The view behind the plate

September 18, 2005|By JULIE E. GREENE

Orioles fans aren't sure what they'll see when they go to a home game these days - a team firing on all cylinders or a disappointing loss.

That's not the case with the Oriole Park at Camden Yards ballpark tour, which is full of tidbits and close-up peeks at what goes on behind the scenes at a major league ballpark.

The tour is advertised to take about an hour and 15 minutes, but, on a recent rainy summer day, our tour guide provided about a 90-minute tour.


Camden Yards is known to be a model for many modern ballparks built since Camden Yards became the official home of the Orioles on April 6, 1992. It provides an old-fashioned look and cozy atmosphere with seats closer to the field, modern accommodations and fan-friendly features.

The tour does more than just point out some of these features close-up, by explaining the history behind them or how they came to be.

For example, Baltimore officials wanted the B&O warehouse torn down to provide a better view of Inner Harbor, encouraging fans to visit that area, says tour guide Diana Mark.

However, Orioles officials wanted to leave the warehouse to provide that vibe of an early 1900s traditional ballpark, which often was part of a city block.

So the rat- and roach-infested warehouse - covered with soot and graffiti - and its 983 broken windows were fixed up. This took $19 million and 33 months.

The pressure from power-washing was too strong for the mortar holding together the brick warehouse so workers had to wash 3.5 million bricks on the inside and outside by hand, Mark says.

Fans on the tour get to check out the Control Room for the scoreboards and JumboTron and see the press box where Orioles public-address announcer Rex Barney once sat and now is memorialized by a plaque behind that seat. Barney was known for his "Thank youuuu" and saying fans who caught a foul ball should be given a contract.

Visitors also get to walk down the umpires' service tunnel, which emerges behind home plate, and learn why it's so hard for a batter to hit the warehouse. (Only Ken Griffey Jr. has done it and that was during the 1993 All-Star Home Run Derby.)

Mark often put features into perspective with Major League Baseball rules.

For example, Major League Baseball requires a "hitter's eye" or a solid dark backdrop behind the pitcher to help hitters pick up the white baseball as it approaches homeplate, hence the green wall behind center field.

The wall was modeled after the outfield wall at the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field with ivy planted to crawl up the wall and pays tribute to Fenway Park's Green Monster. The ivy had grown to the top of the wall and was in bad shape, so, at the beginning of this season, it was cut down, Mark says.

Below the wall is a patch of grass that actually is the Orioles sod farm. After fielders create divots in the grass chasing pop flies and line drives or patches get worn out, the grounds crew replaces the rough spot on the field with sod from this area. A closer look reveals squares of sod missing from the surplus area so fans can tell how much has been used. The Orioles' sod comes from the Salisbury, Md., area on the Lower Eastern Shore.

Fans on the tour also will get to visit a luxury suite and the Orioles dugout, but not the clubhouse.

The clubhouse is only open to the public once a year during FanFest, usually the third weekend in January, Mark says. That's when Orioles game tickets go on sale to the public.

One of the highlights of the tour is visiting the Orioles dugout, where fans get to sit on the bench and up on the back of the bench, where they get a clearer view of the field because of a protective fence in front of the dugout.

Turn around and see the plaque along the dugout wall honoring the late Orioles coach and one-time manager Cal Ripken Sr. or face the field and imagine you're waiting to be called to the plate.

If you go ...

WHEN: During the season, 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 12:30 p.m.,

1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays, except when there is a day game. Sometimes tour schedules can change, so call 1-410-547-6234 to check times.

During the off-season, 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays; and 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays.

COST: $7, adults; $5 for ages 55 and older or 12 and younger. Group rates available. Tour tickets can only be bought online or at the stadium box office. The Camden Yards box office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Ticket reservations are suggested, especially when the Yankees and Red Sox are in town.

DIRECTIONS: Take Interstate 70 east to Interstate 695 (Baltimore Beltway). Turn right onto I-695 (toward Glen Burnie). Take I-695 to Interstate 95 north. Take exit 53, for Interstate 395 and look for parking. Park on nearby streets (probably metered parking) or in a Camden Yards parking lot for $5.

MORE: For more information, go to and, holding the cursor over "Oriole Park," click on "Ballpark Tours" or "Directions & Parking."

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