Peter Schmuck's Camden Yards 25 for 25: The best of Oriole Park after 25 years

Peter Schmuck is the only Baltimore Sun sportswriter who has covered the Orioles in some capacity continuously since the day ground was broken on Camden Yards. So, on the occasion of the ballpark’s 25th-anniversary weekend honoring the first team to play at Oriole Park, here are his 25 most memorable characters, magic moments and miscellany from the past quarter century. Enjoy.

Top five Camden Yards moments

Sept. 6, 1995: What else? Cal Ripken Jr.’s record 2,131st consecutive game

We can argue about the rest of them, but sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one. Cal saluting his father. Joe DiMaggio weeping after Lou Gehrig’s record fell. The victory lap. The fact that I could start writing after the fifth inning. This magic moment was pitch-perfect, right down to the Shawn Boskie pitch that Ripken knocked into the left-field bleachers an inning before the celebration.

April 6, 1992: The first Opening Day

With so many of the guys who were on that first team in town for this reunion weekend, it’s only fair to remember just how special the first regular-season game at Oriole Park really was. Rick Sutcliffe shaking off a case of the flu to spin a five-hit shutout in his Orioles debut. Billy Ripken and Chris Hoiles driving in the only two runs in the game. And the real stars of the show — the sparkling new ballpark and the refurbished B&O Warehouse — pointing the way to Major League Baseball’s new architectural future.

Sept. 6, 1996: Eddie Murray’s midnight milestone

I was filling in on the game for Buster Olney that night, so there had to be a long rain delay and Eddie Murray had to wait almost until the stroke of midnight to hit his milestone 500th career home run — one year to the day after Ripken ran down the Iron Horse. Murray wasn’t too chummy with the local media and he would have the last laugh on all of us on this night, knocking several deadlines out of the park along with that historic homer.

Sept. 28, 2011: The turning point

The Orioles would end a string of 14 losing seasons with their playoff run in 2012, but the turning point really came six months before Opening Day. The strange and wonderful night when the Orioles staged a miracle comeback to knock the rival Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs was really the spark that ignited a baseball renaissance in Baltimore. All hail “The Curse of the Andino.”

1992: Installation of the ceiling fan above my original seat in the press box

I had spent a lot of soggy, sweaty August nights at Memorial Stadium during my visits from California and my first two years covering the Orioles, so when I won the coin toss between The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post for first dibs on a press box seat, I took the one directly under an electrical junction box. That’s why I’ve always been the coolest baseball writer in Baltimore.

Top five architectural features at or around Camden Yards

The B&O Warehouse

Can you believe that there were actually people during the design phase for Oriole Park who wanted to tear down the deteriorating B&O Warehouse and replace it with a view of the Convention Center and the Sheraton Hotel? Fortunately, they were outvoted and the historic old railroad building ended up being a big reason why Camden Yards became the model for a whole generation of brand-new throwback ballparks. Unfortunately, somebody later got the bright idea to build a hotel behind left field and obscure the view of the Bromo Seltzer Tower and much of the city skyline.

The rooftop deck

The rooftop deck, which sits atop the dark green batter’s eye in center field, opened in 2012 with an obvious nod to the popular seating area that was added atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston. That first season, the two rows of seats that face the field could be accessed by any ticket holder on a first-come, first-served basis, but the Orioles decided the following year to put them up for sale.

The Baltimore Sun clock

Let me just say that I was under no pressure to include The Sun sign and clock on this list, but why take any chances at this point in my career. The old-fashioned clock helps fans time the nightly rain delays and the “H” and the “E” in The Sun sign flash to alert them whether a play was ruled an error or a hit. If they wanted to, the Orioles could also illuminate the “S” to signal each strikeout, but that would require too much electricity and contribute to climate change.

The flag court

The short porch in right field has long been a favorite of restless fans and home run hunters. It’s a great place to stand above right field and watch a few innings or eat your Boog’s pulled pork sandwich without risking a lap full of barbecue sauce.

The Eutaw Street corridor

The walkway that stretches between the Warehouse and the stadium is both a thoroughfare and a reliquary of home run history. We’re all still waiting for the first game-action home run to hit the Warehouse on the fly, but the balls that fall just short are immortalized with a bronze marker noting the hitter and date of the home run. If you decide to read them, just make sure to keep your head up while the ball is in play.

Top five Camden Yards characters no longer with us

Ernie Tyler

Longtime umpire attendant Ernie Tyler was the Orioles’ never-take-a-day-off guy long before Ripken embarked on his record consecutive-games streak. Tyler worked every Orioles home game from the start of the 1960 season until mid-2007, a string of 3,819 games that started four months before Cal was born and ended nine years after Ripken’s record playing streak did. More importantly, Tyler worked every game with a jack-o’-lantern smile on his face. Just a wonderful guy.

Rex Barney

It was 20 years ago last week that beloved Orioles stadium announcer Rex Barney’s distinctive voice went silent, but I still wait for it every time a fan reaches up and snags a foul ball in flight. “Give that fan a contract!” would ring out as the crowd jeered the lucky guy or gal who made the play. In his other life, Barney pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers and was a teammate of Jackie Robinson.

Elrod Hendricks

If you’re over 25 and you don’t miss Elrod, you’re not really a lifelong Orioles fan. Elrod played parts of 11 seasons with the Orioles from 1968 to 1979, but not all in a row. He also made a brief stop with the Chicago Cubs in 1972 and played parts of two seasons with the New York Yankees in 1976 and 1977. Though he was never more than a platoon catcher, he played in four World Series before becoming a fixture on the Orioles coaching staff and spending 28 years as the club’s bullpen coach. When he wasn’t helping major league relievers, he was at some clinic or batting cage working with youngsters. He was a sweet guy and a laugh riot. What more could anyone ask?

Johnny Oates

The Orioles’ first manager at Oriole Park was a journeyman reserve catcher who started his playing career in Baltimore and came back to coach and manage the major league club from 1989-94. He led the Orioles to an 89-73 record in their first season at Camden Yards and his .519 winning percentage ranks sixth in modern franchise history. Oates went on to lead the Texas Rangers to the playoffs three times before his life was cut short in 2004 by terminal brain cancer, but his positive attitude throughout his illness made him an inspiration to fans of both teams.

Mike Flanagan

Mike Flanagan will be remembered most for an Orioles playing career that included a Cy Young Award and two World Series appearances, but his post-playing career stretched into both the front office and the broadcast booth before his death in 2011. I’ll remember him for his humility, his dry wit and the jump shot he could still stick in your eye at 50 years old during our pick-up basketball games in spring training.

Top five Camden Yards concessions items

Boog’s pulled pork sandwich

Been going out to Eutaw Street to see Boog Powell and enjoy baseball’s best barbecue stand for many, many years and it never gets old — unlike Boog and I, who have been piling up the seasons higher than the pulled pork on one of his sandwiches. Next to the B&O Warehouse, Boog’s BBQ might be the most recognizable and memorable feature at Camden Yards.

Uncle Teddy’s cinnamon pretzel

This one is just a sweet memory. There was a time when people lined up at the Uncle Teddy’s stand on the first base concourse to get fresh, piping-hot pretzels made right in front of them. My favorite was the one coated with butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar. Unfortunately, it was replaced years ago with a lesser pretzel stand that — for me — never quite measured up to the taste and quality of Uncle Teddy’s. That was my seventh-inning-stretch snack of choice and I miss it more than the four-pitch intentional walk.

Tako Korean tacos

Who wouldn’t like a couple of spicy Korean kogi beef tacos on a hot August night at the Yard? To be honest, I love tacos so much I would be in that line if it were a Taco Bell concession stand, but the Asian twist makes it all the more special (if that’s really possible). I’ll make a final decision on that when they add a Korean Frito Gordito to the menu.

Gino’s Giant

It seems like only yesterday that there was a Gino’s hamburger stand under the new rooftop deck in center field, bringing back memories of those halcyon days when Gino Marchetti’s burger chain was a big hit in Baltimore. I wasn’t around here then and I’ll never change my opinion that the In-N-Out Double-Double is the greatest fast-food double cheeseburger in the history of great double cheeseburgers. But the Gino’s Giant was a very strong addition to the ballpark food array until the stand was replaced by the Baltimore Burger Bar after the 2014 season.The Gino’s stand also offered a “Camden Giant,” which featured a crab cake in place of one of the burgers, but it was just an opportunity to ruin a good burger and a good crab cake at the same time.

Dempsey’s bacon on a stick

OK, this isn’t technically a concession item, since it’s served in Dempsey’s Brew Pub in the Warehouse. But that’s where you have to go if you want to buy a delicious half-inch-thick slice of bacon that’s served on a stick so you can walk up and down Eutaw Street waving it in the faces of people who also love bacon but can’t afford bypass surgery.

Top five fan giveaways

Orioles Hawaiian shirts

Of course, an aloha shirt giveaway would be my favorite, but it turned out to be one of the most popular giveaways in Orioles history. We just wouldn’t realize it until the shirts started turning up on fans at every Orioles road stop and continue to do so two years later. It wasn’t exactly Tommy Bahama quality, but it was surprisingly wearable for a giveaway item. If only they had ordered a few in Size XXXL, I’d still be proud to wear one.

Brian Roberts bobblehead fiasco

The most promoted bobblehead series of 2006 ran aground when a shipment of 20,000 Brian Roberts bobblehead dolls showed up with a rather noticeable flaw. The manufacturer had produced a B-Rob-Bob with unusually dark skin. The shipment was returned and fans got a voucher for a white Roberts bobblehead later in the season. Though the team tried hard to prevent the originals to get out to collectors, there are a few floating around on internet trading sites. It is sometimes described as a “rare black Brian Roberts bobblehead,” but the coloring is more of a tawny purple.

Orioles replica Hall of Fame statues

The 2012 season was a pretty good one for collectors of Orioles giveaway items, because that was the year of the Orioles Legends Celebration Series. The team periodically unveiled the statues of their six Hall of Famers in the open space behind center field and gave away replicas of each statue at the game before which each person’s likeness was dedicated. The giveaways remain prominent on the internet auction sites … and, of course, on the mantels of true Orioles fans.

Buck Showalter garden gnome

Never quite understood the appeal of the whole garden gnome thing, but the Buck Showalter edition was particularly special because of his seeming reluctance to embrace the 2015 giveaway. He balked when someone put it on the podium for his postgame media conference, but eventually loosened up and allowed that it was “an honor” to be immortalized as a 7½-inch-tall elfin creature. Bidding for his gnome almost reached triple figures at the time and still is priced on eBay at just under $50.

Miniature Camden Yards replica

It’s the latest Orioles freebie and it will be given out Saturday night to every fan in attendance at the second game of the series against the Los Angeles Angels. Looks just like the real ballpark, only millions of times smaller so that it will fit next to that pen set on your desk that you never use. Perfect for the baseball fan who has always wanted to own his own stadium.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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