Yesterday I wrote a little bit about my first trip to Nationals Park. It was an alright experience. Nothing too exciting although we weren't really disappointed, either.
But, to be honest, I knew this entire trip that Washington was just an appetizer for the main course that was going to be Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
And I liked our Baltimore experience even more than I thought I would. In short, the design of the stadium is ideal for fans -- if not for maximizing revenue -- and the production is complimentary to the product on the field instead of overwhelming.
We arrived through the centerfield gates and were greeted by a tasteful statue of Baltimore native Babe Ruth and the irresistible smell of longtime Orioles star Boog Powell's barbecue stand. This wasn't some crummy standard stadium fare with a local hero's name slapped on it. Next to the line to get some food Powell sat on a stool and signed autographs -- for free -- for anyone who wanted one.
It didn't seem like a stipulation of a contact that he had to abide by. Powell chatted with the fans, personalized autographs if they wanted, posed for pictures with them and, generally, seemed to have a good time.
The barbecue was pretty good, too. I had a sliced pork sandwich is unusual in St. Louis where pulled pork is the norm. It reminded me of Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City both in delivery and in the sauce that was available at a cart at the end of the line. That's pretty high praise for ballpark fare.
We paid $29 to sit in the third row of the left field stands where we were close enough to carry on a conversation with the outfielder if he wasn't previously occupied by the game. It was a great view for the price and, unlike so many of the new ballparks in play today including Busch Stadium and Nationals Park, it didn't seem like it had any bad seats. The stands didn't extend up too high and there wasn't too much separation between the first and second decks by too many luxury boxes.
If there was any disappointment it was that the ballpark was only that the enthusiastic crowd was small. The stadium was only about half full, not a positive development for a mid 70s, clear June Friday night.
I'm not sure where all the people were because there were tons of folks outside before the game. But they didn't all seem to make it into the park.
It's hard for me to believe that Camden Yards, which revolutionized baseball by starting the trend of retro ballparks, is 22 years old. But it has aged well seems more authentic with a little bit of a patina. The only thing about it that seemed dated was the lack of prominent luxury suites. Like Busch Stadium 2, the suites were tucked away under the second level and there didn't seem to be nearly as many of them as there are at most of the modern facilities.
All in all, I'd say it's Baltimore's ballyard is my favorite stadium I've visited outside of St. Louis in terms of overall ballpark experience. It's difficult to compete with Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park because of the aura those sorts of places carry. But I'd be more likely to be a frequent visitor to the ballpark if I lived in Baltimore than I would be if I lived in New York, Boston, Chicago or any of the other fields I've visited.