After taking in a game at Nationals Park (review here), I headed to Baltimore where I was staying for the rest of the week (I had the privilege of working on the "Dear Jerry" Concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia MD).
The Nats game was Sunday, the O's game was Tuesday, so what the hell, in between the two we decided to take in a Wizards playoff game. Alas, Paul Pierce clanked a wide-open would be game-winner and the Wiz lost a winnable game. It turns out the A's aren't the only team that consistently manages to lose by the thinnest of margins and suffer extreme postseason heartbreak.
We got to Baltimore, and with the Tuesday night crowd getting in to the city was smooth. We were able to find parking a couple of blocks from the stadium. Outside of the park there were a lot of independent food, water, and bootleg merch sellers which made it easy to grab some peanuts and head in. (Also, I saw a ton of actual Orioles in Maryland, which I always wondered about. A good choice for their team name).
View from the street
Walking over, the contrast with mammoth Nationals Park was immediate. Camden Yards was the first of the "new wave" of ballparks, where
municipalities got threatened and bilked into subsidizing a multibillion dollar business Bud Selig began his revolution to modernize MLB stadiums. It was an unqualified success and motivated other cities to follow suit. At this point they are celebrating their 25th season of the "new" park. Wow, time flies.
First thing I noticed was that you basically walk in right off the street. Outside of the main entrance they have a creative array of retired numbers statues, as well as a large statue of Babe Ruth (born in Baltimore). You can see a lot of the seats in the stadium and a bit of the field from the street. The outside of the stadium is a red brick façade; combined with the green seats it gives off a very warm feeling. It's clear that AT&T Park borrowed heavily from this design. When you come in there are a lot more statues of Orioles' greats, and a large picnic area where I believe they barbecue on weekend games.
Ripken's retired "8"
The park is sort of on the edge of downtown, a short walk from the Inner Harbor area (which reminded me a lot of Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco) and easily accessible by buses, AMTRAK, MARC (regional rail) and Baltimore's light rail which stops right outside the gates.
While the Tuesday night crowd was not huge, it seemed that everyone was wearing some kind of Orioles gear. The crowd was mostly on the younger side.
Our seats were down the left field line, and if I was going to quibble with this park, I would say the biggest issue is that in our section the seats were not angled at all. From our seats, if you were facing straight ahead you would be looking at the outfield wall. You had to turn yourself to see the action. I guess the Coliseum's circular shape and vast foul territory virtually eliminates this issue as I've never noticed it in our home park.
A warm, pleasant evening at the ballpark is a rare privilege for an A's fan
We've all seen the stadium on TV, and one of the coolest features is that the old railroad building is made to be a feature of the park by providing the background in right field. The park had a very homey feel, nestled into a tight space. The dimensions are low (400 to dead center) and the walls are even lower (I think they are 3-5 feet in most parts of the yard). The seats feel close to the field, even down the line. And that railroad building (now a restored office building) helps pack it all in. I was surprised to learn that capacity was over 45,000; it feels a lot smaller.
Unfortunately, given the tight space the bullpens are in cages; I think the open on-field bullpens at the Coliseum are awesome and would be a great part of any park. You miss out on a lot of player-fan interaction with the caged pens. Of course this is another minor issue, and most of the modern parks have sequestered bullpens. I assume players prefer that versus interacting with the salary-supplying riff raff in the stands.
The fantastic Eutaw Street promenade
There is a promenade in between the outfield and the old warehouse, labeled Eutaw Street. On Eutaw Street they've marked the landing spots of various home runs that managed to make it past the seats. I thought it was a classy touch to mark the visitors' home runs as well. The newest one I was able to find was from Victor Martinez last year.
Matt Stairs' homer from September 1999 is forever immortalized on the promenade in right field
Eutaw Street was lined with merch shops, a café, a brew pub, vendor stands, and a rooftop centerfield bar at the start (which roof was much lower than Nationals Park). The café and brewpub are open daily, and not just during games.
The rooftop bar was a hangout for mostly young, drunk and single folks, although not exclusively.
While the atmosphere of the rooftop bar was not my scene, the design, materials, layout, and view was really excellent
We decided to walk around the concourses. Since Mark Buehrle was starting for the Jays, this ended up taking 3 or 4 innings (give or take). There were some nice amenities, including a solid kids zone, a complete New Era cap store with the most disinterested yet extremely helpful person I've ever met (I picked up my own cap with the detailed bird logo that they wore for a number of years...I always thought that was the weirdest logo for a ballcap), an outlet store in which everything was $20 or less (mostly leftover stock of last years items) and plenty of food and drink.
The park was full of locally relevant food options
One of the nicest things about the concourse was the various paintings of old Orioles logos and the features on their history.
The O's have had some crazy bird logos in the past
Also they have a really strong partnership with National Bohemian beer (Natty Boh) and lots of "Bohs and O's" promos.
Hangin' with the Natty Boh man
We wanted to jump in and catch some of the game from a different angle, when we realized that we had no idea where we were in the stadium. That might have been the worst feature of the park - between the foul poles you basically could not see the game at all; the concourses were entirely walled off. I love how in the Coliseum every fan can see the game from every angle when walking around the open concourses. We decided to jump into one section at random, and it turned out to be directly behind home plate. We were kicked out instantly but told that in any section beyond the foul poles we can move up to any open seats.
Of course by the 9th we were able to move up, sitting just behind the 3 foot high outfield wall. It was awesome to be so close to the field, almost right on the foul line with just that tiny fence separating us from the field.
As an A's fan, one of the best things about going to this game was seeing Josh Donaldson. Watching his swing I was reminded of the past three seasons. All torque, not really pretty, just vicious. I miss that. Unfortunately, there were no fireworks between him and Manny Machado this time around. It looks like they both will be competing to start the All-Star game again, given the strong starts to their season. JD eventually homered in the 8th inning, tacking on to an already large Blue Jays lead en route to their 10-2 victory.
Miss you JD.
In reference to the never-ending search for the A's new stadium, Camden Yards was much closer to the mark of something I would want in a new A's ballpark. It has charm, intimacy, and grace. While I did have some minor issues with the place (lack of views into the field, poor seat angles, caged bullpens), the overall location, feel, and transit access of the place was really top notch.
One thing it seems that every new baseball stadium misses out on is the opportunity to tailgate. It may be that having an awesome parking and tailgating experience is in direct conflict with an easy-to-access ballpark close to restaurants, bars, and walkable to downtown attractions. I am not sure if it has to be an either/or choice, but seeing Camden Yards, it would be awesome to combine the intimacy and location of the park with some of the family feel we have at the Coliseum. I guess the assumption is that tailgating is more of a football thing, but A's fans know that's not the case.