Opening day is like Christmas morning and New Year's Day rolled into one for baseball fans, filled with eager anticipation and a feeling of renewal. When fans stream into Camden Yards on April 6 for the season opener against the Minnesota Twins, they'll also get to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking ballpark and check out some new additions, the product of an offseason's worth of busy construction activity.
This morning, the Orioles released the first artist's rendering of the renovations to give Birdland a sneak peek of what's new.
"This most recent phase of upgrades continues to tell a story about one of the most iconic parks in baseball history," said Orioles Director of Communications Greg Bader. "Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the genesis of an evolution in how sports fans, particularly baseball fans, rediscovered how they could experience a game. It was important that we allow all fans the opportunity to experience these renovations, and we feel these improvements will ensure that Camden Yards remains second to none among professional sports facilities."
From all the hammering and drilling, the sound of workers and the back-up beeps of equipment, the scaffolding and buzz of activity, you'd practically expect a whole new ballpark. But the renovations have focused on several key areas.
A new Roof Deck has been installed on top of the batter's eye wall in center field. In addition to providing a unique perspective from which to watch the game, the Roof Deck will provide vistas of downtown Baltimore and the Eutaw Street corridor. It includes outdoor deck seating and a full-service bar, along with seats facing the field. This area was not previously accessible to fans, but any fan with a ticket will be able to access the Roof Deck to watch all or a portion of any game.
Did you have trouble seeing over the right-field wall from the coveted standing room-only positions? Well, you'll be interested to know that the wall has been modified to reduce the height of the out-of-town scoreboard, improving the view from the flag court and Eutaw Street. A see-through fence even allows for younger fans full view of what's happening on the field. Food service and retail areas in the warehouse have been modified to take advantage of this improved visual connection with the playing field.
One of the most talked-about changes - well, six of them, actually - are the larger-than-life bronze sculptures of the six greatest O's of all time. The sculptures of Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. will stand seven to eight feet tall and weigh between 600 and 1,500 pounds each. They will be unveiled throughout the season in the order that the O's greats were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. (Note: the sculptures shown in the rendering are not necessarily the actual poses in which the players will be depicted.)
The sculptures will be located in an improved bullpen picnic grove, which has undergone significant upgrades and additional landscaping in hopes of turning it into a ballpark oasis. This area will be available on non-gamedays, allowing visitors the opportunity to utilize this space year-round.
Since I've had a bird's-eye view - in the words of MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko, see what I did there? - of the renovations throughout the process from my fifth-floor warehouse window, I've been amazed at how quickly this undertaking has come together. And with the opener less than two weeks away, the activity has reached a frenzied pace. I've tweeted some photos of the work in progress, but check it out when you make your first 2012 trip to Camden Yards - and let us know what you think in the comments section.