While I will always be a Montreal Expos fan at heart, the Toronto Blue Jays are my current baseball love. They’re in Baltimore this week for a series, at Camden Yards, a park which I must admit, has aged pretty well. Its 1992 opening as the first of the “modern retro” ballparks is one of the 18 excised chapters from my second book, “The Games That Changed Baseball: Milestones In Major League History”, now available for pre-order from McFarland!
Date: April 6, 1992
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Teams: Cleveland Indians vs. Baltimore Orioles
Significance: The first of the retro baseball-only ballparks opens
Impact: Old is new again! Oriole Park heralds the end of the multi-purpose “cookie cutter” stadiums and artificial turf
“There is indeed something behind the feeling that Camden Yards is different. In the decade before the 1992 opening of Camden Yards, Orioles’ attendance averaged 26,823 per game; average annual attendance reached an all-time high of 29,457 in the last four years before the move. In the five years since the move, average attendance has been 45,129. The move to Camden Yards appears to have propelled the Orioles from a team with a weak financial base to one of the most financially successful teams in baseball.” — an excerpt from a 1996 economics paper discussing the viability of city-owned stadiums, written by Bruce Hamilton and Peter Kahn
“If one is of mind, on a fine summer day, to observe two baseball clubs of major league caliber in contest for victory, there could be no finer place to recommend such a past time than the Oriole Park at Camden Yards.” – Jeff Merron, ESPN.com
“Perhaps the happiest result is that Oriole Park marks only the beginning of a clear trend in stadium design.” —Tim Kurkjian of Sports Illustrated
Monday, April 6, 1992 was a wonderful day to be a baseball fan. A new ballpark—yes, a ballpark, not a stadium—had its great debut that sunny afternoon in a great baseball city. The universal applause it got reversed the trend of drab, charmless multi-purpose stadia and returned MLB to its quaint roots. It is fair to say that no venue in baseball history has had a greater architectural impact on the sport than Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
The origin of Baltimore’s delightful ball yard dates back to perhaps the most infamous incident in the city’s sports history: the infamous scene in 1984 when the NFL’s Baltimore Colts snuck out of town and relocated to Indianapolis. The Colts bolted—literally in the middle of the night—for greener pastures largely because they had outgrown Memorial Stadium and Baltimore’s civic leaders and the state of Maryland were reluctant to spend money on a new football facility. Baltimore’s NBA team had abandoned the city for Washington, D.C. in 1973. The Orioles were the last major sports team left in Baltimore, and they became beloved for not leaving as the Colts and Bullets had. Fearing that the Orioles might themselves vacate the city someday and endanger Baltimore’s status as a major league town, plans were made to replace Memorial Stadium with a new and better ballpark when the time came. That time turned out to be the winter of 1988-89 when plans for Oriole Park started to be realized. The new venue would be ready for Opening Day 1992. During the club’s final homestand of 1991, venerable Memorial Stadium—the team’s home since the St. Louis Browns had relocated to Baltimore in 1954—was given a terrific farewell after its run of more than 2,800 games ended. About 90 former Orioles returned on October 6 for a ceremony that climaxed with all the old-timers slowly drifting to their former positions. It was clearly a takeoff of Field of Dreams but it was deeply touching nonetheless. Even hardened verteran baseball writers wept at the sight. Teary-eyed pitcher Mike Flanagan said, “I don’t think I’ll ever have a moment like that again in my life.” (Tim Kurkjian, “A Splendid Nest,” Sports Illustrated (online archives), April 13, 1992.)
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