Allegany Communications Sports
The Baltimore Orioles decided to move the left-field wall at Oriole Park at Camden Yards back roughly 30 feet and raise the height of the wall to 13 feet from the previous seven feet.
It seemed like a good idea at the time and, truthfully, remains a good idea. The original left-to-center dimensions were short to begin with, even when the park played larger in the early days, and grew ridiculously shorter with each passing season as hitters grew increasingly bigger and stronger (and more devoted to their science homework) and pitching grew increasingly sorry.
While not many balls had been hit very close to the wall in the early weeks of this season, hitters have recently begun to get closer and closer to it, not to mention surpass it.
Austin Hays easily cleared it last Thursday night to put the Orioles ahead for good against the Twins, who nearly lost a center fielder earlier in the four-game series when he was forced to pull up and slide into the front edge of the bullpen corner in left-center on a triple hit by Rougned Odor.
The bottom line is the new dimensions are going to take some time and some adjusting to, for the hitters, the outfielders and, yes, the fans. Camden Yards has always been so aesthetically and naturally pleasing to the eye that our memory and visual instincts are still being tested and not at all used to the new environment.
The first time it has appeared to affect an outcome of a game, based on what we remember of the original dimensions, came in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader against Kansas City. The Orioles lost the game, 6-4 – losing a 4-3 lead in the eighth and ninth innings with horrible defense – and lost at least two runs based on the new and larger dimensions, including Ryan Mountcastle’s double that appeared to hit off the top of the wall, but was not ruled a home run.
Well, that did not cost the Orioles the game because the current dimensions are the current dimensions, and that’s just that. Granted, there are times when it seems the Orioles thinkers who brainstormed this may have gone too far because the new wall is significantly deeper and significantly higher.
It is an entirely different ballpark now with the way it plays, and even though the Orioles have at least three power guys – Hays, Mountcastle and Trey Mancini – who bat right-handed, they are all good enough hitters to reach and surpass the wall, as Hays and Mountcastle have already established, and are good enough to adjust their hitting approach, which, I believe is what the Orioles, in part, had in mind.
When players are big enough, strong enough and good enough, if they automatically hit behind the ball and hit up the middle, their power will play out naturally and the home runs will come, particularly as the air just off the Chesapeake Bay grows hotter.
The Orioles will develop more effective all-around hitting approaches and, in turn, be better suited to play the hit-to-all-fields, pass-the-baton style of offense the front office is striving for. Their natural power will play out on its own, setting the stage for the young players who will soon flood the Orioles big-league roster, already employing this hitting approach, as opposed to constantly pulling the ball down the short left-field line.
When a team develops a natural to-all-fields approach, its strengths will also play more significantly in other parks. Witness the ’96 Yankees hitting more effectively in Camden Yards when it played bigger than did the homer-or-bust Orioles, whose game that season was actually better suited for Yankee Stadium.
Most obvious, the new dimensions were established for the purpose of improving Orioles pitching and has already helped do that. Pitchers are working with a more natural approach, rather than being too fine to avoid the inside or lower outside portions of the plate, allowing their natural stuff to work on its own.
So, relax, Orioles fans, will ya? The loss in the opener of Sunday’s doubleheader with the Royals was frustrating, but it wasn’t the result of the new dimensions. It was the result of poor defense.
And the Orioles, who are not yet a very good team, have no margin of error to give away outs and runs without it giving away games.
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