|Camden cooks up classic feel and food|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: This is the 13th report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.
The spirit of good old-fashioned Camden Yards, the original retro park, stirred this writer into retro writing mode. In that spirit -- think Page 2, circa 1925 -- we continue ...
BALTIMORE -- If one is of mind, on a fine summer day, to observe two base ball clubs of major league caliber in contest for victory, there could be no finer place to recommend such a past time than the Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
It is a wondrous yard, the green acreage upon which young men ply their hardscrabble trade surrounded by a comfortable grandstand. In addition to the ball game itself, one may observe old and young at leisure; the boys arriving early to catch a close-up glimpse of their heroes; the older lads and lasses alternatively coy and boisterous in their rites of court-ship; the elderly enjoying their day of rest strolling beautiful Eutaw Street, purchasing souvenirs, and eating scrumptious meats and ice cream treats in breeze-ways constructed just for this purpose.
As there are many ladies present, gentlemen are of courteous nature; though one suspects there may be some wagering on the contest, it is done so quietly, with discretion. If you are of mind to support prohibition, you should avert your eyes, as the beer flows copiously, winding its way through more than 20 miles of pipe built specifically for that purpose. Hard liquor is also available, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that "fans" were often observed partaking. However, the atmosphere is not that of a saloon, but that of a city park, with good humor a-gleam in every eye.
While the Orioles of Baltimore have seen finer days -- how can one not miss the old-style play of John McGraw, Wee Willie Keeler, and Boileryard Clarke? -- wiling away a Sunday afternoon in Oriole Park is itself worth the price of admission. Though built before the turn of the century, back in '92, it maintains a feel of newness. It is scrupulously maintained. At the end of the day, refreshed by a home-town victory, I enjoyed a leisurely amble around the harbor-front. I must admit that, due to the fine food, I was forced to loosen my truss, but with my money-clip considerably lighter, there was a spring in my step.
In order to support my amateur vocation as scribe, I sell bolts of whole cloth, and with buoyed spirit, was able to increase my Baltimore sales two-fold in the week following my Camden Yards outing. The only mis-hap occurred when I found I'd be unable to continue my travels to Wheeling, West Virginia, from the old Camden Station. This was the Baltimore rail-road's original route, and it is a shame to see the service no longer available.
As I rued my fate, I recalled that far worse events had occurred at the Station, the Civil War battle at the depot being the one most noteworthy. Thus, unable to find horse-and-carriage to take me and my cloth samples to the new station, I hailed a new "horseless carriage" to take me to the aero-port, from where I debarked for home.
2. Quality of hot dogs: The "hot dog" is a staple at most yards, and they offer them here, perhaps for those un-able to afford the expensive, but delicious, alternatives. I do not care much for these new types of sausages, and did not see any ladies or gentlemen eating them. Mr. Sinclair, the muckraker who penned "The Jungle," has certainly done ball fans a great service. I must add, however, that some reports on their quality have been complimentary. 3.5
3. Quality/selection of other concession-stand fare: Extra-ordinary. Perhaps in an attempt to gain favor of The Lord, the Baltimore ball club offers kosher food. I enjoyed a delicious potato knish, followed by extra-ordinary deep-fried potato chips, washed down by a fresh-squeezed lemonade. I also enjoyed a mountainous serving of healthy Colombo Frozen Yogurt, presented in the style of the leaning Torre di Pisa. 5
4. Signature concession item: It warms the heart to see the phrase "signature concession" honored literally, for a change. When one partakes of Boog's Barbeque, rich meats dressed in sweet and salty sauces that can be purchased at a stand on Eutaw Street, one may also obtain, when the proprietor is in attendance, the auto-graph of the former great Oriole first baseman, who makes a fine living serving his wondrous delicacies so close to the game he excelled at as a young man. 4.5
5. Beer: I sought, in vain, my old watering hole in Baltimore, Ruth's Café, owned by The Bambino's father. Much to my dismay, I was told that I could find it in center field. I believed the fellow who told me this was pulling my leg, but it's true -- where once that great saloon stood, center fielders now tread. Fortunately, the Baltimore Brew Pub serves an astounding eight varieties at its stands. As noted earlier, you may also partake of high-balls mixed with the finest hard liquors. Prices are similar to those at other yards. 5
6. Bathrooms: Clean and plentiful, though one wishes for fans or one of the new air-cooling systems. To my dismay, the men's room ran out of paper towels by the fifth inning, forcing me to utilize my hanker-chief. Ladies had the great good fortune of plentiful powder rooms, and did not have to form a queue. These are fine rest facilities, despite their minor flaws. 4.5
7. Scoreboard: What a pleasure, between innings, to be able to re-set my pocket watch to accurate time, aided by the two-sided clock atop the scoreboard. Baltimore's news paper, "The Sun," is the board's prominent advertiser, and if one is keeping score, the "H" in "The" brightens to signify that the batter has been credited with a hit. The "E" brightens to signify an error. Clever device, although I was unable to see it first-hand from my vantage point. It is probably much clearer at night-time.
Much fine information is displayed, with out-of-town scores updated frequently. Strangely, there is only accommodation for six scores for each league, a minor, but noticeable, annoyance. The motion pictures are of good quality, even on a bright, sunny day. 4.5
8. Quality of public address system: It is of superb quality, relaying fine music from the Victrola to the masses, and delivering necessary information clearly. 5
9. Fun stuff to do besides the game: One eats. One eats in one's seat. One eats at the pic-nic areas, which are convenient to all areas of the grand-stand. One eats standing up, one eats while strolling.
Unlike many other base-ball clubs, Baltimore is modest in its between-innings entertainments. But prior to the game, when both teams were in their dug-outs, a highlights film featuring games of the three previous days, games in which the O's had defeated the Angels, was shown on the scoreboard. Feats of Baltimore batters, pitchers and fielders were announced at a tremendous volume as they were shown on the screen. I do not doubt this was an attempt to embarrass and intimidate the opposition; this is inarguably the proper use of such technology.
My only dis-pleasure was with the frequent repetition of "Happy and you know it ..." It is a fine children's tune and appropriate to the atmosphere, but lost its uplifting spirit on the up-teenth replaying. 4
10. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: Upon entering the gates, each patron, regardless of age, was given a "bobble-head doll" of Orioles great Eddie Murray. This alone was worth the price of admission. With my traveling trunk stuffed, I sought out small, inexpensive items for my little one. At many parks, this is easier said than done. At Camden Yards, I quickly found a post-card with a panoramic view of the park (4 bits) and shiny silver Orioles logo stickers ($2 for a strip of four). My small girl was pleased with the gifts I brought home, until she stuck her finger in the wire coil that serves as Mr. Murray's neck. She was unable to remove it without adult aid. That item now resides on a high shelf. 5
11. Ticket price/availability: Back in the day, it was well-nigh impossible to secure entrance into Camden Yards. In these times, without premier players such as Cal Ripken, Brady Anderson, Roberto Alomar, Harold Baines, Albert Belle and Ryan Minor, it is simply a matter of approaching the ticket window and, if one is on a budget, purchasing the least expensive seat in the house. For $9, I was able to procure an excellent view and was able to roam the park freely. 5
12. Exterior architecture: Some malign the HOK architectural firm, but I daresay you'll find nary a soul whose heart does not stir on approach to this edifice. The B&O Warehouse, completed in 1905, stretches 1,016 feet from one end to the other, the longest building on the Eastern seaboard. It is a magnificent sight, as is the entire park, which has been erected with steel and brick. Although it must prove a mighty tempting target for the brawnier sluggers, the B&O Warehouse has only been hit on the fly once, by the Junior Griffey during the 1993 All-Star Game home-run hitting contest. 5
13. Interior architecture: The Warehouse, which was restored by having each of its 3 million bricks hand-cleaned, is home to the Orioles offices, and also features restaurants, sporting saloons and a large souvenir shoppe. Eutaw Street runs 'tween the stadium enclosure proper and the Warehouse, and, 60 feet in width, is a fine place to stroll both before and during the contest. There are wide concourses on both major levels. Wonderful, fresh potted flower plants enhance the walkways, but, alas, proved out of reach to those who wished to adorn their suit-pockets with a splash of colour.
I must add that the dual-level bull-pen and the ivy-covered wall which serves as a back-drop for the hitters are splendid touches. 5
15. Ushers: Superb indeed. I inquired of one usher to take my photo-graph, and she obliged, even suggesting the proper place to stand so that important ballpark landmarks would appear beyond my likeness. She seemed to take great pleasure in providing this service, and cheer-fully acknowledged my expressions of gratitude. 5
16. Trading-up factor: With a good view of the game and a cool vantage out of the mid-day sun, I was content. But in the middle of the fifth inning, it was clear that some seats, closer to the action, were going unused. It would have been unsporting if I had not seen some action from closer up, and so walked down and was able to sit in a lower terrace box seat. I was almost, but not quite, able to read the lips of the third-base coach. (From my more youth-ful days, I recall that much of what is uttered by such men on a ball field is often unprintable in a family publication.) At other less-popular venues, one may get closer. 4.5
17. Knowledge of local fans: I can not honorably assess this aspect, as I was seated next to a Yankee fan who was able to speak of little else than his hatred of the Orioles' opposition, the California Angels. However, the crowd of 40,000 seemed somewhat subdued, perhaps made somnolent by the enormous quantities of food consumed. This was a disappointment for a city of such rich baseball history. 3.5
18. Seventh-inning stretch: While I am as patriotic as the next fellow, and usually enjoy the singing of Kate Smith, the long version of "God Bless America" was less than stirring. An obnoxiously loud rendition of "Coming to America" by a fellow named Neil Diamond followed. After these displays of nationalism, I prepared thusly to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but was surprised yet again when "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," rang through the loud-speakers. Should not a simple version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" suffice? 2
19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: If one enjoys large, good-natured crowds, it is a fine thing to arrive early and enjoy the boisterous scene along Eutaw Street. One may also, as I eventually did, enjoy a quieter situation inside the stadium before the game, where I was able to enjoy food and drink while watching the final round of the British Open.
It's hard to imagine a body having room for food or drink after a Camden Yards outing. but the only direction to head is toward the harbor, where even on a late Sunday afternoon families enjoyed many types of recreation. I visited a magnificent spot called the ESPN Zone, right next to a Barnes & Noble, and a stone's throw from Baltimore's superb aquarium. 5
20. Wild-card: A visitor unfamiliar with the history of Camden Yards would be surprised to learn that it is 11 years old. It still seems like a new-born. It is all-together a most remarkable venue in which to pass an afternoon or evening. And the Orioles must be commended for their bold stroke -- similar new parks of classic design have arisen in Cleveland, Atlanta, and other cities, and this is much to the good. 7
TOTAL SCORE FOR CAMDEN YARDS: 92