I went to Camden Yards and all I got was this lousy walk-off loss

A look at the Baltimore baseball experience through the eyes of Camden Yards newbie Keith R.A. DeCandido.

Author's note: this was written in the Java Moon Cafe in Penn Station in Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon while waiting for the 4.15pm Bolt Bus to New York, and then uploaded while on that bus. However, to avoid the logjam of game-time entries, it's gone up on Thursday afternoon, so the results of Wednesday's game were unknown to me as I wrote it. Also: living in the 21st century is awesome.

I have a lot of friends in Baltimore, and one in particular has been trying to get me to join her for a game at Camden Yards. Tuesday night, this long-term plan of hers finally came to fruition, as I hopped on a Bolt Bus that took me from one Penn Station to another, and then I joined five friends (four Orioles fans and one person who was indifferent) for Tuesday's tilt between the O's and Yanks.

While the end result was a disappointment—the Yanks lost 3-2 in extra innings—the general experience was fantastic. This was my first trip to Camden Yards, and it was definitely worth it.

Some notes on the experience...

The hype is justified. I've been hearing about how amazing Camden Yards is for two decades now, starting when the place opened, and continuing to shortly after I posted a Facebook status update saying I was going there for the first time. "You'll love it!" "It's a great park!" "Haven't been in ages, but it was fantastic!" "Go to Boog's BBQ!" "Be sure to drink a Natty Boh!" And so on.

So I had a genuine concern that it wouldn't live up to the hype, which was considerable.

Said concern was wholly unfounded. The Yards are beautiful, with an open plan that gives you the feeling of an old-time ballpark (or a minor league park), with the added benefit of tons of exposed brick, superb sightlines, and a good placement of ad space that allows the folks who paid for them to get their money's worth without being obtrusive. (Yes, Yankee Stadium, I'm looking at you.) Our upper-deck seats in Section 344 behind home plate on the third base side had a great view (see picture above).

A friend told me that the prices deliberately go up during Yankees and Red Sox games in order to fleece the out-of-towners who hop the Bolt Bus or Amtrak down from New York and Boston, but even with that, the concessions were fairly reasonably priced. I wasn't able to take in the full range of available foodstuffs, but I will give credit to the vendor from whom I bought a hot dog. Rather than give out condiments in packets, the vendors apply the ketchup, mustard, relish, or whatever themselves. My vendor was very generous with the mustard, which I greatly appreciated.

It was the first really muggy day of the year, and there was lots of water being brought around, as well as lemonade. Interestingly, unlike what I've seen in other ballparks, the same person would carry beer and water.

(By the way, regarding the suggestions above, I was unable to make it to Boog's, but plan to next time, and I made the mistake of drinking Natty Boh once about fifteen years ago. I don't ever really need to do that again.)

History. The O's have a pretty storied history since moving to Bawlmer from St. Louis. (Amusingly, there is no evidence that the O's were ever the St. Louis Browns on display in the Yards that I could find. Given the Brownies' history, including just the one pennant in 1944 when most of the good players were fighting in World War II, this isn't much of a surprise.)

A lot of that history can be found in front of Gate H, the gate closest to the light rail station and the convention center, and where they display all the O's retired numbers as standalone statues depicting the number in question, along with a plaque identifying the player and the year the number was retired. There's also a statue of Babe Ruth as a youth, identifying him as a "native Baltimorean." (At least they have a more legitimate claim to Ruth, who was born and raised in Charm City, as opposed to the tenuous claim they have on Edgar Allan Poe just 'cause he happened to die there. Poe was born in Boston, and spent as much time in Philadelphia and New York City as he did Baltimore. On the other hand, I love the notion of a football team named after a Poe poem. But I digress.)

The O's retired numbers are also on prominent display along the grandstand, which beats the hell out of hiding them behind the bleachers. (Cough.)

There are only a thousand people in the world. Naturally, as I'm standing at Gate H waiting for the final member of our party, I bump into someone I know. He had actually seen my Facebook post saying I was en route to the park, and he thought to himself, "Wouldn't it be funny if I bumped into Keith?" and then sure enough...

The friend in question, by the by, is Ian Bonds, a singer-songwriter better known under his nom du parody as Insane Ian.

Yankee Stadium South no more—entirely. From 1998 to 2011, you'd often get more Yankee fans in attendance than Orioles fans when the Bombers came to town—ditto Red Sox fans during games against Boston—mainly because there wasn't much for the hometown faithful to see during those dark years when the O's were kept out of the cellar only by virtue of Tampa Bay's ineptitude, which ended in 2008, dumping the Birds into the bottom.

However, as is the case everywhere except Wrigleyville and south Florida, winning breeds attendance. When the O's turned the corner last year, the fans came back, and they're still there, many of them wearing as much bright orange as they possibly can.

Having said that, the Bolt Bus is cheap, and Amtrak runs trains to and from NYC every hour on the hour, so there were tons of Yankee fans in attendance as well.

I always love to tally whose number people wear on their jerseys and T-shirts, and—even more so than at Yankee Stadium—the dominant number by far was Derek Jeter's #2. Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez were a distant second, and I also saw a few Mickey Mantles, a couple of Don Mattinglys and Thurman Munsons, a smattering of Robinson Canos, one Curtis Granderson, and, my personal favorite, a Bobby Abreu. Yes, really.

On the O's side, it was dominated by Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis, but good showings were made by Manny Machado, Brian Matusz, and "Mr. Boh"—the beer has #85. Extra points to the woman in the Bruce Chen jersey and the guy in the Melvin Mora T-shirt. Sadly, I spied no Jeff Conines.

(There was also this one guy in Nationals regalia. I wanted to take him aside and say, "Dude, wrong game." It reminded me of my first experience in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, during the 2001 ALDS against the A's. A person walked by in Boston regalia, and the guy in front of us turned around and yelled, "Hey! Boston! What're you doing here? This game does not concern you!" A month later, my then-girlfriend and I got season tickets in the bleachers for 2002.)

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Nobody's perfect. Camden Yards does have some issues. For starters, if you go to the concession stands, you go to the other side of a wall, thus giving you a lovely view of downtown Baltimore and absolutely no view of the game. The trend toward open sightlines to the field from the concession stands obviously postdated 1992.

When you walk into Gate H, there are absolutely no signs telling you which way to go to your seats, unless you're sitting in the bleachers. It took several minutes and peering at a badly put together map to figure out how to get to Section 344. (It was, of course, all the way on the other side of the stadium from there...) In general, the signage could afford to be bigger and more prevalent.

At 7:40 pm, I looked at the scoreboard, which gave only starting times for the games. Since the vast majority of them were at 7:05, I found this a bit distressing. We didn't actually get scores of any of those games until around 8 pm, which is appalling in the 21st century. What, was the telegraph machine broken?

It seems that every ballpark has the same stupid between-innings nonsense designed to keep people from being bored while commercials are airing on TV. In Yankee Stadium, we have the subway race and the shell game with the baseball under one of three Yankee helmets. Baltimore's equivalents are, respectively, a race around the basepaths among a hot dog and two condiment packages (ketchup and mustard), and the baseball hidden under one of three crabs. (The former race is always among three participants so that the season ends with each participant winning 27 times.)

There's also the obligatory smile cam, kiss cam, and dance cam. The latter is—I swear I am not making this up—the Johns Hopkins Orthopaedics Dance Cam. Well, at least you know where to go when your feet start to hurt from all that dancin'...

At one point late in the game some people tried doing the wave. Seriously, this needs to stop. Now.

Finally, as we went to the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, they did a montage of inspirational speeches from movies. The bulk of the airtime of the montage went to Dennis Quaid and Sylvester Stallone, with a smattering of Kurt Russell (with 1980 hair in Miracle), a surprising (but effective) bit from Morgan Freeman in Glory (not really a sports speech, but whatever), and—Vin Diesel? Really? They had me up until then...

My boy Phil. I remain an unrepentant Phil Hughes fangoober, which I feel is needed now more than ever as large chunks of the Bomber blogosphere (including on this very site) feel the need to condemn Hughes at every opportunity. He's actually been a solid contributor to the team, but he hasn't been the ace everyone expected him to be after he utterly destroyed the minor leagues, so he's vilified out of proportion to his crimes. When Andy Pettitte or CC Sabathia have a rough outing, it's considered a blip on the radar. When Hughes has a rough outing, it's "back to crappy Hughes again." Last night's performance was actually pretty good—two runs in six innings with five strikeouts is more than enough to win if your offense bothers to show up (spoiler alert: it didn't)—and if Hiroki Kuroda or CC did that, it'd be a strong effort, gutting their way through an outing where they didn't always have their best stuff. But for Hughes it's a crap outing because he dared to give up two homers to a journeyman outfielder who tripled his homer total with those two.

Whatever. Hughes is a flyball pitcher, and he's actually been less victimized by the long ball this year than usual, and he's continuing last year's trend of limiting the damage by giving up a lot of them without anybody on base (as happened last night). I would've liked to have seen more 0-2 counts become three- or four-pitch K's rather than 3-2 counts, also fewer two-strike fouls, but it was still a strong performance. Most teams would kill to have a fourth starter this good.

(Of course, what's really hilarious is that the Yanks were beaten by Dickerson, who was squeezed out of the outfield by the desiccated remains of Ichiro Suzuki, who was on the bench last night, a place he should probably stay. But hey, that merchandising money will help the team finance picking up a free agent or two, if there's ever a good free agent again...)

Pronk and the eight dwarves. Early on, the Yanks were hitting the ball hard, but they were robbed by some excellent defense, notably by right fielder Nick Markakis (who made an amazing diving catch) and second baseman Yamaco Navarro (who I never heard of before last night, and who made two amazing stops in the infield). Still, the offense was basically useless past two doubles by Brett Gardner and Vernon Wells, each of which was followed by an RBI single by Travis Hafner. (Until McLouth's tenth-inning walkoff homer, Hafner and Dickerson provided all the runs.)

There are times when I'm amazed this team is in first place. Okay, that's pretty much all the time, but look at the lineup they ran out there. Once you get past the first two hitters—Gardner and Cano—you have only one person you expected to see starting for the New York Yankees, to wit, Curtis Granderson, and Curtis is still struggling to get the motor running after his long layoff. The rest are has-beens (Hafner, Wells), never-weres (Jayson Nix, LyleOverbay), and rookies (David Adams, Austin Romine). The Orioles fans sitting near us reserved 99% of their vitriol for Cano, and I honestly think that's because he's the only person in the lineup they knew.

Which is, honestly, why I didn't get too arsed over the result, as these are exactly the kinds of games the Yanks are going to lose a lot of this year. They're also going to win a lot of them, so we'll just have to take the good with the bad while we hope that A-Rod, Jeter, Youkilis, and Teixeira come back at something remotely resembling full strength.

Other odds and sods. Nix fumbled an easy double play ball at one point. Isn't he supposed to be the one who's good on defense to make up for his lack of bat? Yeah.

Cano showed bunt in the top of the sixth. The sonic boom you heard right after that was my head exploding.

After "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," they play John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" during the seventh-inning stretch. An—interesting choice, but hey, it beats the hell out of Kate Smith's bloody awful rendering of the wretched "God Bless America." (Or "Cotton-Eyed Joe," for that matter.)

David Robertson is good at baseball. He struck out the side in the eighth inning. Mariano Rivera is also good at baseball, but managers are stupid and believe that the save rule is more important than winning baseball games, so they never bring in a closer during a tie game on the road until after the visiting team goes ahead in the top of an inning, assuming that actually happens (spoiler alert—it didn't). I know this particular horse has been beaten so much it's not just dead, it's glue, but it bears repeating until managers actually stop the idiocy and use their relievers on the basis of leverage and matchups and game situations, not a wholly arbitrary statistic that doesn't measure an accomplishment worth noting.

I tweeted the following as the bottom of the tenth inning commenced: "Girardi has burned four relievers. Hope Nuno is in for multiple innings..." Nuno proceeded to give up the walkoff homer to the first batter he faced, which prompted this tweet from our own Greg Kirkland: "Or, you know, the one batter." Sigh.

Several people wore T-shirts (orange, of course) that proclaimed Camden Yards to be the ballpark that changed baseball forever, and that's not hyperbole. Prior to 1992, the only new parks since 1973 belonged to the two 1977 expansion teams, the Blue Jays and Mariners. The Yards reversed the trend of industrial monstrosities that we got in the 1950s and 1960s, and that's for the good. Baseball is a better place without Veterans Stadium, Shea Stadium, Riverfront Stadium, Municipal Stadium, Candlestick Park, the Kingdome, the Humphrey Dome, Three Rivers Stadium, and the older versions of the Big A, Dodger Stadium, and Kaufmann Stadium. Camden Yards started the trend of old-fashioned ballparks that continued with Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) all the way through to Target Field, CitiField, and nuYankee Stadium, and it deserves to be celebrated. (For more on this, check out Brian Stamaglia's excellent piece on the subject.)

And it's a great place to see a ballgame. Even if the Yankees lose.

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