New ballpark amenities await O's fans
(Carroll County Times)

BALTIMORE - When fans come to Oriole Park on Friday for Opening Day, the 20-year old stadium will look the same in many ways yet very different in others.

After two decades of laurels and nearly as many copycat ballparks, the Baltimore Orioles decided that the ballpark could use a little touching up.

In 1992, the Orioles opened the first retro ballpark, and it seemed that every Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati wanted its own.

"We didn't know that at the time," said Janet Marie Smith, the Orioles' Vice President of Planning and Development.

After years of hearing nothing but compliments, it was time to look at what the copycats were doing.

"We learned from other parks," Smith said. "But we also learned from ourselves."

Smith helped design Oriole Park in her first stint with the team from 1989-94, and has lived in Baltimore ever since. She commuted to jobs in Atlanta and Boston, where she helped convert Atlanta's Olympic Field into Turner Stadium and redevelop Fenway Park.

In September 2009, she rejoined the Orioles with a mandate from the team's owner, Peter Angelos, to spruce up the ballpark. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with Oriole Park, but Smith said the team, working with the Maryland Stadium Authority, took advantage of necessary repairs.

"Every time they did a repair-instead of just a one-to-one replacement, why not improve on it?" she said.

With new concrete, came wider seats. The team experimented on its training complex in Sarasota, Fla. Besides making it attractive for players, Smith tested out a casual seating area at Ed Smith Stadium, with bar stools and drink rails.

For its 20th anniversary, the Orioles added a new roof deck in center field, which seats 500, available to any ticketed fan.

"What we're telling fans right now is: be here when the gates open and rush right on up," Smith said. "Anyone with a ticket can go up there - and we're interested to see how our fans will use it."

The view from the deck is far different than any Oriole Park fan has seen. They can watch for an inning or two-mixing drinks with their baseball and enjoy a view of both the game and downtown Baltimore.

The roof deck will be open year-round, and so will the flag court where six statues honoring the team's Hall of Famers: Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken. One statue will be unveiled each month.

There's also a change that could affect the game. After consulting with manager Buck Showalter and Angelos, Smith had the railings in the right field flag court lowered four feet so that average-sized fans can watch the game from Eutaw Street.

Smith doesn't think the change will affect the game very much.

"In the 20 years we've been here, we've only had 57 home runs hit on Eutaw Street, so we know we hadn't created a bandbox," she said. "It's still a pretty good shot down here. I don't think the four feet is going to make a material difference."

Besides the changes to the stadium, there are some new dining options. Gino's, which opened its first Baltimore-area outlet in two decades last year, has added a branch in right field featuring a "Camden Giant," a hamburger and crab cake.

Former Orioles catcher, coach and current broadcaster Rick Dempsey is opening a restaurant on Eutaw Street.

"Dempsey's Brew Pub and Restaurant," will be open on Friday, and have a grand opening later this month.

"It's the best ballpark in America, and we've always needed an upscale restaurant," Dempsey said.

Dempsey's will be open year-round, and the 1983 World Series MVP will be on hand after games to meet and greet. The restaurant will feature local fare, a martini bar and have beer brewed on-site.

"You're not going to have a better experience at any ballpark anywhere in the world," Dempsey said.