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May 11, 2009

Prospectus Today

Report from Camden Yards

by Joe Sheehan

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I'm a little late getting to my report from Camden Yards. A one-day trip stretched into two, and that second day was dominated by news having nothing to do with the good things about baseball, but rather the latest chapter in the game's book of steroid stories.

Even a day spent talking more about HCG than OBP couldn't dampen my enthusiasm for another night at the ballpark, however. Thanks to Ned Rice of the Orioles, I was able to attend a sort-of makeup game after Wednesday night's rain-marred fiasco. The Twins and Orioles got in an official game that night, but they finished it long after I was gone, getting in just a tick over the required five innings for the contest to count. The second night was a much different experience, as the skies mostly cleared, the evening was shirt-sleeves-and-ice-cream pleasant, and the ballgame was an exciting one.

As I wrote last week, Camden Yards doesn't have quite the impact today as it would have had back in 1992 when it opened. We've seen many HOK and HOK-inspired parks in its wake, and all of them share similar features. The improvement in the overall experience, as compared to the generation of multi-purpose stadiums that preceded this one, is considerable. Whether you're a fan who only needs baseball at a ballpark to be happy, or one who goes only because his friends have an extra ticket and he has nothing else planned, you can appreciate more space, more food options, nicer views, greater access to information via scoreboards, and all of the other touches that made Camden Yards such a rollicking success.

I was a bit surprised to see just how few people shared in the experience. Years of noncompetitive baseball teams appear to have crippled demand for Orioles tickets, even on a night with good weather. Watching more games on TV over the weekend, it seemed that even the presence of the Yankees, who usually bring in the Acela crowd, wasn't enough to fill the place. That's disappointing, because Baltimore is a very good baseball city, and in the mid-'90s, when the Orioles were last successful, there weren't very many better baseball experiences.

After a decade in the wilderness, the Orioles are building back to that kind of atmosphere. Some of the reasons for optimism were on display Thursday night, most notably Adam Jones, who was strong in the field on an 0-for-4 night. Jones also had what can be described as a "good strikeout" in the fifth, working Glen Perkins for 10 pitches after starting out 0-2, staying back on a couple of tough pitches along the way and fighting off others. It's early, of course, and Jones' contact rate is unchanged compared to last season, but his results on contact, his walk rate, and his K/BB are all much better, and he's shown the jump in power that sometimes happens at the age of 23. I saw nothing in my trip to push me off of his bandwagon.

Jones and Nick Markakis are in Baltimore now, and will be for some time to come. They alone are worth the price of admission. When you look at the Orioles, though, the fact is that most of their championship core hasn't arrived yet. Matt Wieters, already a legend, has yet to make his major league debut. Of the current crop of Orioles starters, only Koji Uehara is likely to be around two years from now. The rotation then-let's say Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, a newly healthy Troy Patton, and Uehara-is lined up to be one of the best young groups in the game, and that's without mentioning Brandon Erbe or David Hernandez or who the Orioles might take with high picks in the next two drafts. (There's a real need for infielders, especially a long-term solution at shortstop.) The Orioles are now about where the Rangers were two years ago, and while they don't have a Mark Teixeira to trade to accelerate the process-their decision to lock up Brian Roberts' eventual decline cut off that path to adding talent-there's enough here to envision a .500 finish in 2010 and contention in 2011 and beyond. An Orioles team filling Camden Yards and pushing for postseason berths will be a very good thing for baseball; as much fun as it was to watch a game in a nearly empty Camden Yards (and at that, one with a surprising number of Twins backers), I can only imagine what it will be like full and loud.

Other notes from the trip:

  • Not to go all Klaw here, but Boog Powell's barbecue stand is worth the trip. I prefer my 'cue rubbed, not heavily sauced; the latter approach I feel tends to hide sub-standard meat. Boog's beef sandwich comes with no sauce at all, sliced thin but not so thin as to be cold cuts, spiced well, and served on a roll so soft that I half expect it to show up this summer as a power forward in Euroleague. There are apparently sauce packets available, which I didn't realize until seeing someone else defiling their sandwich with one later. I hadn't eaten this well at a ballpark in some time; my decision to try the Italian sausages instead of heading back to Boog's on Thursday was inexplicably dumb, the epicurean equivalent of choosing your third-best reliever to pitch in a huge spot just because it's the seventh inning and not the ninth.

  • Thursday night's game was entertaining, as the Twins fought back from early 2-1 and 4-2 deficits to tie the game in the seventh, as Dave Trembley showed why the 2011 Orioles, that future contending edition, will probably be managed by someone else. With four left-handed batters and switch-hitting Matt Tolbert scheduled to bat-the top five guys in the Twins' lineup-Trembley called on Chris Ray to start the inning rather than Jamie Walker. After the Twins had tied the game, Trembley tabbed Walker to pitch to Jason Kubel to escape a jam. It was confusing, to say the least; if Ron Gardenhire is going to set his lineup to encourage lots of Jamie Walker, you have to punish him for that. Allowing Denard Span, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau to tie the game against a right-handed reliever is malpractice. Trembley may be the guy to bring along young players, but once the wins and losses mean something, the Orioles, like the Brewers before them and the Rangers a year from now, will need someone better at the Xs and Os.

  • It's a little silly to get overly excited about middle relievers, especially ones who give up three hits and get tagged with the loss. With that said, Jose Mijares can pitch, and is tough enough on right-handers, hiding the ball and getting his fastball into the mid-90s at times, to be a lot more than a specialist. The Venezuelan went from Triple-A to the only reliable middle man on the roster last September, and his two losses last week not withstanding, he's the second-best reliever on the roster now. The Twins, who once had deep, effective bullpens, now struggle to get to Joe Nathan. Mijares will help fill a hole for them, and could eventually take over from Nathan as the team's closer.

I don't think of myself as someone who's seen a lot of ballparks, but I counted it up and I'm up to 16 current ones and five defunct ones, plus a scattering of minor league parks and spring-training venues. I have to say that Camden Yards is in the top quartile of experiences, and I look forward to getting back to it soon.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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SC

I agree with Trembley's questionable managerial decisions, but I wonder why it's an either or choice: develop young players or manage a game well. While I'm sure there are occasions when a team playing for the future might leave a young pitcher in to work his way out of a jam more or less often than a team in contention, but it seems like most of the managerial malpractice is so obvious (even when a poor relief choice doesn't blow a game) that GMs should teach their managers some very basic rules of thumb and demand they be followed.

I realize we're talking about people and not robots, but so frequently we see obvious errors that I don't understand how it persists. Though managing human beings, particularly those as complex as major league baseball players, is a different skill from baseball tactics, there is no reason they should be exclusive.

May 11, 2009 13:53 PM
rating: 0
 
ElAngelo
(942)

You've got a tough mix in Baltimore: bad economy, hatred for Angelos, and a team that until this year was pretty uninteresting to watch. Throw in the fact that the Nationals have definitely siphoned off the very casual (and lazy) fans in DC who just want to see a baseball game, and it's hardly a surprise Camden is suffering at the gate. Which is too bad, because it's a joy to visit.

May 11, 2009 14:03 PM
rating: 3
 
Jack G

As a Fenway-dwelling Sox fan I really appreciate the atmosphere outsde the stadium. I don't know what it's called, but that parking lot between the field and the sports bars that fills up with independent barbecue tents was a complete blast, and the $3 oilcans of bud light did not hurt. Not to knock Boston but it's nice to not have to pay ballpark prices or patronize slick bars and clubs if you want to hang out within a fifteen minute walk of the park

May 11, 2009 14:06 PM
rating: 0
 
jramirez

I haven't been since 2001. I'll be making the trip with SABR this year though and I'm really looking forward to it.

May 11, 2009 14:49 PM
rating: 0
 
drmboat
(754)

My trip to Camden was what led me to being okay with a new stadium for Oakland...while you may have to deal with expensive tickets and high demand for a while, eventually the ticket prices drop back to the reasonable range, the seats open up, and now you've got the same seat and price but with a much more pleasurable atmosphere. Even with all the copycats, I still think Camden is one of the better experiences out there.

May 11, 2009 14:59 PM
rating: 0
 
JHaugJr
(332)

If you ever want the culinary tips for PNc, just let me know.

May 11, 2009 15:07 PM
rating: 0
 
TGisriel

As a Baltimore resident, lifelong O's fan,and mini-plan ticket holder (13 games), I still love Camden Yards.

I disagree with the criticism of signing Roberts. Sure, at his age the O's have signed him for some decline, but the funds committed were less than his PECOTA calculated MORP, and the market for second basemen was not good this off-season. I don't think the O's were likely to get good value for him, and he is not blocking a good prospect.

At SS I would like to see a bit more of Andino, who was acquired just as the season starts. He's young and has shown some skill in infrequent appearances.

May 11, 2009 15:15 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt Hunter

As a Marlins fan, I will say you DO NOT want to see more of Andino. I promise.

May 11, 2009 21:51 PM
rating: 1
 
BelongstotheReds

"...greater access to information via scoreboards..." We wish we had that in Seattle. Instead, we are routinely updated on the favorite foods of our players, but good luck if you'd like to know someone's OPS. What a colossal waste of space that scoreboard is here. AAAAAAARGH!

May 11, 2009 15:59 PM
rating: 1
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

Even with the young core I think Baltimore will be hard press given the division has 4 other teams that would all be favorites or contenders in any other division.

May 11, 2009 16:12 PM
rating: 0
 
Bob

Very nice article, Joe. Thanks.

For a fascinating history of the making of Camden Yards, and generally a great read, see Peter Richmond's "Ballpark: Camden Yards and the Building of an American Dream." One of the best baseball books I've read in a long time.

The Birds have a great deal this summer where you get a free upper reserved ticket to any game during your birthday month (aside from a handful of premium games). If you're born in the offseason, I believe you can apply the deal to April or September games.


May 11, 2009 16:29 PM
rating: 0
 
dom

camden is still the best park in the majors. it's simply gorgeous and the neighborhood is great as well

May 11, 2009 16:49 PM
rating: 1
 
NL2003

Joe, I was at that game with my son...were you sitting on the first base side lower level, wearing a throwback Twins jersey?

The Twins hit the ball all over the lot that game, just didn't manage to score much. Adam Jones is good, but once his average cools off, he'll look fairly pedestrian.0

May 11, 2009 17:31 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

No. And I feel bad for the guy who can be confused for me, Will notwithstanding.

May 11, 2009 17:56 PM
 
BMoreGreen

Maybe I'm missing the sarcasm, but you couldn't be more wrong about A.J. From last year to this, the development in his approach at the plate belies his age. Add the for real power surge that corresponds well to his long term trend lines and you're looking at a special bat. And in case you've missed it, the speed and defense are both positives.

Batting between Roberts and Markakis has certainly helped, but the maturity has impressed me and the off-season work in Az with BRob is paying dividends. Too bad for the foot injury last year, he was just starting to groove at the dish and the missed time would surely have accelerated his development. Folks from the Emerald City will regret that deal for years to come.

May 11, 2009 20:02 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Hmmm... the Jays are looking promising this year (though it's early), the Rays have a youth movement, Boston's on the cusp of retooling with elements of a good core on both sides of the ball, and the Yankees have some young pitching and a lot of money on the field.

Surely every team in the AL East can't be a contender in the near future...

May 11, 2009 19:51 PM
rating: 0
 
Drungo

It's plausible that the AL East will force baseball to reevaluate the division structure and the unbalanced schedule. We might end up with the 4th-best team in the league being the 4th-best team in the division.

Or at least this might become an issue that people talk and write about while baseball reassures everyone that "tradition" and 24-7 Yanks/Sox saturation on ESPN is worth pretending that all the divisions are equal when they're obviously not.

May 12, 2009 07:41 AM
rating: 0
 
Peter Hood

If you look at a map, it is obvious that TOR could just as easily play in the AL Central division - wouldn't that be a blast.

May 12, 2009 09:22 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Well, we know the Florida Marlins are becoming the Miami Marlins... so by 2015, maybe they'll end up in the AL East and meet the Cubs in the World Series!

(Back to the Future II reference)

Move Toronto to the AL Central (local rivalry with Detroit), the Royals to the NL Central (natural rivalry with St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee), put Pittsburgh in the NL East (rivalry with Philadelphia) and move the Marlins to the AL East (rivalry with Tampa Bay and the Yankees).

May 12, 2009 10:26 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

If the fourth best team missed the playoffs, though, there wouldn't be a call for realignment but a call for an extended playoff format like the NBA has.

May 14, 2009 14:55 PM
rating: 0
 
BMoreGreen

Joe - great read and couldn't agree more with your post-sausage regret at the flailing attempt to improve upon Boog's offerings. Silliness can be forgiven, but that move borders on depravity.

Wondering why no mention of Guthrie in assessing the future rotation or potential trading chips. His performance in the AL Beast the last two years would warrant some respect in my book and he is younger than Koji. Hoping just a missed piece and not a reflection of your opinion.

Also, any thoughts on Huff and whether we can expect him to don the orange and black next year. Whatever the reason - fatherhood, comfort, something else - he has definitely been a boon for the Birds this year.

Stick to your guns in the face of the doubters - Andy MacPhail has Angelos' confidence and a plan that has us long-suffering faithful daring to dream. Grow the arms and buy the bats to fill holes - asbestos class action money spends like any other greenback and once the young guns start sniffing the bigs, the FA market will open for Angelos' wallet once again.

May 11, 2009 20:16 PM
rating: 0
 
pure payne

I listened to Todd Wright Tonight specifically for your interview. It was very interesting to say the least as I share many of the same feelings about that great baseball venue. My childhood was filled with scenes of packed Camden Yards frequently on national television. This is why I am grateful to have a theater like Comerica Park in Detroit a short drive from my home, and passionate fans who will fill stadium and support the Tigers no matter the strife.

May 12, 2009 00:24 AM
rating: 0
 
LindInMoskva

Could it be that Angelos was right and that the DC-Baltimore area cannot support two teams?

May 12, 2009 05:03 AM
rating: 0
 
Drungo

I think all we know right now is that the DC-Baltimore area won't rabidly support two terrible teams.

May 12, 2009 07:33 AM
rating: 3
 
Corkedbat

Been to the O's games in Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards and when the crowds were large having grown up in Baltimore. I regularly fell asleep to Jon Miller's play by play on WBAL. Can't believe Angelos ran him out of town. I remember seeing Fred Lynn hit a grand slam for Detroit in the second game of a cold Sunday double header at Memorial Stadium. The House that Cal Built, if I could call it that, has been fun to go to. I even got to see Cal's first game at 3B and the stunning defensive play in the first inning after he moved from SS. I was there a game or two or three before Cal broke Gherig's record. Good crowds. Streaks of sell out games. I think Camden is responsible for single handedly making the All-Star game a better event when Baltimore hosted it in the early 90's. I was there the night Arthur Rhodes made his MLB debut. It's funny what you remember as a kid.

Nothing like being able to walk from Camden to the Babe Ruth Museum/birth place or Harbor or even going down a little ways to Fort McHenry... the flag's residence of Francis Scott Key's Star Spangled Banner... I still say "OOOOO" at the ball parks during the national anthem. Only fellow Oriole fans get it.

Many also may not realize how important Baltimore's Stadium and Ball Park may have been in world history, as the Orioles have had many foreign dignitaries along with Presidents come and partake of an American pastime. Now, the Nationals may have more of those venues being closer to Washington, an issue that no doubt would have been an unspoken reason why the O's didn't want a team in Washington. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to know a number of the good relationships with foreign governments as a result of Presidents going for an enjoyable baseball game in Baltimore.

I have to wonder, in a town that did not have a competing major sports team for a while has suffered, because the Ravens now play. People would rather save their blue collar money to see a winning team, a blue collar team.

I'm glad you went Joe. I hope you went to the Cal Ripken Muesum or the Babe Ruth Museum too.

May 12, 2009 08:54 AM
rating: 2
 
Bob

I enjoyed reading your recollections. I have similar memories of both Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards. These are two of the only places in the world where my father and I really connected. I still love going to see the Birds but now that he's passed away, there's a big hole in Baltimore for me. Still, a golden (or should I say, orange and black) town as far as I'm concerned.

May 12, 2009 09:37 AM
rating: 1
 
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