This is a weekly feature in which I (and maybe you, too, readers) detail the various reasons for hating your ballpark. This week: Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
HOKey: This is the patient zero of Major League Baseball's neo-retro epidemic, an era that took for its guiding philosophy the notion that you can make anything in a ballpark, even luxury boxes, seem quaint and old-timey if you surround it with enough brick and get George Will to wax rhapsodic about the sociospatial asymmetries of the john. Baseball, more than any other sport, is afflicted with a pathologically inflated sense of its own historical value, and Camden was, and remains, a very expensive symptom. The ballpark was completed by Populous (then HOK Sport) in 1992 and modeled after the same firm's Pilot Field, a minor-league stadium in Buffalo that opened in 1988. It's little-remembered now, but the retro craze was largely a Rust Belt phenomenon, a product of an age when cities across the Northeast were hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs and their once-robust tax base. Local politicians were thus particularly vulnerable to the specious idea, pushed by the lords of baseball, that a new, publicly funded stadium was just the thing to revitalize their decaying urban core.
Within a few years of Camden's opening, stadiums were springing up across the country, full of ersatz quirks and odd angles (just like Fenway or Ebbets!) and other vague, cutesy allusions to local history. Of course, none of this was real history, any more than Epcot is actual human civilization. Take Baltimore's famous B&O Warehouse beyond right field, now home to the team's offices and a private club. According to Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause's Field of Schemes, the northern end of the warehouse was lopped off to provide better views of the skyline from the seats behind home plate. There's a metaphor in this: Those old quirks and odd angles now imitated by modern ballparks were a function of wedging baseball into an urban environment. The game, in other words, had to accommodate the city. Now, large pieces of the urban environment are lopped off to accommodate the game.
Land sharks: Outwardly, the park may have been a nod to the old stadiums of yore, but probably the biggest influence of all was, weirdly, Joe Robbie Stadium (now Land Shark Stadium), which in the late 1980s demonstrated for the entire sports world the enormous benefits of premium seating — executive suites, club seats, etc. The Orioles seized on this idea and stuffed their new home full of luxury boxes, which in itself might not have been so offensive had Maryland not raised the money for a stadium it did not need through a state lottery — a regressive tax, essentially, to fund a corporate playground. What's more, as Cagan and deMause note, Memorial Stadium was a perfectly serviceable venue anchoring an integrated middle-class neighborhood, a rarity in Baltimore. Now the team plays in the midst of a government-sponsored tourist trap known as Inner Harbor, which caters to anybody but all those poor souls who bought all those losing lottery tickets and thereby built the Orioles their pretty new stadium.
The view from the stands (everything sic'd): "I found a dog (yes, a dog) roaming around the MIDDLE CONCOURSE one night at a Game between Milwaukee and the O's late IN 1996. Just roaming around, chilling, hanging with people and what-not. I bought a pair of orioles shoelaces, made a makeshift leash,and still have the dog to this day. Well my ex in-laws do. Ex wife was a Brady Anderson fan, and since he had just hit a Grand Slam, we named the dog Brady. That bitch." (Joe S.)
"My lone time at this park was July 1994 during the baseball strike. I went on a tour and in the dugout, I opened the bullpen phone to see that they had the number for Pizza Hut written down. No wonder the Orioles were awful; too busy crank calling Pizza Hut." (Dan S.)
"I once was given a free Rafael Palmeiro bobblehead. Truly horrifying." (Patrick B.)
"I am 27 years old and live in Philadelphia. Before Phillies games, I tend to enjoy a few grown up sodas in the parking lot. My roommate and I were on a road trip and hit an Orioles-Yankees game on the way through Baltimore. We grabbed a six pack because we didn't have much time before the game started, but we didn't see anyone else drinking in the parking lot. When we asked the attendant, she told us that you weren't allowed to tailgate for Orioles games. NO FUCKING TAILGATING. It's Un-American. We had to duck behind a dumpster like 17 year olds to kill the sixer." (Kenny R.)
"1) 'Prime' Games. You have to pay extra for the privilege of having the Red Sox and Yankees come in and whoop the O's ass. 2) Everything is too expensive from the seats to the food. 3) The nasty sense you get from team management and ownership that even though it's been 11 straight losing seasons, you should somehow be appreciative for paying too much to watch bad baseball." (Dan W.)
"Seat jumping is a time-honored baseball tradition that mostly holds true at Oriole Park. However, I wouldn't recommend trying it in the lower sections behind home plate, where the ushers are some of the coldest bastards you'll ever see. There is one in particular that spots seat jumpers within a couple minutes of their arrival and makes them leave without mercy, usually after making a spectacle of asking them to produce tickets they don't have. I've seen this guy (we've nicknamed him The Hawk) make a father with his young son, both in full Orioles gear, turn around and go back where they came from in the late innings of game in which the Orioles were losing (shock) and the entire section was deserted. Just brutal." (Chris S.)
"'Fenway Park at Camden Yards': There was a time where Red Sox fans would visit, buy a round or two, hold an intelligent conversation about the game and commiserate over having mutual ballclubs who never quite made it past the Yanks. Those days ended around 2003. Old men who had seen Johnny Pesky & Ted Williams play gave way to Loyola (MD) co-eds in pink ballcaps and their profane boyfriends with freshly minted Johnny Damon alternate unis. Remember that episode of 'Family Guy' when the New Yorkers come north to watch the leaves change? That's what the past several years have been like." (The Ghost of Floyd Rayford)
Next up: Busch Stadium. Got any horrible experiences to share? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.