With the baseball season finally under way, plenty of fans are fixated on how the Baltimore nine will fare on the ballfield. But not all the great expectations building at and around Camden Yards have to do with the Orioles.
Ever since Oriole Park opened to accolades in 1992, it immediately became both symbol and attraction for this region. Yet its potential has been only partially fulfilled. Of course, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Orioles' principal owner Peter Angelos are trying to lure a National Football League team to play in a stadium that would be built near the ballpark.
Aside from football, Baltimore's Babe Ruth Museum is hoping to create a high-tech museum about Baltimore baseball in Camden Station, the striking but underutilized 137-year-old former train depot that is one of the gems of the ballpark area. To help make the museum project happen, organizers are hoping to link up with a permanent tenant for the station, the Babe Ruth national youth baseball league, now based in New Jersey.
Farther south from Camden Station and the proposed football stadium site, another coalition of public and private groups is hoping to revitalize the Middle Branch park waterfront. To the casual observer whizzing by high above on Interstate 95, this area might look like just a stew of swamps and oil tanks. But others view it as an amazing natural habitat, home to various fish and fowl, that has survived as a metropolis grew around it.
The project's supporters, including Mayor Kurt Schmoke, the Trust for Public Land, Parks and People Foundation and other city and state officials, see the waterfront behind the stadium tying into a six-mile greenway trail that will stretch to Leakin Park. A competition to design the Gwynns Falls Greenway is under way; 500 city high school students are having a clean-up day April 15, and participants in the March of Dimes fund-raiser April 17 will walk portions of this stream valley to become acquainted with what in a few years might be more usable neighborhood parks.
Greater recreational use of Middle Branch Park was outlined back when Governor Schaefer was Mayor Schaefer, but never gained momentum. The success of Oriole Park has made revitalization and private investment in that section of downtown ever more viable.
Some observers may question the potential in an old train station, some oily marshland and brambly paths that reach deep into the city, but never forget that a lot of people saw no value in the old harbor area or the rat-infested freight warehouse beside Camden Station -- and we marvel now at what became of them.