Kevin Cowherd: Orioles knock Camden Yards renovations out of the park

April 04, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

Give the Orioles credit: They sure do stadium renovations well. Way better than they play ball.

I say that after getting a sneak peek Wednesday at all the changes to Camden Yards we've been hearing so much about.

Bottom line? You're going to love what they've done to the place, even if you're a hard-core fan who's not big on a lot of architectural frou-frou at the ballpark.

Assuming, that is, there are any hard-core baseball fans left.

"I think we still have hard-core fans," said Janet Marie Smith, Orioles vice president of planning and development. "But when Camden Yards was built, we were thinking of the hard-core fan as a guy with a No. 2 pencil and a scorecard in a fixed-slat chair. And today, our hard-core fans have an iPhone or BlackBerry in their pocket and 14 games are coming in at once and they're trying to stay on top of a lot more than just the game in front of them."

Great. No wonder we're all this close to having ADD.

"So, as a society," Smith continued, "it's just a more fluid way of living. We're trying to do a lot of things in real time. And so this notion of staying in a fixed seat for nine innings doesn't appeal to everyone."

If that's the case, Camden Yards is going to be like Disney World for all you people who can't sit still and like to wander during games.

The new roof deck in center field figures to be enormously popular. It'll have a bar up there, which you might need to visit if the Orioles are getting pounded, and deck seating with a nice view of downtown.

Plus, it'll be a great place to people-watch, letting you check out all the other restless souls milling about Eutaw Street and the picnic area.

The renovations to the flag court are pretty cool, too. They lowered the right-field wall by four feet, which doesn't sound like much. But it really enhances the view toward home plate. And the court seems more open now, which should lead to improved foot traffic — God, I sound like an urban planner — from the concession stands and shops in the Warehouse.

Speaking of which, can I throw a quick food note in here?

At the new Stuggy's concession, you will be able to purchase something called — stay with me here — a Crab Mac 'n' Cheese hot dog.

This is absolutely true. I tried one yesterday. It wasn't bad, but I felt my cholesterol levels red-lining after three bites.

Fortunately, Stuggy's owners Stuart and Ryan Perlberg were standing right there to put their best spin on the nutritional value of this concoction.

"We're using an Esskay all-beef product," Ryan Perlberg said. "And the reality is, it's gluten-free."

Oh, well, if it's gluten-free ...

"Everything in moderation is fine," he added.

OK, that part I agree with. I should've ordered another for the road.

The flag court is also where I ran into Sig Seidenman, who turned out to be a real, live, hard-core Orioles fan. You know, the type who actually follows the game on the field and isn't downloading apps to his smartphone every five seconds.

Partly, this is because Seidenman is 79 years old and, like me, probably doesn't know how to download apps.

But he knows baseball and loves the game, and is steeped in Orioles history.

"I was in the stands at Memorial Stadium when Clint Courtney hit a home run on Opening Day 1954," he said.

Let's face it: When a guy opens a conversation with that sentence, it pretty much ends the discussion about his Orioles bona fides.

Turns out Seidenman and other family members have been Orioles season-ticket holders since 1954. (These days, he sits in Section 50, Row 7. You can't miss him. He's the only one who's not on his feet screaming with delight when they flash the Old Bay Crab Shuffle on the video board.)

But hard-core fan that he is, Seidenman said he liked the stadium renovations he saw Wednesday. Then, as we stood at the flag-court railing, he pointed down to the field.

"If I could change one thing at the ballpark," he said, "it's the warning track."

The warning track?

"It's like a trampoline," he said. "Ball hits it, it flies into the stands."

Maybe the Orioles will work on that for the next round of renovations. But for now, they've done a great job of making the ballpark even fan-friendlier than it was before.

Oh, wait. Did I mention there's even going to be an art gallery at the ballpark this year?

OK, technically, it's a "sports" art gallery that will display what are described as "one of a kind paintings, autographed memorabilia and limited edition prints of sports stars."

But that's not going to matter to all the critics who already think the Camden Yards crowds consist of nothing but chardonnay-sipping, cellphone-talking dilettantes.

To which I would say: Shut up and try the Crab Mac 'n' Cheese dog.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd at 7:20 a.m. Tuesdays on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show."

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