Scratch the ivy, at least for a while, from center wall at Camden Yards

March 23, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Whither the ivy?

Indeed, that may be the first question Orioles fans ask when they enter Camden Yards on Opening Night and see the big, blank wall behind center field that used to be covered in ivy.

Wither it did. Strangled by its own success. This year, the new-look team and the ivy will be starting over.

Two hundred English ivy plants were placed at the base of the wall before Camden Yards opened in 1992 as part of the retro feel of an architectural package that included the big brick warehouse and exposed girders.

As the ivy grew, it became one way to mark the passage of time, from the awful era of Glenn Davis to the misty goodbyes for Cal Ripken and through the mediocrity of the waning days of Mike Hargrove.

But getting big has a way of bringing out the worst in carbon-based life forms. The vines stopped reminding people of Wrigley Field's Boston ivy and started looking like some tentacled creature from a Grade-B horror movie.

A 10-foot-high mesh screen installed to give the ivy support as it grew became a prison when the vines detoured behind it, getting trapped between the mesh and the wall. Lush became sparse. Green turned brown.

"[The ivy] was strangling itself," says assistant groundskeeper John Turnour.

The ballpark's operations chief and avid home gardener, Roger Hayden, held out hope for recovery. But when none appeared, he reluctantly agreed to go back to scratch.

In mid-February, the grounds crew hacked the plants to within a foot of the ground and then climbed atop the 40-foot-high wall and began scraping it clean. "It looked like one big tidal wave," says Turnour.

Now, the only green on the wall is the fresh coat of paint. The murderous mesh screen has been replaced by a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence, which, like a good parent, will be supportive but not overbearing.

No one knows how long it will take for the ivy to climb to the top again.

"Hopefully," says Turnour, "the Orioles will get there first."

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