A look into the changes coming at Camden Yards

Orioles fans have known since December that their ballpark at Camden Yards will have a different look when the O's open the regular season against the Minnesota Twins on April 6. Now, it's time to take an early peek at the changes that are being made for Oriole Park's season-long 20th Anniversary celebration.

The Orioles have made the first rendering of the most visible improvements available to The Baltimore Sun to give fans a preview of how the ballpark will look when all of the modifications are complete.

"It's all part of making it a richer experience," said Orioles executive vice president of business operations Doug Duennes. "Like anything in life, if you stand still you're going to get passed by. If you look at any of the ballparks that have been built since Camden Yards, after the first five, 10 or 20 years, teams take a look at different trends, to see how we can improve on it."

Camden Yards already is known as one of the most fan-friendly stadiums in professional sports, and its nouveau-traditional design changed the way ballparks and stadiums have been built for the last two decades.

That's not just me talking. Orioles Park sparked an architectural revolution in sports construction that has altered the cityscape in major sports markets across America and contributed mightily to Major League Baseball's dramatic economic renaissance.

Author and political commentator George Will once called the opening of Camden Yards one of the three most important developments in the baseball during the post-war era, along with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier and the advent of free agency.

The only challenge left is keeping it fresh now that it is — almost shockingly — the 10th oldest ballpark in the major leagues.

"This comes from a mandate from Peter Angelos to keep the place lively," said Janet Marie Smith, a key player in the original design of the ballpark who is overseeing the improvement project. "He didn't want the ballpark to ever look tired."

Don't know if it was really ever in danger of that, but the alterations will make the park even more fan-friendly and likely will make it more hitter-friendly, too.

Take a look. The short porch in right field has been made a little bit shorter to make it easier for fans to see the field —with four feet of the 25-foot wall replaced by railing— and the picnic area behind center field is being transformed into a more accessible gathering place that includes a new bar and a seating section atop the batter's eye wall. The area will be open to the public year-round during daylight hours when the team is not playing a home game.

The new raised seating area is a bit reminiscent of the cool section atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park, so even the legions of irritating Red Sox fans who travel down each summer will feel more at home.

There also will be new concessions at the north end of Eutaw Street, new flooring and wall coverings throughout the main concourse, a new restaurant and a canopy added to the B&O Warehouse to help fans stay dry on rainy days.

Though most of the upgrades should be completed by Opening Day, the center pieces of the center field renovation — statues of the Orioles' six Hall of Famers —will be unveiled on six special dates over the course of the season. Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. each will have a day or night in his honor to celebrate his contribution to the modern franchise's storied history.

The construction-related upgrades were funded with $1.8 million from the Maryland Stadium Authority's Supplemental Improvements Fund. The statues and a lot more was paid for by the Orioles, who should be able to offset some of that cost with the big gates from the six special nights honoring the Hall of Famers. The club already has unveiled a special six-game ticket plan for those games and will distribute collectible replicas of the statue unveiled to fans in attendance at each game.

Well-known Maryland sculptor Antonio Mendez, who has produced two public sculptures of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, as well as statues of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan in Arlington, Texas and coaching great Don Shula in Miami, created all six statues, which have been cast into bronze by the New Arts Foundry in Baltimore.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Read Peter Schmuck's blog, The Schmuck Stops Here at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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