Ballpark Breakdown: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
By Brendon McGirr
Ever since I was a child, I have loved baseball. My 3rd grade seminar project was on how Ricky Henderson changed baseball, my 10th grade required speech was a biography of Cal Ripken, and I own an entire bookcase of baseball stories and lore. And when I think of the majesty of baseball, the one thing that comes to mind is the 30 cathedrals that dot our country where America’s pastime is played at the highest level. One of my goals in life is to visit all 30 of these stadiums, and experience the game at the highest level. While I am not there yet, I am making progress. One of the questions I always get when I bring this up is “What is the best stadium?”
I always think how that is an unfair question. It's like asking what your favorite movie is. While I can easily say Schindler’s List is a fantastically well made movie, I have definitely watched Dodgeball more often in my life. So what I would like to do is take a chance to break down my thoughts on stadiums, not necessarily give a ranking. So in some way this will be flawed, but still I think will be valuable in giving an idea on how each city experiences baseball.
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Opening Date: 1992
Capacity: 44970 (as of 2022)
Visiting Date: Too many to count, most recent White Sox 12, Orioles 1
My photo from Camden
After 30 years of calling the Charm City home, the Orioles looked for a new home from Memorial Stadium. Despite the history that was associated with Memorial, it was obvious that the Orioles needed a more modern, single sport stadium. With the Colts move to Indianapolis in 1984, it was obvious Baltimore was looking for something that would not only make them stand out, but would encourage the Orioles franchise that the city was dedicated to the team. HOK Sports was given the project, and the original project was built on the blueprints of Comiskey Park. However, Baltimore was looking for something that had a more retro feel of the ballparks of old. An emphasis of steel over concrete was proposed, as well as an asymmetrical playing field and natural turf as opposed to astro turf.
One of the biggest issues with the location was the B&O Warehouse. The longest brick structure on the East Coast, there was heavy debate on if the building should be knocked down in order to build the stadium. There was even one proposal that suggested a retractable roof be put on top of it to avoid rainouts, though that was seen as unfeasible at the time. Eventually, a compromise was made that the building would be used as offices for the team. The B&O has only been hit one time on the fly, by Ken Griffey Jr. during the Home Run Derby of the 1993 All Star Game, although the commemorative plaque has gone missing.
There was a debate on what the name of the stadium would be. Former Orioles owner Eli Jacobs wanted the stadium named Oriole Park to symbolize the significance that this was only the Orioles home. Maryland Governor William Schaefer preferred Camden Yards to symbolize the neighborhood that was lost to the stadium and its historical significance to the city (Babe Ruth was actually born in a tavern that would be located in Center Field where Adam Jones usually patrolled). Eventually a simple compromise was agreed upon, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards became the official name.
On April 6th, 1992, Rick Sutcliffe pitched a complete game victory over the Cleveland Indians to open up the stadium, and a new era of Orioles Baseball.
“The Ballpark that Forever Changed Baseball” started a new trend of bringing baseball back to downtown. Camden Yards has done a fantastic job of revitalizing downtown Baltimore. Located a short jaunt from Inner Harbor, there are numerous shops, restaurants, and bars that have thrived with Camden being brought back into city limits. Highlights of attractions include the National Aquarium, one of the best aquariums in the nation (there is an argument to be made for Atlanta’s, but that is a different topic). Moving from Inner Harbor, you will walk down Pratt Street toward the stadium, seeing some fantastic food options. I personally love Pratt Street Ale House and the Crab and Corn Quesadilla. If you did not get some crab and some Old Bay, you did Baltimore wrong.
As you get to the stadium, you will see a sea of orange and black surrounding a strip of row homes just outside the stadium. That would be the combo bars of Pickles, Sliders, and Bullpen. While most people will suggest Pickles, I have had a great time at all 3. At these establishments you can pregame some Natty Bohs while seeing the fandom of Baltimore shine. Just in front of these establishments is the Brooks Robinson Statue, noticeable by its Gold Glove.
While Ripken is Baltimore royalty, Brooks is a very close second.
After the game, Federal Hill lies a short 15 minute walk away from the stadium, home of many different food and drink options. Cross Street Market is the hub of the neighborhood, with many different options located inside. I have always loved Pub Dog Pizza and Drafthouse and the Baltimore Biergarten.
Getting to the Stadium
Camden is one of the most accessible stadiums I have been to. Your options include the Light Rail or simply driving in. The Lightrail runs about 20 miles north and south of Baltimore, and is a fantastic budget option to getting to Camden. Although there are several stops, it is fairly cheap with free parking at most stops. The Lightrail runs late to accommodate night games, and while crowded, is an effective way of getting to the game.
By being located downtown, there are many parking options to also get to Camden. Parking is plentiful for gameday, although day games during the week can be a hassle due to people working. The Oriole share the parking lots with the Ravens, so there is plenty of parking in lots B/C as well that is slightly cheaper than other garages.
My personal opinion, if it is 1-2 people, take the closest Light Rail, 3+ buy parking from the team.
In the Stadium
Camden Yards is definitely a stadium you want to get to early. From entering the cobblestones of Eutaw Street, you will see how this stadium embraces the past while highlighting the future. Walking the concourse, the green steel and brick highlights the retro-modern feel.
When going through the stadium, some highlights I would visit include
Eutaw Street Proper
Eutaw Street is lined with all the homeruns that have touched down onto the street. I highly recommend taking some extra time to see all the bombs that have come down (just short of the warehouse).
Just behind the bullpens in left center field, you will see a series of statues of the retired numbers of OPACY. A popular giveaway in 2012, these statues highlight the history of the Orioles and those who have worn the orange and black in pride. Currently, the criteria to be included in this park is players or managers who are in the HOF with a bird on their cap. It is definitely worth visiting and seeing. I personally was at the stadium for the Cal statue reveal, which might need its own post, stay tuned.
Food of Choice
Something my wife likes to do is try the specialty food of each stadium, so I want to make that a part of the review. The food options of Camden are fantastic, from the Crabby Fries, the Crab Egg Rolls, the Crab Mac & Cheese Hot Dog (are you seeing a trend?) but if you are only gonna visit Camden once, there is only one choice for food. The 1970 AL MVP Boog Powell set up a Baltimore BBQ stand on Eutaw named Boog's BBQ, and I cannot recommend it enough to first time visitors. For ballpark food, the BBQ is legitimately good, especially topped with some Baltimore mop sauce. And on the weekends (again, in my experience) Boog will come out and shake hands, take pictures, and sign autographs with waiting fans for his stand. If you can only have one meal in Camden, make sure it's Boogs.
I always thought this review would be the longest, as I have had so many good memories in Camden Yards. I will try to put my homerism aside. Camden Yards changed how baseball stadiums were built. I do not think any stadium I have visited has done a better job of balancing the modern amenities with the retro feel. Between its location in downtown Baltimore, its balance of the history of the area and the modern convenience, and the emphasis on Orioles history, Camden does everything a baseball fan could want. While I will not put an official rating on stadiums, every baseball fan needs to visit Camden at least once in their life.