I was among the first paying customers to step inside Camden Yards, and I initially wasn't sold on the place. That's not the sort of thing you expect to read on opening day, particularly at the outset of the 20th anniversary season for "The Ballpark That Forever Changed Baseball," but to state otherwise would be dishonest.
A little background is in order. The first game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards took place April 3, 1992, an exhibition contest versus the New York Mets, and the team sold tickets for only two-thirds of the 48,000 seats available. It was my birthday. Dad sprung me early from school, and we took our seats among the roughly 30,000 fans in attendance for what would be a 5-3 Orioles victory. The late Mike Flanagan earned the exhibition win after recording the final out at Memorial Stadium several months earlier.
The day had less to do with the game, which didn't even count in the standings, and more to do with getting an advance look at the new ballpark. Most fans were impressed with Camden Yards; had I closed my eyes I might well have thought I was in a jewelry store given how many times I heard it referred to as a gem. I felt out of place as, contrary to those around me, I was instinctually disappointed with my new surroundings.
How could I not be impressed by the place that days later would be described as nearly flawless by no less a ballpark authority than The Washington Post's Tom Boswell? (His actual words were, "You have to stretch to find flaws in Oriole Park.") My feelings were as incongruent as the action on the diamond, where Eddie Murray strolled to the plate in the visiting team's uniform offering yet another reminder that times were changing.
My initial reticence toward Camden Yards was not a matter of look, but rather a matter of feel. There was little denying the splendor of the place with the B&O Warehouse as the piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance, but as the saying goes, "Good looks can only take you so far." The Orioles' 1992 theme song was titled "Welcome Home." I was having the opposite response: Camden Yards didn't feel like home to me.
I came to know and love baseball at Memorial Stadium. It's where I caught my first baseball, got my first autograph and, of course, watched my first game. For nearly two decades, it was my ballpark experience. Camden Yards felt as chilly to me as the wind that curled through the concourse during my first visit. Over time, I warmed up to the place.
One afternoon years later, I found myself sitting in the ballpark engulfed by memories of prior visits. Scanning various sections of the stadium triggered memories of previous games I attended, who was there with me and what happened on the diamond. Wins, losses, relationships maintained, relationships perished -- the ballpark brought them all to life for me. Camden Yards had become my baseball experience.
Twenty years after our first visit to Camden Yards, dad and I will be there again on today for opening day 2012. This time, I'll feel right at home.
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.