The Orioles detailed on Monday several of their upcoming changes to Camden Yards, including a permanent tribute to the six most decorated players in modern franchise history and a slight alteration to the right-field wall.
As part of Camden Yards' 20th anniversary, the club will honor their six Hall of Famers with bronze statues in a picnic grove beyond the batter's eye wall in center field this year. The statues — in the likeness of Frank and Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. — will range from seven to eight feet in scale and weigh between 600 and 1,500 pounds each.
"I'm already a legend in my own mind, so it's a continuation of that," joked Palmer, the franchise's greatest pitcher. "No, it's a very nice gesture. I think most of [the honorees] feel the way I do. I was just fortunate to pick the right organization. … Little did I know what fan support we would have, what success we would have and that I would play with guys that were terrific on and off the field. You couldn't write a better scenario."
Maryland sculptor Antonio Tobias "Toby" Mendez created the statues and they'll be cast into bronze by Baltimore's New Arts Foundry, which did the same for the Babe Ruth and Johnny Unitas statues outside of Oriole Park and M&T Bank Stadium.
Mendez has an extended resume of creating public sculptures, including two of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in Maryland and ones of Nolan Ryan in Arlington, Texas and Don Shula in Miami.
The Orioles will dedicate each Hall of Famer statue individually at home games throughout the season. An official announcement will be made in January on specific dates, but the plan is to dedicate one a month with the honoree in attendance. The statues will be unveiled in order of when the subject's number was retired by the club, so Frank Robinson's ceremony will be the first at some point in April; Brooks Robinson in May; Weaver in June; Palmer in July; Murray in August and Ripken in September.
Palmer said when he and the other five posed for a picture in Cooperstown, N.Y., on the day Ripken was enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 it reinforced the feeling that "we were part of something really special." And that likely will be the same sense when Palmer sees himself immortalized in bronze.
Earlier this year, Palmer had the opportunity to view the clay version of his stature and a few of the others and make some suggestions — specific facial features of Brooks Robinson or the length of Weaver's legs — and he is excited to see how it all turned out.
As for his own legacy, Palmer said the statue may introduce him to another generation of fans, who will learn just how good the teams of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s were.
"Some people know me as the 'underwear guy' and some as 'The Money Store guy' and now some people will have to walk up to my statue and see who I used to be," Palmer said. "But that doesn't take away from the fact that I picked the right time to play for the Orioles. Some people tell me, 'You played 30 years too early when it comes to salary.' But I wasn't 30 years too early in playing baseball when it comes to baseball history in Baltimore. And those statues will reflect that."
In addition to adding the statues, Eutaw Street and the picnic area will be overhauled, with a new bar and seating area on top of the batter's eye wall in center. Anyone with a ticket to that day's or evening's game will be able to access that section. The batter's eye picnic area will also be accessible to fans during the day and closed at night when the team is not playing, similar to Eutaw Street being opened on non-game days.
"It's certainly going to be a unique experience," said Greg Bader, the Orioles' director of communications. "It's an area of our ballpark where we have had fans reference, 'What's up there, can we go up there?' Well, what's up there right now is unutilized space. … Now we will provide a unique vantage point, an elevated spot in center field that gives a unique look to home plate."
One of the more interesting changes for 2012 is that the flag court wall directly above the out-of-town scoreboard will be removed in place of a railing, so that fans in that area can have a better view of the playing field.
In essence, that means the 25-foot, right-field wall will now be about 21 feet, which could end up producing more homers and fewer doubles to that area. Whether the railing will be in play — or will be considered an automatic home run — has not been announced by the club.
Other additions to the complex include new concessions at the north end of Eutaw Street, a canopy added to the B&O Warehouse to provide shelter from inclement weather and new flooring and wall coverings throughout the main concourse.
The renovations were estimated at $1.8 million and the expenses will come out of the Supplemental Improvements Fund for Maryland Stadium Authority structures and, to a lesser extent, the Authority's operations funds.
The statues, however, will be paid for by the ballclub.
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