With the Cardinals headed to Baltimore to play in Orioles Park at Camden Yards this weekend for only the second time ever, it reminds me of the first of my own two visits to the ballpark.
It was on Opening Day 2005, it was brief — and it was free.
I was actually in Baltimore for work, attending a fundraising conference at the Baltimore Convention Center that began on Saturday. The convention center is across the street from the warehouse side of Camden Yards so, during breaks between seminars, I’d see all the action and preparations at the ballpark as it was being readied for Monday’s Opening Day. It was killing me to see it all so close and know I couldn’t go.
The A’s were the Orioles opponent for that first series of 2005 and, at the time, they were my favorite American League team. Nine years later, I have no idea where I found the time to keep up with them in addition to the Cardinals. But I loved that Moneyball/Big Three era of A’s teams, particularly because they were such a contrast to the Cardinals of the time. Opening Day 2005 found only one member of their Big Three remaining — as of course you remember, Mark Mulder was a Cardinal (which, having watched his slide in the second half of 2004 for the A’s, did not thrill me) and Tim Hudson was a Brave — meaning the lone remaining A, Barry Zito, was starting on Opening Day.
The game began at 3 p.m., which was the same time as my final seminar. As I stood on the convention center balcony during the break before the seminar and saw all the activity right there across the street with game time nearly there, I knew I had to go over there once the session ended.
So I did.
Given that it was nearly 5 p.m., I wondered if a ticket taker would be generous and just let me in. Couldn’t hurt to ask, right?
I approached the gate closest to the convention center, which entered into the area in front of the warehouse. I told the man at the gate I was here for a conference, was a huge baseball fan, had never been to this ballpark and wondered if I could get in to see the stadium. He was very nice and said I couldn’t then, but was more than welcome to come back after the game ended and go in to look around.
Well, OK, that could surely work.
But there were plenty of other gates into Camden Yards.
I walked all the way around to the entrance behind home plate, since I did want to see the outside of the stadium too. The next ticket taker was not nice — he just said no.
On my third attempt, I purposely went to a gate where a woman was taking tickets — perhaps she would be more sympathetic. Plus plenty of people were leaving the ballpark by this time. Maybe I could point that out and use it to my advantage.
So I explained I was in town for the convention and just wanted to see the stadium since it was my first time in Baltimore. She asked if I knew how many times she’d heard that story today, which led me to dig into my bag — I certainly wasn’t dressed for a ballgame, in khakis, sweater and black trench coat with a convention tote bag slung over my shoulder — to find my conference badge to prove it to her. I found the badge, showed it to her … and she looked at me like I was crazy, shaking her head.
“I’m telling the truth,” I said.
“Go in,” she said. “But don’t sit anywhere,” she said.
“Thank you! And I won’t.”
And I didn’t. Not that she would know, of course, but I’m very much a follow-the-rules person.
My first stop was the beer stand right inside the gate — I needed to toast myself for my accomplishment, right? Beer in hand, I walked through a tunnel and into the left-field corner of Camden Yards. There, on the opposite side, I finally saw the front of the warehouse I’d been looking across the street at for a couple days. Of course it looks better than on television.
I walked along until I found a place to stand near home plate. Since I was in, I was going to have a good view. It was the eighth inning by this time and, according to the magical Baseball Reference, I saw Scott Hatteburg, Eric Byrnes and Marco Scutaro bat. Don’t really remember that, but I do remember seeing Kiko Calero walk out to the mound for the bottom of the eighth, making his A’s debut. And the first batter he faced was Sammy Sosa.
I do remember this, for Sosa was making his Orioles debut that day — and the Baltimore fans were excited. (Look at the photo for proof! And it was amazing to me photos from Opening Day 2005 in Baltimore were still online.) He reached on an error by Scutaro.
Around this same time, a guy started talking to me. Given that it was my first time at the ballpark and it was the bottom of the eighth inning, I was annoyed — I just wanted to watch what little game still remained in peace. He asked if I was an Orioles fan and I said no, Cardinals. When he knew that Kiko had been a Card the previous year, I decided he could be worth talking to.
And he was.
His name was Jim, he lived near the ballpark and his fiancee was from St. Louis. He pointed out several things about the ballpark that I hadn’t noticed — most notably that Cal Ripken Jr. was seated a few sections over from where we were standing. As the game progressed and there were two outs in the top of the ninth, the usher for the section in front of us pulled a camera out of his jacket pocket and took photos after the final out was made before resuming his duties. It was cool to see he was a fan first, employee second.
Jim asked if I wanted to get a beer across the street, so we did and talked more about baseball and the Cardinals. I had to leave soon after, to meet my coworker back at the hotel before we left for our planned dinner.
I’ve been back to Camden Yards one other time, in July 2008 to see the Angels and Orioles play. Coincidentally, we went in through the same gate I’d entered three years earlier. Our seats weren’t nearly as good as my standing-room perch had been in 2005, but the stadium was about half as full so we moved to other seats.
And I chuckled to myself about how I’d followed the ticket taker’s instructions to not sit anywhere on Opening Day.