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A Cubs fan’s view of Camden Yards

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Baltimore’s ballpark became a prototype for the retro parks of the last 25 years.

BALTIMORE — This year marks just the second visit of the Cubs to what is officially known as “Oriole Park at Camden Yards” (though I’ve almost never heard anyone call it anything other than “Camden Yards”), so I thought I’d give you a photo tour through this stadium, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Walking around the surrounding area and ballpark, it’s hard to believe that a quarter-century has gone by since the construction of this stadium revolutionized baseball park design everywhere. Before Camden Yards, the “concrete ashtray” style had dominated ballpark architecture. Many of those parks had been designed to be combination baseball/football stadiums, and over the two decades or so that those were built, it was discovered that such a design was really suited for neither sport. Both sports had styles that they wanted peculiar to their specific game, and so since 1992 we’ve seen a wave of stadium construction that in baseball has gone to a “retro” style reminiscent of pre-World War II parks, intimate structures that try to not only evoke a past era, but that fit in well with their surroundings.

One of the things the designers of Camden Yards did before they began their project was to come to Wrigley Field, which in the late 1980s and early 1990s was beginning its renaissance that’s finally resulted in the beautiful renovations you are seeing going on now. The Orioles wanted to know what worked, and didn’t, at Wrigley.

What they built was a place that got everything right. The old railroad warehouse which is perhaps the most visible symbol of Camden Yards was a decrepit structure by the 1980s. Originally constructed between 1899 and 1905, it had fallen into disuse by the 1970s and the original plan was to tear it down to make room for the new Orioles ballpark. Instead, the building was made part of the experience, restored and renovated, and Baltimore and baseball are much the better for it.

Eutaw Street, which runs through downtown Baltimore, was closed off to make a wide pedestrian area included in the stadium footprint. As you can see in the first couple of photos here, you need to have a game ticket to access the area, which includes restaurants, a team store and various food carts, including the famous “Boog’s BBQ,” where you can buy BBQ sandwiches (planning to do that for lunch today) and sometimes see former Orioles star Boog Powell, who is no relation to the current Mariners outfielder with the same nickname, signing autographs (he wasn’t there when I walked by this area Saturday). The building houses team offices and a private Orioles club.

The stadium itself, which seats 45,971, doesn’t seem that large. It was the first stadium using steelwork that hid the steel beneath the stands, so there are no obstructed-view seats, and the upper deck, though tall, isn’t set back too far from the field, so views from there still feel fairly intimate.

The concourse is wide and airy, with several places where open areas bring sunlight in and make it bright. The floor is painted in a light color, adding to the effect. Lots of Orioles history is displayed, though as you can see in photo 18, it’s also a reminder to fans that it’s been 34 years since the team has been in the World Series.

The clock on the scoreboard (photo 22) evokes the clock on the Bromo Seltzer tower (photo 23), a landmark in downtown Baltimore since 1911. The building, once (obviously) headquarters for the Bromo Seltzer company, now is home to literary and visual artists’ studio space. Read more about the history of this interesting building here.

Food at Camden Yards is plentiful and, for the most part, reasonably priced. As you might guess, crabcakes are one of the most popular choices. For $15 (which seems a lot but isn’t, because you get a lot of food), you can have a large, tasty crabcake with a side salad and chips. There’s the usual selection of ballpark fare like hot dogs, peanuts and beer, which includes the typical national brands along with a good selection of local craft beers.

One of the things I noticed most about this ballpark is that it hadn’t changed much since I was last in what locals call “Charm City,” in 2003 when the Cubs last played in Baltimore. The scoreboards have been updated with better video, but that’s really about it. Otherwise it looks much the same as it did 14 years ago. Staff is friendly and attentive, the magnetometer/bag check was easy and Orioles fans have been extremely hospitable, especially considering how badly the Cubs crushed their team over the first two games.

Not long after the park opened, someone in Orioles management had the idea of asking the Cubs for some cuttings from the ivy that covers the Wrigley Field brick bleacher wall. Those cuttings were planted at the base of the wall next to the center-field hitters’ background and now cover the entire wall with ivy (photo 27), a genuine piece of Chicago baseball in Baltimore. The brick wall you see behind home plate is another nod to Wrigley, something that’s been copied by a large number of the retro ballparks.

25 years after it opened, it’s still clear that they did Camden Yards right, so much so that its style has been copied all over the country. It fits its surroundings and is a beautiful setting for both playing and watching baseball.