Camden Yards raises bar on looks - and potential for broken bones

April 07, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

THE NEW brickwork at Camden Yards looks terrific. The waist-high walls erected in front of the outfield box seats last month add a little more class to one of the most beautiful ballparks in America and leave you to wonder just who is responsible for this aesthetic triumph.

When we find out, somebody ought to tie him up in the batting cage and let the corner infielders and outfielders hit fungoes at him.

Apparently, no one consulted the baseball operations department to find out if it really was such a good idea to put up a brick wall where Melvin Mora or Larry Bigbie might have to crash the fence to make a big out.

"I think we might have to put some padding on that," said Bigbie. "It looks great, but it's going to be in the left fielder's and the right fielder's head when you're going after a fly ball."

Padding? If you put padding on it, it's going to look like it did before they went to all that trouble to spiff up the ballpark, which wasn't exactly short on brickwork in the first place.

"It wasn't like people were complaining about the way the place looked," said one player, who wished to remain both disgusted and anonymous.

It was quite a winter at Camden Yards. The Ravens got Derrick Mason. The Orioles got dangerous masonry.

"It's tough," said Mora, who would like to have every opportunity to play an injury-free season, "but what can I do? You just need to be careful now. I'm really more worried about Larry and the other outfielders. You could dive for a ball and hit your head out there. He'll need to learn how to play with that."

It's less of an issue in right field, where the original green wall that angles up toward the flag court already is padded, but it's still a problem for the guys at first base and in right field.

"I'm not a big fan of anything that puts players in harm's way and makes the ballpark more dangerous," said B.J. Surhoff. "It doesn't look bad, but it's a safety concern. There are reasons they put padding on the wall."

Surhoff and I were both with the Orioles delegation that traveled to Cuba in the winter of 1999 to negotiate the team's historic goodwill trip to Havana, which might seem like another one of my Page 2 non sequiturs except that one of the major issues at the time was the safety of the aged Estadio Latinoamericano.

The Major League Baseball Players Association insisted that a lot of exposed masonry be covered with padding, which had to be imported at great expense by Major League Baseball.

If that was good enough for Cuba, it should be good enough for Baltimore.

"With padding, you can still accelerate toward the wall," Bigbie said. "I just hope that it doesn't cost us a ballgame ... or an injury."

Think about it. Bigbie has a chance to become a marquee player, but all he has to do is slide wrong when he's going after a foul fly ball and he has a chance to spend the year with steel pins in his ankle.

Mora is fast becoming one of the best third basemen in the American League. The only thing that might stand in his way would be another time-consuming injury, and the stupid new wall certainly improves that possibility.

Jay Gibbons is coming off an injury-marred season. Now that he has moved to first base, he has a chance to have another one.

More likely, the players will just become more timid, which could cost the Orioles a lot of important outs over the course of the season. That's not a very good outcome, either.

It shouldn't have been that hard to figure out, which makes you wonder what the stadium authority and the Orioles stadium operations people were thinking when they made this decision - if they were thinking at all.

I put in a call to Orioles stadium ops guy Roger Hayden, but I'm still waiting for him to get back to me.

The brickwork sprung up while the Orioles were in Fort Lauderdale, so no one in baseball operations was around to notice or raise the appropriate objections.

If it was supposed to be a surprise, it certainly had the desired effect on the players, who still can't believe that anyone could be so short-sighted. Which leaves me no choice but to paraphrase our late President Reagan.

Mr. Angelos, tear down that wall.

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