Camden Yards gets new warning track, higher foul screen

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles trumpet their offseason acquisitions in today's home opener, to wit: a spiffy new warning track and an expanded foul screen behind home plate.

Fans likely won't notice the new warning track, that rubberized surface that surrounds the playing field.

"It's the same exact thing that was here before," said Nicole Sherry, the Orioles' new head groundskeeper.

The old brown warning track lasted six years - perhaps its limit, given the gopher-ball leanings of ex-Orioles pitchers Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez, who allowed 60 home runs between them in 2006.

The foul screen has grown by 9 feet in height, to 26 feet - a change no doubt triggered by an accident that occurred in the stands last season. In September, a foul ball off the bat of the Orioles' Jay Gibbons sailed over the screen and plunked Gibbons' wife, Laura, in the ribs.

She wasn't injured seriously, but Gibbons - the team's player representative - used the incident to press the Orioles to increase the size of the black mesh screen,

Food-wise, fans can chow down on a number of new treats available at concession stands, including sandwiches meatball subs and Italian hoagies, said Dave Freireich, spokesman for Aramark.

Ballpark cuisine will be cooked with healthier ingredients, Freireich said. Aramark retired its old peanut fryer oil and promoted a smarter blend of sunflower-and-corn oil.

"We want to help fans better manage their consumption of trans fats," he said.

At the Pastimes Cafe, off Eutaw Street, patrons can dine on first-year fare ranging from hand-carved turkey sandwiches to grab-and-go salads. Another new food station: build your own burgers (beef, turkey and veggie) with a full lineup of toppings.

Club-level concessions feature more rookie offerings: fruit, yogurt and granola parfaits, as well as spinach, basil and tomato salads.

"The societal trend is moving toward healthier options, even at ballparks," Freireich said.

Times are changing at souvenir stands, too. Female-oriented keepsakes - from pink foam fingers to women's pajama pants bearing the Orioles logo - abound at the Orioles Team Store adjacent to the ballpark.

"The women's rack is one of our fastest-growing lines," said Larry Grimaldi, Aramark's retail manager at Oriole Park. "We've increased women's items this year by as much as 40 percent."

Now for sale: pink baseballs, muted celery-colored caps and pink baseball bats. For $20, you can buy a pink T-shirt emblazoned with the name and number of Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts.

"He seems to be most popular with the ladies," Grimaldi said.

Much of the new merchandise is geared to a former Oriole. The store has hitched its wagon to the Hall of Fame star of Cal Ripken Jr., soon to be drummed into Cooperstown.

At the Orioles Store, rows of Ripken memorabilia greet patrons, who must wade through stacks of "Iron Man" T-shirts, caps and 18-inch mini-bats to reach - what else? - a row of Ripken jerseys stamped with the 1983 cartoon Oriole.

One item stands out: a Ripken T-shirt bearing a screen-printed photo of the former Orioles star.

On this particular shirt, even Ripken's head is bright orange.

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