First off, I wanted to extend a very special thanks to everyone reading this blog, and to the friends and family who have supported me on this journey. Thanks to some of those people, I have been able to extend this trip into something I didn’t think was possible. Originally, I only had the intent of exploring the northeast United States and seeing what those ballparks had to offer. Now this has become a quest to do something that not many people have done in a short period, and that’s to visit all thirty ballparks in the major leagues. Secondly, I’d like to extend my thanks to another enthusiastic baseball fan also in the game show circle. Because of him, I was able to watch a game in another stadium for free. Also, to another reader who wanted me to come out and visit for another game. Finally, thanks to some of my family in north Texas for a great family outing in a great ballpark that I hadn’t visited in over a decade.
As I previously mentioned, those games took place in Colorado, and in a “Texas Two Step” through the two parks in that state. That would make eleven in this “ballpark tour” alone. If I include Boston earlier this year for Boston Marathon weekend, that would make twelve this season. I do plan on a trip back home to Anaheim, and that would make thirteen. More on the rest of my plans at the end of this blog post.
(AKA: “O” say does that star spangled banner yet wave?)
With Friday night’s game ending early, I decided to take advantage and sleep earlier than usual. After bidding farewell to the town of Laurel and all the wonderful people there, I thought I would stop by Camden Yards area one more time. Not for a ballgame, but to check out a couple museums that I had heard so much about. My first stop was the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards which featured an excellent look into the Orioles’ history, and even the history of baseball in Baltimore. I won’t divulge everything you will find in this museum because my point of view and some of the pictures do not do this museum any justice.
First, you are guided towards the waiting room where the “Nicolay Draft” of the Gettysburg Address is prominently displayed. A little history before we enter the makeshift B&O train through the history of Baltimore sports. First, the travels of the ball players are shown, and in here include some artifacts from the Orioles first game. Fun fact: Don Larsen pitched the first Orioles’ game in 1954. Yes, this is the same Don Larsen who would go on to pitch a perfect game for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series.
After making a right turn past the train, you are led through a section featuring “Babe Ruth: American Icon.” After that, I had to give a chuckle because the museum used the same idea I had used for my current blog, and that’s going through an adventure in nine innings!
In the late 1800s, the Baltimore Orioles were a team in the American Association that were considered a major league-type team. When the AA disbanded and later merged with the National League, the Orioles became one of twelve teams in the NL. In the mid to late 1890s, the National League were the only major league around before the AL was created in 1901. I feel that in order to appreciate the present, one must first appreciate the past, and I was in awe of how much the city of Baltimore embraced their baseball past. There is even a huge banner for the NL champion, Baltimore Orioles… from 1895. More items from that short-lived NL era remain intact and are on display here.
Also shown are the syndicate baseball years, and the Orioles run in the International League between both World Wars. After that, we finally get to the current incarnation of the Baltimore Orioles who were relocated from St. Louis (and previously called the Browns). Sadly, there is VERY little reference to the team formerly being called the St. Louis Browns. Then again, the Orioles franchise wanted to disassociate itself with a team that was known for losing nearly all the time. In fact, the Browns were consistently the doormats of Major League Baseball, and held so many records for futility. This new team would adopt a motto called “The Oriole Way” thereby eliminating nearly all mentions of those Browns.
Further down the museum, we go through the entire Orioles history, including their three World Series titles. Finally, we get to the big part of the Orioles floor. At the end, we have an entire section dedicated to one of the greatest players to ever put on an Orioles jersey, or any jersey for that matter: Cal Ripken, Jr. As I said in a prior post, I vividly remember watching the game when he broke Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played. Imagine my awe when I walked into that room and saw those number banners that once hung from the old B&O warehouse beyond right field. Yes, the “2131” banner is currently hanging inside the museum.
Quickly going through the rest of the museum, we see displays for the old stadiums, the Baltimore Colts, and the Baltimore Ravens. A couple highlights in the lower floor include a seat with an old microphone where you can call the action of a famous Baltimore sports moment. Of course, I chose Ripken’s home run during his record-breaking game in 1995. After finishing at this museum, I thanked the curators and made my way outside in the drizzling rain.
Soon after saying a final goodbye to the Camden Yards area, I hopped in my car for the three block drive to make my way to the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum. The featured film inside the museum is “O” Say Can You See: The Star Spangled Banner In Sports. I will just come out and say this, but the film brought a tear to my eye. For the record, I loved the very end of the film, which is shown at this link:
The bedroom where he was born is very well preserved, and is like a flashback to what it was like at the turn of the century… the 19th Century, that is. Included are artifacts from his first professional games as a Baltimore Oriole in the minor leagues, and his first games as a Red Sox player. Oh, there is even a score book from his first professional game where he pitched a shutout. There is also a wall with 714 plaques showing all of his home runs, and who they were hit off of.
Another feature of this museum is the “500 Home Run Club” honoring many players. Of course, while some consider Ruth to be the “Home Run King,” and even more people consider Hank Aaron to be the statistical leader in home runs, there is still debate as to whether Barry Bonds belongs on that list. Yes, this was discussed by some older gentlemen also visiting the museum, and they overwhelmingly agreed that Aaron and Ruth are the true home run kings… not even giving the nod to “someone who may have taken steroids.” That cloud will always hover over many players in what some historians are already dubbing “The Steroid Era.” I won’t give any personal opinions here or show any bias, but from a baseball perspective, it is sad that we live in this era, and are now quick to judge any player who shows some power and automatically ask the question, “Is he on steroids?” This just makes me appreciate those past days even more.
After going around all the other displays during Ruth’s playing days, the highlight for me was the movie about the Star Spangled Banner. Yes, there IS a direct link involving Babe Ruth and the Star Spangled Banner being played before every MLB game (except for those games when the former Expos and current Blue Jays played) and I won’t spoil it for you. But, the production was that good, and I would want to watch it again and again. Also of great significance, this marks the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner, so there was some special meaning to this film being shown right now. Yes, September will mark exactly 200 years that Francis Scott Key wrote a poem that contained those now famous lyrics, and even after visiting the Babe Ruth birthplace, I made it a point to stop at Fort McHenry where that famous battle took place in 1814. Since this is a sports blog, I won’t go into too much detail about Fort McHenry. Plus, if I did go into detail, I would write pages about my experience there.
With that said, I highly suggest that everyone check out those two museums if you’re in Baltimore, and especially make a stop to Fort McHenry to see where the Star Spangled Banner began. The city is proud of their place in history with regards to that patriotic song, and it clearly shows. As an American citizen, I can greatly appreciate the meaning of the song and still get chills when I hear it. From the drum and fife playing in Baltimore, to the old band playing before a race during Boston Marathon weekend, to hearing a nearly-packed Camden Yards shouting “O!” at a certain part of the song… it still gets to me. Thank you very much for reading, everybody!
Post-script: Be sure to also check out my twitter, which is @StimpyJD, and check out the hash-tag #JDsBallparkTour for tweets and pictures from my ballparks travels. Also, follow this blog and keep an eye for updates to this blog as I’m not close to done yet!
Part VII: Camden Yards (Revisited)
Never before has a ballpark had an amazing effect on me. Only a couple times have I gone back to a new ballpark because it was that good. One of those was Fenway Park (after touring it in the Winter), another one of those was Wrigley Field. This is the only ballpark where I have gone back TWO different times in the same trip. A fan was kind enough to give me a free ticket to Friday’s game against the Mariners (even though I thought about getting a $7 student ticket for that game, anyway). This one was definitely worth it.
Ballpark 5 (again): Oriole Park at Camden Yards, elevation 36 feet
The game: Mariners @ Orioles on August 1, 2014
After spending a day writing, relaxing, and getting some cake from Charm City Cakes, I made my way back to Camden Yards to see a different visiting team. Also, it was ¾ sleeve t-shirt giveaway day… and this one celebrated their 60-year history. While I was tempted to wear that shirt, I was already wearing another free giveaway shirt from earlier in the week. The amount of free stuff I received from Camden Yards was plentiful, and also really appealing. The two shirts I got had a vintage style to them, and the tote bag was a nice addition to that collection. This doesn’t even include the first-timers certificate. To the Orioles organization, you are doing a terrific job. Keep doing what you’re doing, and you will win many fans over, and have several first-time guests come back for a repeat visit at some point. Or in my case, two repeat visits in the same week.
This time, I decided to enter via the West side gate on Eutaw Street so I can take a look at the retired number statues on that side of the park. Included here is a statue entitled “Babe’s Dream” depicting a young Babe Ruth as he was born only a few blocks away! However, that is another story, which I will get to later. I also took in batting practice and got to sit down at one of the orange chairs in the center field bleachers. This seat pictured marked the spot where Eddie Murray hit his 500th career home run nearly two decades ago.
Since I’ve done ticket prices in a separate post, I won’t go into detail about that. As for the food, I went back to Boog’s BBQ again because the food is that tasty, but Boog was nowhere to be found on this day. As it turned out, he had another appearance he was making that day. The food was still excellent, though.
Maybe it was the giveaway, or maybe it was the hot streak the Orioles were on. In any case, the fans came out in droves for this game, and they were as loud as I’ve heard all trip long. This was the loudest crowd I had been around since the near no-hitter in San Diego. Many of the fans I sat next to were undoubtedly pumped for the game, and were talking about a deep playoff run. The consensus was that the Baltimore Orioles are a serious dark horse contender for the AL pennant, and I would have to agree with them. Their starting rotation is much better than I thought, their bullpen just got more solidified, and if they stay healthy, their batting order could pack some serious punch. Nearly 40,000 loud fans came out to watch what ended up being a quick game.
The game: Throughout the first few innings, there was a threat of rain in the forecast. However, those dark clouds were gone by the fourth inning, and the game went on as usual. Austin Jackson made his Mariners debut after the blockbuster three-team trade that also sent David Price to the Detroit Tigers (more on him in an upcoming post). Jackson wasn’t so stellar in his M’s debut only going 0-for-3. Robinson Cano and Kendrys Morales provided the offense for Seattle as they managed only one run in the 4th inning.
On the Orioles side, Manny Machado carried the team on his back for this game as he recorded three hits, including an RBI, and scoring the winning run. Wei-Yin Chen pitched a gem by going 7 and 1/3 strong innings on 104 pitches, and allowing only the one run. Andrew Miller then came in for his Orioles debut, and got a rousing ovation as he got out of the 8th inning with the lead still intact. Miller came to Baltimore via a trade from the Boston Red Sox at the deadline. This trade helps solidify the Baltimore bullpen, and also adds someone with postseason experience to the roster (Miller won a World Series in 2013 at Boston). Good on the fans to recognize his debut and come through in an important hold situation.
These fans are now seriously thinking about the postseason and who they would want to face in the first round. By an overwhelming margin, these fans want to see the Angels again because they know they can beat Anaheim… er… Los Angeles of Anaheim. Given that Baltimore won series both at Camden Yards and at Angel Stadium, I might have to agree with those fans. In the 9th inning, Zach Britton pitched a perfect inning to notch his 22nd save and give the Orioles a 2-1 win. Again, the fans were as loud as ever, and capped off a great week at Camden Yards.
There is a reason I came back here aside from the free ticket. The fans have been electric all week long, and it was thrilling to be around a playoff-chase atmosphere as the Orioles look to win their first division title in seventeen years! Yes, it has been that long for them. Oh, I have to give a special shout out to the ushers on the third base side (specifically lower boxes 62 and 64) for being so kind and knowledgeable about the team and the park. As I’ve said before, this is one of the best places to watch a game. The food is top notch, the staff are excellent, and the ticket prices are quite good if you buy them in advance, and also if you look out for those special deals. I will miss this park, but it’s time to move on to greener pastures! I urge everyone to visit Camden Yards at least once and check out this jewel of a ballpark. Until next time, I will catch you guys on the flip side!
Let’s Play Two!
Part V: Camden Yards
(AKA: The Park That Started It All)
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!
Ballpark 5: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, elevation 36 feet
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
Seriously, what are you waiting for? Go catch a game there and just enjoy it!