After two years of basking in the glory of Camden Yards-mania, officials of the Baltimore Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority met their first real crisis this past Saturday night: More than 40 people were injured when a three-story escalator at the ballpark lurched backward just before a ballgame with the Minnesota Twins, sending spectators toppling onto one another.
How the team and stadium authority officials handle this matter will be as important to the reputation of the state-owned stadium -- at least on a local level -- as all the glowing press clippings and copycat stadium designs that preceded it.
The investigators now combing the escalator for clues into the accident represent the team; Montgomery Elevator Co. Inc. of Moline, Ill., which manufactured and maintains the stadium escalators; and two arms of state government, the authority that runs Oriole Park and the division that licenses escalators and elevators.
The public is no doubt willing to grant the involved parties the few weeks they say they'll need to piece the puzzle together. But some Oriole Park visitors can be forgiven for being a bit leery; the recent track record regarding the facility's escalators has not been as good as it could have been.
The moving staircases to the upper deck were often out of order last season; fans who walked the ramps to the top level on a hot day won't soon forget those lapses. Another escalator mishap occurred on the club level a month ago, and at least one eyewitness said he was less than impressed with the response he received from Orioles officials.
Any Marylander who has traveled much in the past year or two knows the impact Camden Yards has had on Baltimore. If it hasn't supplanted the Inner Harbor, it's certainly the harbor's equal in attracting acclaim and good will for the city.
The community was fortunate last weekend to escape what could have been a much worse disaster. A teen-age girl died in an escalator accident in Memorial Stadium 30 years ago. The Washington Metro also had a 3-year-old die in 1985 by strangulation when a sweat shirt cord got caught in the gears of one of that subway system's elongated escalators.
The Orioles and stadium authority executives now face the challenge of handling the aftermath of this accident in a way that will not injure the attraction's reputation.