Phillies build on Camden Yards tradition

Citizens Bank Park opens as sport's latest throwback

April 13, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - No one disputes the genesis of brand-new Citizens Bank Park. It was born in the mind of Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles the year that baseball's first neo-classical ballpark was unveiled near Interstate 95 about 100 miles south of featureless Veterans Stadium.

Camden Yards was a revelation - a baseball-only structure that reflected the traditional charm of an old-time park without sacrificing any of the revenue potential of a state-of-the-art facility. The Vet was a multipurpose, cookie-cutter stadium that lacked personality and great revenue potential, but the original plan was to renovate it ... until Giles saw Oriole Park.

"I went down to Camden Yards and saw that ballpark," said Giles, sitting in his luxury suite yesterday during the first regular-season game on the field of his dreams. "I went back and told our partners that the solution was not redoing the Vet. The answer was a park like the one in Baltimore."

He certainly wasn't the first to see that Camden Yards was the wave of the future. Similar ballparks sprung up around the major leagues after Oriole Park opened in 1992. Jacobs Field in Cleveland came next, followed by The Ballpark in Arlington and new/old ballparks in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Denver, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and, this year, San Diego and Philadelphia.

The San Diego Padres opened Petco Park on Thursday to rave reviews. The Phillies braved a drizzly afternoon yesterday to honor their greatest heroes and open a new era for one of the sport's oldest franchises. If only the weather and the Cincinnati Reds would have done more to cooperate, but the game-time temperature was a moist 48 degrees, and the Reds scored a 4-1 victory.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos once called the trend "the Camdenization of baseball" and contended the industry could solve many of its economic problems with a wave of public/private stadium projects. It wasn't quite that simple, but baseball commissioner Bud Selig didn't hesitate to give Baltimore its due when he helped christen the new park in Philadelphia yesterday.

"Camden Yards clearly was one of the most powerful developments in baseball over the past four or five decades," Selig said. "Even Wrigley Field and Fenway Park have done things over the past few years because of it. Those two parks have made more improvements over the past few years than they made the previous 70 years."

Citizens Bank Park isn't just a remake. It borrows the basic architectural philosophy of Oriole Park - and a few features like Bull's BBQ - but it definitely has its own personality, from the Liberty Bell above center field that lights up after a Phillies home run to the Philly Steak concession stands and the Philadelphia skyline visible from the upper decks.

Nevertheless, the park got a tepid review from the architecture critic of The Philadelphia Inquirer, partly because of its location in the multi-sports complex that also includes the Eagles' new stadium and the indoor Wachovia Center. Giles originally envisioned the park downtown, but civic infighting kept the project in limbo for several years until the team and local officials agreed to locate it next to the old stadium.

"My goal was for it to be at 16th and Spring Garden, near the Inquirer building," Giles said, "but we couldn't get the politicians to approve the site.

"We decided on this location, then had a mayoral shift. The new mayor proposed a couple of other sites that the team could not agree to. That cost us another year."

Surveys showed the majority of fans were more comfortable with the sports complex anyway.

"It's the only place in the world where you can go to a major sporting event in four different sports within 500 yards of each other," Giles said.

Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who was honored with a statue on the grounds of the new ballpark and took part in a multiple first-ball ceremony before the game, played all of his home games at The Vet and holds a certain affection for the now-demolished stadium.

"I didn't know any different when I came up," he said. "We thought that [the Vet] was state of the art, the height of technology at the time. We played in the park that they put there for us, and I was just happy to be playing in the major leagues. But given my choice and knowing what I know now, I'd probably prefer a career in a stadium like this one."

It will be awhile, however, before the Phillies will be able to claim any home-field advantage. The Reds settled right in, scoring in the first two innings and continuing their strong start with their fifth victory in seven games. The Phillies enjoyed a variety of firsts - including the park's first regular-season home run by outfielder Bobby Abreu - but lost for the sixth time in their first seven games of 2004.

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