Sunday, September 20, 2009

Return to the Original

Way back in 1984 I came up with a plan. With 26 Major League teams in existence, I could see every ballpark in about 10 years. I had it all laid out. Since I was living in New York, I could visit all the East Coast teams by car, then slowly fly my way out to further destinations. When we moved to Chicago in 1987, a whole new roster of stadia (or stadiums, if you prefer) were within a reasonable drive. Then, K. and I planned some efficient California trips, knocking off the 3 SoCal teams in one week, the two NoCal teams in a similar time frame.

Well, you all know about the best laid plans. Two new teams came on board and, more daunting, a wave of building ensued. Those 26 trips have grown into 45. Yes, that's right, I have been to 45 Major League ballparks, missing only Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. That burns my bottom, but when that crappy park bit the big league dust I wasn't quite sure I would cover the whole list. Bad thinking. I still have a few more to pop in on - St. Louis, San Diego, Washington and, I think, next year brings Minnesota and, after that Florida. I was actually complete once. Maybe it was after the 2000 season, before PNC and Miller Park opened. I don't remember.

Which brings me to this past weekend, when I revisited Camden Yards in Baltimore. The first of the retro parks, it has always been, to my hazy memory, the best. I saw two games during the Inaugural Season of 1992 and now, having been to so many of the other copycats, I had some basis of comparison.

It is still number one. While most new ballparks have attempted to have a city feel, Camden does it best. The warehouse, a historic building looming large on Eutaw St., seems like part of the Oriole Park, but it's not. By having this huge structure outside the yard, the stadium itself is allowed to have a smaller feel. That the corridors feel as much outside as in also permits the playing area to feel tinier. Most of the new parks give the aura of intimacy until you get there. They are all, by and large, large. Monstrously so. As to the organic feel of stadium and city, that is still a rarity. Some parks like that of the Rangers, are plopped in the middle of nowheresville. Others have had "neighborhoods" spring up around them. Camden Yards is truly part and parcel of the Inner Harbor area.

That the Red Sox hammered the Orioles was incidental, though sad. There was a time when sellouts were the norm at Camden Yards, but now that the Birds are fully and completely lousy, the stands are partially full, and worse this past weekend, crammed with obnoxious BoSox fans, as if there is any other kind.
One story. During an inning break, the scoreboard flashed the "Kiss Cam." Those on screen are supposed to smooch their significant other. You know the drill. The camera panned on a couple. The guy was deeply snoozing beneath his Red Sox cap. The girl, seeing their image on the big board, tried to wake him. No luck. In a few seconds there unfolded a story of a dysfunctional relationship. To the right of our protagonist, dreaming happily of the times when he thought the 2004 Champs were not a bunch of steroid-happy drug abusers, was a guy in an unmistakably black and orange Orioles cap. When he saw the girl was unable to arouse her partner, he stood up and spread his arms in an "I'm game" pose. Well my friends, she grabbed hold of this fellow and laid a passionate kiss on him that was laced with discomfort for the viewing audience. I guess she showed her boyfriend/husband! As to the lucky recipient of the scorned woman's spite kiss, it was a rare time when someone in an Orioles cap scored that night.

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