Saturday, July 28, 2007

Game #5: Camden Yards: The Original New Old Park

When Camden Yards was built in 1992, it redefined the landscape for new ballpark development. While in the years prior, the pinnacle of stadium design was epitomized by massive, concrete, multi-sport complexes, Camden went a different way, bringing back architectural elements common to the classic ballparks of the past, combined with modern approaches to niceties such as concessions and concourses. The Camden experience, in turn, inspired a new generation of new ballparks that have given me good reason to drive across the continent.

All of that said. 1992 has become more than a little while ago. Or, more specifically, the combination of a vast reputation and countless imitators seems to have taken its toll. While the park was nice, it felt rather overrated. While I give Camden all fair dues and rights for ushering in the new era in ballpark design, the opportunity other cities have had to learn from the model and improve upon it has produced other parks, such as the one I visited the previous night in Philadelphia, that have surpassed Camden. If I’d been to Camden for the first time before having seen many of the new parks around the country, perhaps it would have been different, but between the weight of expectations and the growth elsewhere, it was a bit of a let down.

This included the highly-touted Eutaw Street promenade between the large warehouse in right field and the stands themselves. I had expected this street-extension, inside the park’s gates and populated by concessions and businesses, to be more like the Yawkey Way outside Fenway, in being and truly feeling apart from the ballpark. However, in reality, it simply felt like an uncovered continuation of the general concourse.

That said, one neat element of Eutaw street that I’ve not seen elsewhere was the installation of brass plaques into the floor where players have hit home runs. These commemorative plaques make for an interesting study in where home run balls go, and also make for a fun exercise in seeking out your favorite teams or players. To make up for any anger I may have caused by my compliments to Yankee Stadium and to make sure that I don’t have to sleep on the couch when I return home, here’s a picture of a Red Sox commemorative plaque.

One point on which Camden did not disappoint was the food. The highly-regarded Boog’s BBQ was excellent, and made for the first time on the trip that I really felt like it was something I’d be happy to seek out and pay for outside of the ballpark. Also amusing was the availability of Old Bay seasoning as an alternative to ketchup for french fries – this is definitely the Chesapeake region. Meanwhile, beers were again plentiful and varied, with a wide range of local microbrews on tap.

The crowd was pretty small, which is perhaps expected for a mid-day, mid-week battle between the bottom two teams in the AL East. And of the crowd that was there, much of it was part of a kids day promotion that had dozens of groups of dozens of young kid day campers massed around the stadium, each group identifiable by their uniquely colored t-shirts. Unfortunately, that made for less people around, though I was able to strike up a bit of a conversation, when the music wasn’t too loud, with a man behind me who was there with his two high-school-aged kids.

And yes, they played Tampa Bay, so of course the Orioles won.

Parking was a nightmare, even though I arrived more than 2 hours early. The combination of mid-week and day-game in downtown Baltimore seemed to mean that all the usual ballpark-servicing lots were busy handling downtown-working businessmen. After more than 40 minutes of driving in circles between full lots, I finally found a remarkably expensive lot with a few spaces to spare.

I’m definitely starting to head further south. The game time temperature was 92 degrees, and my seat was basking in the sun for 3+ hours of the 3 ½ hour game. It’ll just keep getting hotter – After a detour back north to see Cleveland and Pittsburgh and a game in DC, it’ll be Hotlanta next week, and Florida after that.

Meanwhile, the afternoon game, while making for a hot day, did give me a chance to wander the Baltimore waterfront afterwards, which while fairly artificial in construction, and populated primarily with chain restaurants of all kinds, does possess a tremendous natural beauty. Kudos to downtown ballparks!

That said, despite the nice waterfront area, the Baltimore I remember visiting 12 years ago still exists – I fondly remember park benches in sketchy areas inscribed with the following fantastic saying, in the city with the lowest literacy rate in the nation.

After the game, it was off to DC to crash at a friend’s place, and rest up for a bit. Next stop, Cleveland!


Mobile Em said...

The Red Sox reference is duly noted, but you may have to stay on the couch anyway. While you've been away, I've repurposed your side of the bed as a surface for storing empty handbags, clean laundry, the now-finished Harry Potter book, etc.

Otherwise, it's nice to hear your perspective on Camden Yards as I do remember people going gaga over it in the 90's, and now I don't feel so left out considering how well I've done in recent history with Pac Bell [sic] park.

Alta Vista said...

We went to Camden Yards in 1995 shortly after it opened. It was still pretty nice then.

Having said that, I thought Pac Bell was pretty neat - especially the part about watching a bases-loaded homer into the water. Too bad it wasn't Barry.

Grant said...

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Camden Yards wasn't nice. It's just that a matter of high expectations, and of having been surpassed by newer imitators.

It was still definitely a great day out.