Fans testify magic lives at ballpark after 5 years Vigilant upkeep helps 'aging' Camden Yards stay lustrous enough

April 03, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Orange rust is just beginning to streak the concrete around the bases of the railings. Some steps have been cracked and patched and have cracked again. And even the ceremonial first pitch -- traditionally a job performed by the president -- has been relegated to a cabinet member.

Is Camden Yards -- the stadium that helped resuscitate the images of Baltimore and baseball when it opened five years ago -- losing its magic?

If so, you wouldn't know it from talking to fans who sold out Opening Day twice in a row this week, juggling schedules and concocting new excuses to play hooky for the delayed game.

"You're talking to someone who loved Memorial Stadium. We were bleacher fans. But I still think Camden Yards is great," said Julie Buric, an account supervisor with a local advertising agency.

In fact, over the past five seasons she has even made peace with the change that most rankled denizens of the team's previous home, the unflashy and unacclaimed Memorial Stadium: the upscale, cellular-phone-toting fans.

"I don't like the Chablis crowd, but over the years it doesn't bother you," Buric said.

The team and Maryland Stadium Authority have been fastidious in preserving a civic asset better known worldwide than Baltimore's City Hall, port, symphony or even Inner Harbor. It's nearly a $7 million-per-year job of painting, patching and polishing.

"I think it's a great place to come," said Scott Coster, a BGE employee who came to yesterday's game with his 9-year-old son, Ryan.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the attendance bounce a team enjoys from a new park declines after the fifth season.

In Chicago, where the White Sox's new Comiskey Park led off the nation's ballpark construction binge a year before Camden Yards opened, the Cubs now routinely outdraw the White Sox despite having one of the majors' oldest parks and consistently mediocre records.

There's no sign of that in Baltimore, where Orioles crowds were the biggest in the league the past two years running and 70 percent of the games are sold out. Even the park's architectural acclaim has been undiminished despite newer parks opening in Denver, Cleveland and Arlington, Texas.

"For me, it's the same place it was," said Andy Leventis, a medical sales representative from Timonium. "If you are a die-hard baseball fan, it is still a great place to come see baseball. It's always great to come to the ballpark."

For some fans, the aging of a park built to look old adds to the retro effect.

"You don't need a brand-new seat every year. You need a functional seat," said Ken Breitbart, a Baltimore attorney.

"If you're not a building inspector, you don't notice" the park's age, he said.

Jeff Schwartz, a Baltimore lumber store owner, said: "I think it's the same as when it opened up. Now, all we have to do is wait for the football stadium."

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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