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Camden Yards: Setting a new standard in stadium construction

When Camden Yards opened in 1992, it set a new standard and started a flurry of stadium construction.

Rob Carr

The Yankees' three game set against the Orioles this week seems like a great reason to write about Camden Yards, and the rise of the modern ballpark.

I first heard about Camden Yards two years before it opened, in the summer of 1990. We took a family vacation to visit my mother’s brother, who lived just outside Baltimore. We checked out the mall in Washington, D.C., Arlington National Cemetery, the inner harbor, and the National Aquarium, among other places. But the thing that I was most excited about was the Orioles game we were going to. It was my first trip to a non-New York baseball stadium. The Orioles weren’t very good that year, about five games under .500 the night we saw them lose to the Athletics, and they finished 76-85. The game itself was so memorable that I don’t remember a single thing about it. However, there are a few things about the experience that I do remember.

I remember Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach signing autographs before the game. I remember Memorial Stadium, which seemed all right to me, aside from the fact that it wasn’t Yankee Stadium. I also remember the game program. It had an artist’s rendering of what the Orioles’ new stadium would look like when it was finished in two years.

What struck me about the picture was the utterly foreign concept of a new baseball stadium. To me, it might as well have been an artist’s drawing of what our first colony on the moon was going to look like. Being a young, die-hard Yankees fan, I considered Yankee Stadium to be the gold standard. I also considered it to be about 2,000 years old. Was it older or newer than the Roman Colosseum? I was almost sure, but not positive, that it was newer (for the record, Yankee Stadium was 77 years old in 1990, while the Colosseum was 1,910). But a brand new stadium? That was borderline preposterous. Teams were partially defined by their stadiums. Shea sucked; so did the Mets. The Red Sox and Cubs had old, historic stadiums like the Yankees, and that was part of their culture. The Kingdome was awful, and so were the Mariners. Yankee Stadium was awesome, and the Yankees...okay, so it kind of breaks down there.

The Toronto Blue Jays christened SkyDome the year before, but that was an anomaly. I had to look up the next newest stadium. Are you ready for this? Royals Stadium, which opened in 1973, was the next newest. That was three years before I was born, which meant that when SkyDome opened in 1989, it was the first new baseball stadium of my lifetime. When you’re 12 or 13, that officially makes something ancient.

Little did I know that SkyDome was the first in a tidal wave of new ballparks. New Comiskey Park opened the next year, and was the last of the non-retro ballparks. And yes, I have intentionally switched from using "stadium" to "ballpark" as the multi-purpose, symmetrical concrete monstrosities of the 1960s and '70s mercifully gave way to the retro-style ballparks that have replaced almost all of them and are named "ballpark" or "field" instead of "stadium."

The Indians opened Jacobs Field in 1994, replacing "the mistake on the lake," Municipal Stadium. The Rangers opened The Ballpark in Arlington the same year. The Rockies opened Coors Field in 1995; the Braves opened Turner Field in 1996; the Diamondbacks opened "the BOB," Bank One Ballpark, in 1998; the Mariners opened Safeco Field in 1999 (pause for breath). Three teams opened new ballparks in 2000 – the Giants (Pacific Bell Park), Tigers (Comerica Park), and Astros (Enron Field). In 2001, the Brewers opened Miller Park and the Pirates opened PNC Park. Almost remarkably, none opened in 2002. Then the Reds opened the Great American Ball Park in 2003; the Phillies opened Citizens Bank Park in 2004; the Padres opened PETCO Park the same year. The Cardinals opened Busch Stadium in 2006; the Nationals opened Nationals Park in 2008. In 2009 the Yankees opened the new Yankee Stadium while the Mets opened Citi Field. The Twins opened Target Field in 2010, and the Marlins opened Marlins Park in 2012.

Although nobody asked for my opinion on Yankee Stadium, this is the closest to a rational segue that I can foresee, and it’s my article, so here we go. I like it. It’s nice. It’s not the post-1975-renovation-and-mostly-original-stadium, but hey, there’s no way it could be. I like the wide concourses, the breeze that goes through them, and love the limestone exterior that evokes the original. I just have four relatively minor gripes, none of which will include any variations on the terms "seat price," "bandbox" or "atmosphere." We’ll stick to the strictly physical here. First is the concrete moat separating the Legends Suite seats from everyone else. Ugh. Just...ugh. Second is Monument Park, which is practically in a cave. Third is the giant "Yankee Stadium" sign on top of the ads in left-center field. The Yankees shouldn’t need that sign for people to know where they are. Fourth is the bathrooms, which still require me to touch things. Were motion-activated urinals and sinks going to be the luxuries that broke the budget here? Even Newark Airport has them (my wife is a nurse, and is doing her best to turn me and our children into germophobes, so back off; plus, have you seen how many people don’t wash their hands?). But I digress...

So after 19 years without a new ballpark opening, 23 opened in the next 23 years. Almost as amazing is the fact that Dodger Stadium, which opened in 1962, is now the third oldest in baseball (although it's 48 years younger than Wrigley Field, and 50 years younger than Fenway Park). The only potential candidate for a new stadium is the A’s, who seem like they’ve been a candidate for the last 20 years. Otherwise, it will probably be a long time before we see another new major league ballpark open, and we’ll probably never see anything like the 1989-2012 construction run again.