780 parking spaces.
The danger is that too many fans will be complacent about last year's relative freedom from traffic snarls to and from the ballpark. Traffic flowed smoothly because most fans took officials' warnings seriously.
This year there is less ballyhoo, but the need to follow the old advice remains. Don't drive right up to the ballpark, if you must drive into downtown at all. Park at a nearby garage. Best of all, leave the car at home or drive it to a public transit service, like Metro, light rail or suburban park-and-ride lot.
Get downtown early and hang around a while after the game ends, if possible. There are lots of oases within a short walk of Camden Yards that are more comfortable than the seat of a car crawling through city streets. Going to the ballpark has become an event. Let's keep it a happy event.