Does it get any better than this?
On a warm summer evening there are few places on the east coast as relaxing and enjoyable as Oriole Park at Camden Yards (OPACY). Home of the Baltimore Orioles since 1992, it is widely regarded by many as one of the crown jewels of modern stadiums.
While the O's struggled through the first decade of the 2000's, attendance sagged and fan morale reached an all time low. Fans of the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies routinely invaded the yard, turning it into their own private vacation destination. While some diehard supporters wont admit it, people stopped going to the Yankees games in particular, just because those damn Yankee fans were so annoying. It had become easier to just avoid those match-ups all together.
Last season, OPACY experienced a renaissance on its 20th anniversary. The O's won 92 games, the AL wild-card, hosted two memorable playoff games, honored their greatest legends and brought the baseball team back to relevance in a time when the Ravens had taken a firm grasp of many peoples hearts. After years of finishing in 4th or 5th place in the mighty AL East, the famous Orioles magic had returned.
Now that there is a competitive baseball team back in Baltimore, its important to know the best things to do while attending an O's game at OPACY.
Located adjacent to OPACY are several bars that serve as pre and post-game destinations for fans, team staff and sometimes even players. With indoor and outdoor bars setup, the party before O's games always starts at Pickles Pub. "Well see you at pickles," is the common saying among fans, but it is not entirely true. Other bars located there include Sliders Bar & Grill and The Bullpen. While some may that you're at Pickles, you have a pretty good chance of being somewhere in the middle of all three of these places.
Across the lot from the bars are plenty of vendors that have fresh grilled food and pan-fried crab-cakes that you can bring into the stadium. While they may not have crab-dip covered waffle fries, a five dollar Italian sausage is unbeatable.
While these bars are considered the hot-spot before games, you can find dozens and dozens of establishments for all ages, and agendas within walking distance of OPACY. You may even get a free cover to some of Baltimore's favorite run-producing late night venues. Score!
Last season, the Orioles unveiled six brand new statues behind the bullpens and in front of the center field picnic area in honor of the Orioles Hall of Famers. Earl Weaver, Cal Ripken Jr., Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson were all honored throughout the course of the season.
Every fan in attendance at those games received a replica of the statue for themselves to take home as well. My home in Baltimore proudly sports all six on a shelf in the living room.
Taking a stroll through the park, you cannot help but notice the great detail that went into these and think back to the days of the "Oriole way," and hope that the current young stars might find their way there someday.
This year, it is nearly impossible to walk by Ripken's statue without a line of people waiting to take a personal photo in front of the Iron Man.
Possibly the best part of the statues is the memory it invokes of the night that the Orioles took OPACY back from Yankee fans. September 6, 2012, Cal Ripken Jr. statue night; 17 years after Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played streak he had his statue displayed for the hometown fans, and boy was there something special about that night. After squandering a five run lead in the top of the 8th, the Orioles hit back to back to back home-runs in the bottom of the 8th to move into a tie for first place in September. Yes, it actually happened, and I'll regret working that night for the rest of my life.
This video of the final out will tell you all you need to know about how special that night was.
Along with aforementioned statues, another new addition to OPACY last season was the center field bar. Equipped with a large rectangular bar, tables for the casual fan and breathtaking views of the ballpark, this is a must stop on each and every visit to the yard. If you want to get a seat in this section, you must get to the ballpark extremely early, or pray the O's return to the doldrums of despair.
Next time you stop there, order up a Natty Boh, whip out your smartphone and take a panoramic shot of the stadium. Upload that bad boy and watch the "likes" flock like the salmon of Capistrano.
This is ideal for groups of people who are at the park for the social atmosphere, more-so than a baseball game. The lounge chairs and tables are not ideal for viewing the outside corner, but flirting, socializing and relaxing are all there for the taking.
The flag court is a personal favorite of most fans who attend games at OPACY. Out-of-town fans cannot believe that for $9 you can get a standing room only ticket with that view. At Yankee Stadium a ticket in this spot in right field sells for between $80-$175.
Besides the cheap price and view, anyone is welcome to enjoy a few innings or an entire game from this vantage point. You can mingle with camera operators, meet the Oriole Bird, heckle opposing right fielders (hello Nick Swisher) or get a 24 ounce beer for $10.
The flags in the "flag court" are ordered by American League divisional standings all season, which a fun way to show your friends how much you know about Americas best ballpark.
Most importantly, this is your greatest chance at catching a home-run ball. A short right field porch it is, and a dream for left handed sluggers. Be ready though; you will not be alone trying to run and catch those dingers.
Is this Iowa?
What truly sets apart OPACY from other open air brick stadiums is the warehouse and Eutaw Street. While the warehouse serves as a backdrop and landmark, Eutaw street is akin to an outdoor city festival.
With restaurants, bars (Dempseys), lemonade stands, food vendors, former players signing autographs, fresh pit beef scents encompassing the air, face painters and more, this is the place to be. If you don't take your kids on this stroll, you are neglecting them of the full stadium experience. From Eutaw street you can enter the stadium, center field bar, flag court and right field bleachers.
It truly encapsulates so many unique activities that some of them are getting their own slides. It is the happening spot in the stadium for everyone.
Each and every time a home run lands on Eutaw St. there is a plaque placed on the exact spot where the ball landed. The plaques are labeled with the players name, team, date and distance. It is always fun finding a home run from a game you witnessed live years prior.
The photo above is from the 1993 All-Star Home Run Derby. That Griffey Jr. plaque marks the only time a batted ball has ever hit the warehouse on the fly and it was not even in a game. This does not include batting practice, despite the derby being basically just that.
Still to this day, no player has hit the warehouse on the fly in a real game. If I were a betting man, my money would be on Chris Davis to accomplish this feat in the near future.
Seeing old names of players from the early 90's always brings back fond memories for longtime fans. Mickey Tettleton was the first to accomplish this feat so many years ago.
Here is a link to a Eutaw Street home run database, http://baltimore.orioles.mlb.com/bal/oriolepark/eutaw.jsp
For many, many years the most exciting part of any Orioles game was the Esskay Hotdog race. Hotdogs and baseball go together like peas and carrots, so it seems fitting. So pick a side, ketchup, mustard or relish, and cheer as loud as you can.
Spoiler Alert: Whichever dog is in last place rounding third base is going to win.
Coming in a close second for things to watch for on the video screen is the Crab shuffle.
This is the most controversial part of Orioles lore. There are plenty of people out there who find the Orioles fans yelling of "O!" during the national anthem to be highly offensive and disrespectful. But if you know anything about the city of Baltimore, then you would know that it is perfectly acceptable.
The Star Spangled Banner was written in the inner harbor, during the shelling of Fort McHenry on a ship, by Francis Scott Key. If the folks in D.C. have a problem with the "O!" maybe they should have stopped the British, instead of abandoning their city. Baltimore defended its harbor and helped win the war for America. It is one of the proudest accomplishments of the city and is honored each and every time someone yells "O!"
If I told you that you could get an Orioles legends autograph, a beer and an excellent pit beef sandwich all in the same place, you would go. And that is exactly what you can get at Boog's Barbecue down on Eutaw St. He has been there since the opening of the stadium, night in and night out. The smell of pit beef and sight of smoke fill the air at OPACY, and it truly adds something special to the game day experience.
I am as biased as they get, but if you ever have a chance to visit Oriole Park at Camden Yards you will surely not regret it.