A fair-minded fix

Change to Camden Yards foul poles could end confusion by giving umps better view of ball on close home run calls

Gameday

Opening Day Preview

Orioles Vs. Devil Rays

April 03, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON | CANDUS THOMSON,SUN REPORTER

The days of the Devo home run are going, going, gone.

An addition this season to the foul poles at Camden Yards is designed to take the controversy - and guesswork - out of fence-clearing shots into the corners.

At the direction of Major League Baseball, several ballparks, including the Orioles', have added visual aids so that umpires can better track the flight of the ball.

In the case of Camden Yards, it's a 12-inch-wide steel and Kevlar mesh fin on the outside edge of both yellow foul poles.

The fins don't have a title, but Orioles fans might want to name them after umpire Jim Joyce, who was forced to decide whether Mike Devereaux's 1989 bender around the left-field pole at Memorial Stadium was a game-winner or a do-over.

Baffled by the ball's disappearing into the yellow latticework, Joyce guessed fair, touching off a celebration by Orioles fans enthralled by the "Why Not" season and an eruption by California Angels manager Doug Rader.

The ballpark changed, but the foul poles and the confusion remained. Twice during the 2003 season, umpires faced similar situations in left field, in one case restoring a game-winning homer and in another case taking away a game-tying shot.

A close inspection of the controversial corner shows why.

"In left field, the pole sits back off the wall 12 inches, creating a no man's land between the top of the wall and the front edge of the pole," head groundskeeper Dave Nehila said. "The fin comes off the edge of the pole and matches up with the foul line as a continuation of the foul line. A ball hitting the fin will be easily visible to the umpire."

Although it has not been nearly as troublesome, the right-field pole was altered as well.

Other changes on the field will perhaps be less noticeable, but no less important.

In the late fall, Nehila and his crew re-sodded the field with four new varieties of bluegrass, putting down the last piece Dec. 5.

The grass blend used since the inaugural season was discontinued, requiring Nehila to find a new mixture that matches the ballpark's "Camden Green" motif. What he settled on was equal parts Midnight, Blackstone, Northstar and Limousine.

"Anyone could do it and have their yard look like ours," Nehila said. "We're not doing anything different than Joe Homeowner."

Mild, wet weather in January and February accelerated the sod, establishing deep roots to give players a firm footing.

But cold temperatures and a lack of rain in March stunted growth. Nehila covered the infield with a "growth blanket" for eight days to trap heat. The outfield was bundled up for four days.

"We're a little bit behind, but come Monday people won't notice all the little tricks we used," he said.

The ivy on the wall behind center field, replaced two years ago when the original plants began to die, has grown about 6 feet since Opening Day last year. The chain-link fence that acts as an arbor for the vines is completely covered; it will be several seasons before the plants climb to the top of the 40-foot wall.

Elsewhere, Camden Yards patrons will notice some new concessions, said Roger Hayden, director of ballpark operations.

The concourse has added the Authentic Zone, with official team apparel; Fresh For You, selling salads and fruit drinks; and the Hot Corner tavern.

An ice cream parlor, a seafood stand and a new lounge have been added to the club level.

"And Camden Green paint has been used in abundance," Hayden said. "The park is 15 [years old] now, getting some age. We've been working to avoid those aging wrinkles and keep the park looking as good as it always had." candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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