Ballpark in Arlington strikes a familiar chord


April 16, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, the man who wanted to finish his career in Texas, sat in the visiting dugout before last night's game, looked out on the finished product of The Ballpark in Arlington and made a comparison.

"We have nothing to envy," Palmeiro said of himself and his teammates. "Our ballpark is as nice and as pretty as any in either league."

Chris Sabo, another first-year Oriole, felt much the same.

"It's nice, very nice," Sabo said. "But I like Camden Yards better. It seems more intimate. This doesn't seem as intimate. It seems a lot bigger. Nice, though."

The right-field upper deck, known as Home Run Porch, reminded Sabo of that at his hometown park, Tiger Stadium.

Orioles co-ace Ben McDonald looked out at the outfield fences and made a quick assessment.

"Looks like another bandbox," he said.

Predictably, the hitters weren't as quick to proclaim it as such.

"A hitter's park?" Sabo said. "I don't think so. The fences look pretty far to me. A hitter's park is where you get some cheap home runs. I don't think you will get any cheap home runs here. If you hit it, it will go."

The park's asymmetrical dimensions: 332 feet at the left-field foul pole, 390 in the left-field power alley, 400 to straightaway center, 407 approaching right-center. The 381-foot power alley juts out to 377 feet at the right corner of the bullpen. The right-field foul pole stands 325 feet from home plate.

Texas manager Kevin Kennedy called his team's new home "awesome, outstanding" and said it was a welcome change from Arlington Stadium, the club's old home across the street.

"No comparison," Kennedy said. "No comparison to most ballparks."

As for whether it will become known as a hitter's or pitcher's park, Kennedy reserved judgment.

"It think it's going to play pretty fair," he said. "It will play fairly for both the pitchers and the hitters. It's going to depend on where the wind's blowing."

Kennedy's counterpart in the visitor's dugout gave The Ballpark in Arlington a thumbs up.

L "It's very nice," Johnny Oates said. "But I've seen better."

Where? In Baltimore.

"The infield is a little soft now and that reminds me of how it was at Camden Yards at first," Oates said. "It will settle."

Oates took note of the angle in right-center field that will cause the ball to ricochet toward left-center instead of coming straight back.

"There aren't too many things you have to look at," Oates said. "The first year at Camden Yards, we spent all spring talking about the right field corner, and in two-plus years there only one ball has gone into that corner and it came right back out."

It will take the Rangers awhile to get a feel for their new ballpark, predicts Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken.

"It took until this year to really get a feel for it," Ripken said of CamdenYards. "The first year it still felt like we were a visiting team. You hear the crowd cheering for you and that makes a difference, but as far as knowing the park in all the game situations that come up, it took until this year. Last year, it felt a little more like home than the first year."

For example: "Things like where to position yourself on cutoffs and relays, as opposed to parks that have a little more room in foul territory," Ripken said. "How the wind blows, seeing the ball in day games, which can be a little tough at Camden Yards."

Learning the park to the extent of feeling a homefield advantage never has been as drastic at Camden Yards as at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, where fielders have trouble losing the ball in the ceiling on popups and fly balls.

"Then you notice their players talking to each other," Ripken said. "The right fielder, the first baseman and the second baseman are talking. 'Can you see it? No, I can't see it. You better get it. OK, I got it.' "

Many of the balls hit in the air won't come down in the field of play, if Rangers closer Tom Henke's forecast is correct.

"What did they have here the day of the workout [last August, when the stadium was nearing completion]?" Henke said. "A home-run-hitting contest. They didn't have a strike-throwing contest. What does that tell you? They want offense here. The sky's the limit."

Sorry to see it go

The Orioles hope they have the same success at the Rangers' new ballpark. They went 81-46 at Arlington Stadium, the Orioles' best record at any park.

Orioles left-hander Jim Poole, a former Ranger, didn't like one aspect of the new park.

"They are hiding us out in the bullpen," Poole said. "We can't see anything out there. Bring back the old park so we can see the game."

Baines to get first day off

The Orioles face a left-hander for the first time this seasotonight, when Texas' Kenny Rogers opposes McDonald.

Oates said he will give designated hitter Harold Baines the day off. Jack Voigt, who is 3-for-7 with two home runs against Rogers, likely will get the start in Baines' place.

Baines is the Orioles' only hitter who has reached base by hit or walk in each of the club's nine games.

Tickets abound

Anywhere from 1,500 to more than 3,500 tickets are available for each of the games in the upcoming eight-game homestand against California, Seattle and Oakland, which gets under way Tuesday.

East Coast teams are traditionally better draws than West Coast teams, which is one reason several clubs will fight a move to an imbalanced schedule. Teams in the Central and Western divisions will fight the move because they don't want to surrender the gate from traditional strong draws New York and ** Boston.

Camden Yards and Skydome in Toronto each have had only one crowd of less than 35,000 in their history. The third game at The Ballpark in Arlington drew 34,427.

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