In 1912, when Fenway Park opened as the home of the Boston Red Sox, fans went to a baseball game because they wanted to watch a baseball game.
One hundred years later, stadiums are much more complicated places, filled with fans hoping for a variety of experiences. Some seek a hip place to socialize, others work out important business deals. Parents have taken to going to the park in search of entertainment for their kids — though not necessarily on the field — and even child care, while foodies might buy a ticket to try a new restaurant or concession stand. Some still go for the baseball.
Camden Yards should welcome a capacity crowd on Opening Day, and the horde will have its first chance to explore renovations meant to make the 20-year-old stadium more usable for today's fans.
Whether a 10-year-old boy who enters the stadium Friday will go to the same location to watch pro baseball when he's 90 is difficult to even fathom. There's no reason to believe that Camden Yards would not last, structurally, until its 100th year. Whether it can be adapted to fit the constantly changing demands from fans and the one never-changing priority for an owner — revenue generation — are the more important questions.
"Nobody is going to try to look forward 50 or 25 or even 10 years to what a stadium is going to look like or how it is going to be used," said Dr. Mark Rosentraub, a sports management professor at the University of Michigan. "The key is being able to change every five years in the way that the fans and the business demand you change. It happens that quickly."
As the Orioles sought to update Camden Yards, they heeded Rosentraub's advice. A new plaza in center field and restaurant/brew pub in the warehouse reflect the success that more recently built stadiums — including those in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia — have had in attracting fans not necessarily interested in paying close attention to the game.
Janet Marie Smith, the team's vice president for planning and development, said the team — and its owner, Peter Angelos — remain committed to spending the money necessary to keep the park current.
"There's no question that the patina of time has served Camden Yards well," she said. "But Mr. Angelos was careful to say that, as the stadium turned 20, we needed to keep it fresh. That's something that he is constantly thinking of."
Joe Mock worked in a building on the 200 block of Pratt Street while Camden Yards was being built. He watched as a crowded industrial space wedged between several neighborhoods gave way to a majestic stadium, but he didn't realize he had a front-row seat to what would become a revolution.
"To say it was trend setting is a great understatement," Mock said. "It re-wrote the book. It really changed everything."
Camden Yards launched a new era in stadium construction that helped revitalize Mock's love for stadiums (he'd photographed all the ones he visited as a kid). In 1997, he started his own website — baseballparks.com — offering reviews of the ballparks he visited, and he has since written a book and worked on multiple television projects related to the subject. Mock, who moved to Texas in 2000, has been to every major league stadium, including the new Marlins Park in Miami, every spring training facility and all but four of the facilities where affiliated minor league teams play.
While he's seen the influence of Baltimore's stadium in parks across the country, he believes Camden Yards will survive because of what sets it apart and makes it so closely associated with the city.
"There's very little doubt that Camden Yards has what it takes to survive the way Fenway and Wrigley have," Mock said. Wrigley, the home of the Chicago Cubs, turns 98 this year. "You get the same feeling of it being truly a part of — as well as reflection of — the city. As long as there's a commitment to funneling money into the stadium, both for upkeep and to stay fresh with new ideas, it can last."
His one concern for the future of Camden Yards stems, ironically, from what made it unique when it was built: its placement downtown may limit the ability for nearby development that could generate additional revenue. The St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore-based Cordish Companies have planned to develop a "Ballpark Village" adjacent to the new Busch Stadium. Though the project stagnated during the economic downturn it has still inspired imitators, and several of the new spring training facilities Mock visited recently were situated on large plots of land where restaurants, condos and shops are expected to sprout.