MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

When last we met, we discussed the most memorable Opening Day experiences of my life as a baseball fan. Every Opening Day is memorable, of course, for various reasons, the biggest one being it marks a day and a moment of renewal – a renewal of hope for a new season and the renewal of spring when, in the words of A. Bartlett Giamatti, “everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer …”

One of the most memorable Opening Day experiences any of us who were lucky enough to have took place 30 years ago and will last for our lifetime.

Can it possibly be 30 years since Oriole Park at Camden Yards, The Ballpark That Changed Baseball Forever™ (the Orioles trademarked the phrase in 2012, according to Ron Cassie’s outstanding article in Baltimore Magazine, “Baltimoreans Didn’t Want a New Baseball Park 30 Years Ago — Then We Saw Camden Yards”).

Yes, it’s true. Baltimore did not want a new stadium or ballpark for the Orioles, not in Lansdowne, as the state had proposed, not in the downtown, which is what Mayor, then Governor William Donald Schaefer and Orioles president of operations Larry Lucchino wanted. In fact, according to Cassie’s reporting, Schaefer pushed the Maryland General Assembly in 1987 to approve the Camden Yards project and then blocked a referendum campaign to put the whole thing on the ‘88 ballot — which polls had indicated would not have passed.

As I’ve said here before, we all loved Memorial Stadium and we took it personally when it was said to be no longer good enough, because to us, that was the same as saying Baltimore was not good enough.

Memorial Stadium, in that splendid neighborhood of Waverly, was our home and we were in love with the charm of what was once known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum. The original sentiment in Baltimore and around the state of Maryland was to pass a bill that would fund the refurbishment of Memorial Stadium, much as the original Yankee Stadium had undergone in the mid-1970s.

The Baltimore Magazine article details the whos, the hows and the whys of the project and how the concept of a downtown ballpark (it is not a stadium) and even the iconic B&O Warehouse were saved.

The first time I walked into the near-completed Oriole Park was on the Wednesday before its first Opening Day, which was Monday, April 6, 1992. The Orioles held an open house of the beautiful new facility for the media and Cumberland Times-News Lifestyles writer Elise Zealand and I attended.

Both of us were entirely taken by the experience and neither one of us – both chatty by nature – said much during the walking tour of the entire ballpark. That is, until we both were sitting in the Orioles’ first-base dugout and upon looking out to the plush green expanse of the playing field, turned to each other and said, “It’s like being in somebody’s home.”

It was just so warm and cozy.

That Friday, the Orioles hosted the New York Mets for the final exhibition game of the spring, before holding closed workouts Saturday and Sunday. Then on Monday, April 6, veteran starter Rick Sutcliffe, who was brought to the organization by manager Johnny Oates for just such an assignment and to anchor and to mentor the Orioles’ young and talented rotation (Ben McDonald, Mike Mussina), pitched a complete-game shutout to beat the Cleveland Indians, 2-0.

Suddenly, Baltimore was in love again. As was the entire baseball world, which proceeded to copy the Camden Yards concept all across America – some being more successful than others.

Even though it did not last long, as witnessed by the Orioles moving the leftfield wall back 30 feet, the ballpark played big in the early days. This was in part because the gawdawful stupid hotel was still years away from being built beyond leftfield, which not only blocked the view of the equally-iconic Bromo Seltzer Tower, but changed wind patterns in the park.

It will be interesting to see today how the ballpark plays. It will be my first trip to Camden Yards in a couple of years and my first home opener in 10 years (hey, Opening Day is for everyone, but Opening Day in Bawlmer, hon is a young man’s game).

“Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a traditional ballpark located in a dense urban setting,” read the pre-game media notes 30 years ago. “The configuration of the playing field and the seating bowl were dictated by site geometry. The steel trusses were modeled after older parks, a roof covers half of the upper deck and the brick façade of the park resembles that of the adjacent historical warehouse. The out of town scoreboard, located in rightfield, is in the field of play.”

How fortunate we are to have such a gem here in our home.

As my friend Bill Feeney said, taking in the entire landscape one 1992 summer day as we attended an Orioles game at Camden Yards, “I just can’t believe this is ours.”

It is ours — now and forever.

It truly is the ballpark that changed baseball forever.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT