Hit It Here

August 26, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY

A few days before Oriole Park at Camden Yards officially opened in April 1992, the Orioles hosted the New York Mets and former Orioles star Eddie Murray for an exhibition game.

Dr. Charles Steinberg, then the club's director of public affairs, saw it as an opportunity to get the two leading home run hitters in club history at the time - Murray and Boog Powell - together for a photo shoot.

The trio was in Steinberg's new second-floor office in the B&O Warehouse overlooking right field when Steinberg turned to Murray and said, "Wouldn't it be something if you hit my window today?"

Murray didn't come close that night, to the window or the building.

And 16 years later, the eight-story Warehouse that seemingly beckons to left-handed power hitters still has not been hit on the fly in a game. Not once in more than 1,300 contests, roughly 12,000 innings.

"I don't know if it is as surprising as it is amusing," said Steinberg, now executive vice president of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Baseball is hard, and all of us who tried and failed know that. It would be a marvel to see it hit, and, yes, I think we all probably thought it would happen by now. But the fact it hasn't teaches you more about baseball. It's not easy."

In the stadium's 17 seasons, only 47 homers have been hit onto the extended section of Eutaw Street that sits in front of the Warehouse. Each is recognized with a baseball-sized marker that displays the date, distance and hitter.

There is only one marker on the wall's facade - in honor of a blast by then-Seattle Mariner Ken Griffey Jr. during the 1993 Home Run Derby. The wall also has been hit on the bounce in games and on the fly during batting practices. The Montreal Expos' Henry Rodriguez came the closest in a 1997 game, with a shot that landed 443 feet from home plate - and roughly 10 feet short of the Warehouse.

There has always been a sense of inevitability that it would get hit.

Before the first opener, 63 of the 429 windows on the ballpark side of the Warehouse were fitted with a shatter-resistant glass that wouldn't produce flying shards if struck with a baseball. The special glass was inserted only on the bottom four floors.

"We thought about a lot of things. Maybe we should have thought about moving [the Warehouse] 10 to 15 feet closer," joked former Orioles executive Larry Lucchino, now president of the Boston Red Sox.

How has such a monstrosity eluded being struck for so long?

Start with the obvious.

"That's a long way back there," said New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi, who has three Eutaw Street homers, including two this season. "It looks kind of close because the Warehouse is so big, but then you start walking back there. And, wow, it's a looooong way."

Officially, the Orioles list the 100-plus-year-old Warehouse as 439 feet from home plate. But that's to the closest section, just behind the foul pole. Because a ball must clear the 25-foot-high, 100-foot-wide right-field wall, a better estimate for hitting the Warehouse is probably 460 feet.

"Anyone who understands elevation understands that you have to hit it that much farther and that much higher to get your target," said Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, who pitched for the Orioles from 1991 to 2000.

"It is possible," said Carlos Pena, the Tampa Bay Rays' left-handed-hitting first baseman. "It's just that all of the conditions would have to be right. It has to be perfect."

The Orioles never continually stocked their roster with left-handed bashers. The best to play extensively at Camden Yards was first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who hit a record five Eutaw Street homers. But Palmeiro was more of a line-drive hitter who didn't often get the lift needed to reach the Warehouse.

When the park opened, the belief was that the club's hulking designated hitter, Sam Horn, would be the first to achieve the milestone. In fact, then-Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal wrote a piece as the wall, taunting Horn to hit him.

But Horn, who had totaled 37 homers in the previous two years, including several mammoth shots, didn't get much of a chance for target practice. He had only 162 at-bats for the Orioles in 1992, his last season with the team.

"It could have been 100 feet away. It's hard to hit that wall from the bench," said Horn, who works in public relations and makes corporate appearances for the Red Sox. "I know I could have hit that wall in a game. I almost believe I could do it right now in batting practice."

The club's greatest lefty-only slugger is also positive he could have hit the Warehouse on the fly. Except Powell, unlike today's sluggers, said he wouldn't be shy about going after it.

"It would be my mission. I would never be happy until I hit the Warehouse," said Powell, who runs Boog's Barbecue on Eutaw Street. "To hit one out of Memorial Stadium was different. That wasn't there like this is there. That was like wide-open spaces. This is here. By God, I would have hit this son of a [gun] if I had to go get golf balls and throw them up."

Most agree that one day it will happen. A left-hander will get an inside fastball, turn on it and shoot a rocket down the line that hits the Warehouse and makes history.

Maybe that day is coming soon. Eutaw Street, after all, has been reached seven times already this season; the last time it was hit more was in 1999.

Or maybe it won't occur for another 16 years. That's the beauty and the allure of having the Warehouse loom behind right field.

"It's not so much a question of why it hasn't happened," Steinberg said, "but how momentous it will be when it does happen."

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