JD’s Ballpark Tour, Fifth Inning… Double Play! (Baltimore)

Let’s Play Two!

Part V: Camden Yards

(AKA: The Park That Started It All)

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   After having a day to relax following that long extra innings game the night before, I had to mentally prepare myself for a tough part of the road trip, which included renting a car. Luckily, I found somewhere that had weekly rates for a decent price, so I jumped on that chance right away. After bidding adieu to my friend from the last post, I hopped on my rental car and drove my way down to Baltimore to stay at my hotel for the next few days. The day before the first game, I knew to head straight to Camden Yards for a first visit, and I was completely impressed. This one is going to be a long one, but there are TWO games to cover here!

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Ballpark 5: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, elevation 36 feet

A memorial for the old Memorial Stadium.

A memorial for the old Memorial Stadium.

   This park opened in 1992 and was the first MLB park built in a retro style that was reminiscent of the classic ballparks during what many consider the “Golden Age” of baseball. Instead of being built mostly of concrete in a “cookie-cutter” multi-use style, this ballpark was only built for baseball and nothing else. While the official name of the stadium is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the locals simply call this entire place Camden Yards. Beyond the outfield walls, there is a building that dominates the view, and that building is the old Baltimore & Ohio (B&O, for you Monopoly fans) Warehouse.

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   The nooks and crannies in this ballpark are plentiful and include the first two-tiered bullpen in the new design of ballparks, Eutaw Street running parallel to the right field wall, the home run landing area in right field, the statues featuring all the retired numbers in Orioles history, and even wind vanes shaped like Orioles above the scoreboard! Also, unlike the majority of the cookie-cutter stadiums, the outfield dimensions were not symmetrical between left and right field. Back in 1992, this was a big deal, and a huge risk for the owners and the team to be successful in this park.

   Camden Yards currently employs dynamic pricing, and I took advantage of the advanced pricing, and got some cheap tickets! As soon as I stepped onto the Camden Yards area, I knew one trip would not be enough, so I did something that breaks the consecutive parks streak…

   I bought tickets for TWO games at the SAME park! WHA?!? I bought the discounted upper reserve tickets for my first game there for only $9! I ended up getting a very good seat on the third base side not too far up! The second game was even better. I thought about snagging a row 2 seat the previous week, but that would have required me to pay some convenience fees. As it was, I got a lower box seat in section 64 for only $30, and that was an excellent view! Watch out for those deals online! By the way, if you want a possible good series to watch and you’re in the area at the time, look at those ticket prices for the mid-September series against the Toronto Blue Jays, that could be a vitally important series as the Jays are right behind Baltimore in the AL East standings.

The game: Angels @ Orioles on July 29, 2014

   After arriving at my hotel after the initial visit, I visited this great sports bar in Laurel, MD with a great waitress named Pam, and she was excited for my trip. So when I got back to my room, I wrote a post, and really prepared for this game with my scorebook, and made sure to have my glove at the ready. (I will post more about the glove and scorebook on a separate post) Research for this game was pretty cool as I found out which foods to get, what freebies you could possibly gather, etc. I also saw how inexpensive the parking is. To park in Lot C which is only a couple blocks from the stadium, it only costs $10, and to park in the Ravens lot (two blocks further down) cost even less. I stuck with the $10 parking because I thought it was affordable enough and close enough to be worth it. Also, because I typically arrive for games early, I got to the front of that lot pretty easily.

   I couldn’t believe it, I got to experience a game here! As soon as you enter, you can’t help but take everything in. The crowds here are among the best in baseball. These are very loyal fans, they have a vast baseball knowledge, and they know not to do the wave for this particular game. THANK YOU FANS!!

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   Upon entry into the park, I quickly made my way to the right field home run porch where BP balls sometimes wind up. I will say nothing more than this, “always pay attention during batting practice.” I might have gotten one ball if I had been paying attention WITH my glove fully extended. As for another kid who was not paying attention, he took one off the body, and the ball ended up with someone else. So what is the moral of the story? If you are close to the action, ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION. No, seriously.

   After some batting practice fun, I went to the guest assistance center in the warehouse, and there are some of the friendliest staff you will ever meet. I got my “first visit” certificate, and it was written very nicely! When the staff asked where I was from, I told them southern California. I also mentioned that I was touring the ballparks and getting to as many as I can this year. One of the ladies loved my story and asked a couple questions about it. She then gave me a couple brochures, and a bunch of postcards to send to friends and family (a couple of my readers should have already gotten theirs by now) since I was still going to be on the road for a couple weeks. She also mentioned some of the other stuff going on, like where I could get a free t-shirt, and how I could get some other freebies. She also made the food recommendation that I would later love.

   I walked around the statues again, met some friendly fans, and went to the Chevy display where they were giving out free Orioles shirts to answer a short survey and put my information in. The shirt was really slick, so I happily obliged and got my next freebie of the day! They also had a portion where you could win $10 for the Oriole gift shop with a buzz-in trivia contest (mostly about their new Chevy cars), but I didn’t win that.

The food: Many of my friends and the staff highly recommended I try out Boog’s BBQ at least once. It was also recommended because on that day, Orioles legend Boog Powell was there chilling today, and he is always happy to take pictures and sign autographs for the lucky fans willing to wait for it. Of course, I had him sign my book and also asked if he would be back the next day. He replied, “Of course! I will be back to see my Orioles beat up on those Angels.” He also implied that as a former Dodger, he couldn’t root for the cross-town rivals. Zing! Anyway, since I was starving on this game, I ordered the Big Boog which had DOUBLE meat and cheese. This thing was pretty huge, and it was glorious. Seriously, look at this thing! With the Big Boog, it came with kettle chips for a fairly high price of $15. However, upon first bite, this was completely worth it, especially with the right sauce combination. By the way, at the end of the counter, there are four different sauces you can put on your sandwich. The only sauce I didn’t touch was the hottest chipotle sauce. Seriously, this was worth it.

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Ticket prices: For the first game, I opted for the $9 upper reserve ticket as I would get a view of everything, including the B&O warehouse, and would be able to take everything in. The magnificent scoreboard has a few quirks about it, like the “H” in “THE SUN” flashing when there was a hit registered. I didn’t feel too far from the action, but far enough where I can soak in the atmosphere and not worry about a foul ball. Not this game, anyway. The view of Eutaw Street with the warehouse in the background is a little overwhelming because you start to think of the history, and the iconic pictures of that warehouse from one magnificent moment. Ironically, it was the Angels who were playing the Orioles when Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, and I remember watching that game on TV as a kid. I remember the huge banner on that warehouse, and that entire ceremony. To me, that is still one of the greatest accomplishments in MLB history.

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   Anyway, for only nine bucks thanks to a weekly Tuesday night deal (and buying the ticket in advance), I got a very good seat! This beat the secondary market for this game. In general, the secondary market is non-existant for this ballpark. That’s because the ticket prices already have very reasonable prices, and most fans do not resell their tickets in this market. This season, in particular, has brought a new sense of hope and excitement for the fans and they are coming out in big numbers. You had loyal Orioles fans AND loyal Angels fans there, and they were not about to sell their tickets. My advice is to arrive at least a day before the game and just buy your tickets in advance because they are hard to beat.

The fans: What more can I say about these fans? They follow every possible move that happens in a ballgame, and are so knowledgable that I wound up having some fun conversations with the fans behind me. They are a good mix of passion and baseball IQ that I might say these are among the best fans in the entire major leagues. To the other teams, you’re on watch! Also, I appreciate any fans that will quote “Major League” with me for the entire duration of the game. The ENTIRE DURATION…

The game: This Tuesday night game had some serious fireworks going on as it turned into a hit parade for the first few innings. The Angels scoring started in the 1st inning when Josh Hamilton groundout out scoring Mike Trout. The Orioles came right back when Adam Jones belted a solo home run (his 20th), and then J.J. Hardy came back with a screaming single to score Nelson Cruz and gain a 2-1 advantage.

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   Los Angeles then scored two unearned runs in the 2nd inning off a throwing error from Baltimore’s starting pitcher, Chris Tillman. However, Manny Machado got an RBI rouble to tie the score at 3.

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   Camden Yards then went into a frenzy in the bottom of the 4th as Nick Markakis pinged a home run off the right field pole to not only give the Orioles a 6-4 lead, but it gave the Angels’ bullpen some early work. This home run was right on the line, and everybody had the same “stay fair, stay fair” movement as if to tell the ball “STAY FAIR!” Since I had a perfect view of it down the first base line, it really was right on the line, and a close call. Jered Weaver took the mound for the Angels, but perhaps had his worst start of the season. His fastball never got into the 90s and never got down. In a hitter’s park like Oriole Park, if the ball doesn’t get down, that could spell trouble. I did find it funny that other fans were trying to will the ball into foul territory, as well.

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   Josh Hamilton finally got on the hit parade and hit his first home run in nearly a month, and then later tied the game at 6 with his 3rd RBI of the night. You guessed it, this game would go into extra innings. Now the fans were getting a bit loopy, and I was also able to move down closer to the box seats. I also witnessed something great with the fans and one of the ushers. An older lady usher in the upper deck was, apparently, very popular with some of the fans. So popular that a small kid came up and gave her a big hug, and it looked like a wonderful moment. It was explained to me that she was an usher from back in the Memorial Stadium days, and she’s one of those ushers that will really learn about people. To me, that is the mark of a great organization to allow such fantastic interaction between the fans and the workers. If a worker for any organization can build that kind of trust and affection with the fans, then that worker is doing something so right.

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   The game went deep into the night, and some fans had a train to catch, so they couldn’t stick around as the game went into the 10th, 11th, and finally the 12th inning. However, most of the 36,882 managed to stick around…. they would be rewarded as Manny Machado put a charge on a 76-mph breaking ball from Angels’ reliever, Cory Rasmus. Machado’s 11th home run of the season ended up five rows deep into the left field seats, and that sent the Oriole faithful home happy with a thrilling victory that lasted over four hours. Manny Machado spoke to the crowd after the game on the big screen:

“Yeah, it is [my first career walk-off]. It’s amazing, first one. Got a good pitch to hit and we got the win so that’s the big thing.”

“The inning before, [Rasmus] was throwing a lot of breaking balls, so I knew he was going to come back and try to do the same thing. I was just up there with two strikes trying to make some contact, and he just hung one.”

   After the game, Machado got the customary pie in the face.

“Tasty! It’s good! Chocolate!”

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    That was a fitting end to a very exciting game, and those same fans told me that games at Camden Yards are always worth it. If I can only spend $10 for parking, $9 for a ticket, and $15 on a filling meal, then it’s all worth it. I felt so great after that game that I got excited to do it again…
 
The game: Angels @ Orioles on July 30, 2014
 
    For this game, I will refer to the story here. –> CHECK OUT THE STORY!
 
    However, I will add a few tidbits that I didn’t share on that page. I spent a little more time talking to the ushers and the fans about their take on the upcoming trade deadline and who was going where. By the time of the game, rumor was that the Jon Lester deal was dead with the Orioles and, at the time, it was a complete mystery where he was going. They also told me a couple more rumors, one of which actually did happen (Andrew Miller coming to the O’s). After that, I took in some BP, but the balls were not flying out on this day… so I went to Boog’s BBQ once again.
 
A quick side story: That Wednesday morning, I mailed out some of those post cards, and also went to the local sports card shop where they had some amazing memorabilia. However, after buying a couple packs of Allen & Ginter baseball cards (Got a Kershaw, whoo!) I also bought an old Boog Powell card for a dollar in the hopes he would sign it. Flash forward back to the game, and he was there yet again. After getting a great picture with him, I asked him kindly to sign the card, and he said, “Oh man, I remember when I looked like that! What a handsome man… of course I’ll sign it!” Yes, I got an on-card autograph from one of the greats! Oh, this time I just had the regular sandwich with the Boog’s Baked Beans. Yum. With the BBQ sauce on the sandwich, I found the perfect combination, and it was glorious.
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   As for the ticket, they had a special that night for $30 field level tickets just outside the infield. Honestly, these were excellent views for the game, and at a great price. They were a much better price than the Arizona prices, and not as flat of an incline. This ballpark is also built somewhat vertically, but not nearly as vertical as Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The sight lines are that excellent.

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   The game itself can be found on that article I linked to, and it ended up being a quick game! One thing I didn’t mention was that I wasn’t there alone. I was able to watch the game with the PA announcer for the Angels for a couple innings, Michael Araujo, and talked about the trip, the stadium, and the fans there. We both had our concerns about the Angels and talked about the Orioles’ success despite not having a recognizable superstar in their lineup. But, we were both impressed with Camden Yards and just talked some good ol’ baseball. (Michael, if you’re reading this, BIG thank you for stopping by, and can’t wait to come home and make Angel Stadium my final stop!) Since the game ended in just two and a half hours, this gave me time to get a couple small gifts and take some final pictures of the Eutaw Street landing area right in front of the B&O Warehouse.

   Overall, this really is one of the best MLB ballparks you can ever visit, and this is THE park that started the retro-classic architecture movement as far as building stadiums go. There was a big reason I visited this ballpark twice, and I’m glad I did. The food is that good, the fans are top-notch, and the staff is about as wonderful as they come. Plus, the ticket prices are among the best in the league, and getting to meet Boog Powell? Those are all priceless memories for a magnificent ballpark like Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I highly recommend this ballpark to ANY baseball fan, it will be worth your time to check out a game there.

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   Seriously, what are you waiting for? Go catch a game there and just enjoy it!

-JD

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