Of all the unique nuances that still make Oriole Park at Camden Yards the standard-bearer of the retro ballparks that followed, it is the old B&O railroad warehouse beyond the right-field wall that is the most iconic feature of Baltimore's crown jewel.
To any left-handed hitter, whether it's an Orioles player or an opponent, the eight-story brick structure that spans 1,116 feet along Eutaw Street — making it the longest brick building east of the Mississippi River — beckons.
From the field, the girth of the building makes it seem like a reasonable target, and when the ballpark opened in 1992, the windows on the first three floors were installed with shatterproof glass because of a concern from the Maryland Stadium Authority that home runs would hit off the warehouse regularly.
But as Camden Yards celebrates its 25th anniversary this season, only one ball has ever hit on the fly, when Ken Griffey, Jr. reached the building during the All-Star Game Home Run Derby with a blast estimated at 465 feet 24 years ago Tuesday.
That is the only batted ball to touch the warehouse, and through more than 2,000 games at Camden Yards, no hitter has ever reached the building in a game, creating a kind of mythical nature to the ballpark's most recognizable feature. Griffey's blast is marked by a plaque.
Many have come close in games. Ninety-one home run balls have landed on Eutaw Street, the 60-foot-wide in-park concourse beyond the right-field flag court, and some of those balls have hit the warehouse on a bounce. And while the warehouse can be reached down the right-field line at just 439 feet — a length that is often hit by today's standards — it has yet to take a ball on the fly in a game.
Going into this season, Montreal Expos outfielder Henry Rodriguez owns the farthest Eutaw Street blast, hitting a ball 443 feet in 1997, but the blast didn't come close to hitting the warehouse because it was hit to right-center field.
The perfect shot toward the warehouse would be down the line, and Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons came close in 2003 with a ball that hugged the foul pole against the Philadelphia Phillies with an estimated 420-foot blast. The Houston Astros' Lance Berkman and Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon also came close, hitting home runs of 430 and 425 feet, respectively, within two weeks of each other in 2008, and if their balls were just slightly more toward the line, they might have had the best chances of hitting the warehouse.
Janet Marie Smith, the Orioles' architect responsible for making the team's vision for Camden Yards come to life, said that while the warehouse played a key role in laying out the asymmetrical dimensions that team president Larry Lucchino wanted for the ballpark while also meeting then-manager Frank Robinson's desire for the park to play fair, the warehouse more served as the vehicle for the novelty of the Eutaw Street concourse as a landing spot for home runs rather than be any intended target itself.
"One of the questions was how big should the bleacher section and the flag court over the right-field wall be because we wanted there to be enough home runs to be hit onto Eutaw Street, where it would be a novelty and exciting, but not so many that it was an everyday occurrence. So to tell you the truth, it was more about how the ball landed on the street that we were fixated on and less so whether the warehouse was a target. But in setting the dimensions as we did, with the 50-foot-wide Eutaw Street and the flag court being another possibly 50-feet wide, there was a concern that the Maryland Stadium Authority had that the warehouse could be hit and if it could be hit that those offices on the lowers floors could be vulnerable."
Still, over the years, it hasn't stopped hitters from taking aim — with all but Griffey falling short.
"You think about that warehouse staring at you," said former major leaguer and current MLB Network studio analyst Cliff Floyd, who played in the American League East with the Boston Red Sox in 2002 and the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008. "And trust me, many times in batting practice, even though I didn't play a lot in the American League, we all tried to hit that damn thing and never did. It wasn't like you weren't trying, but it was one of those things where you're like, 'Eh, I'm probably not going to hit it unless I one-hop it. From home plate, a lot of guys probably think they have a chance, but when you go back there and walk through the street, you see the distance between the right-field wall and the building."
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis' 10 homers onto Eutaw Street are the most for any player, and Davis has long been intrigued by the warehouse, so much so that he's visited Eutaw Street several times to look at the markers designating the homers hit there and their distances.
"My first couple of [full] seasons here, I hit quite a few homers onto Eutaw Street," Davis said. "And I didn't pay that much attention to it until I'd say about halfway through the year in 2013 because I had hit some balls up to that point that I thought, 'Man, that's got to be all over it.' … I started getting more and more curious about where these balls were landing, whether they were even close. So I decided one afternoon to go up there as close to game time as I could. We're talking around 4 o'clock, and I just got up there and just walked around and looked at some of the markers."
Davis noticed a steady breeze along Eutaw Street the first time he went to look at the markers. He didn't know whether it was just that day, but on other occasions there still always seemed to be a steady breeze blowing off the warehouse.
When the dimensions of Camden Yards were being laid out, studies were done to gauge the warehouse's impact on the wind to ensure it wouldn't significantly affect play, Smith said.
"In the whole course of trying to set the field dimensions, there was a lot of speculation about whether we should make it a little further than you think it ought to be to account for what the wind might do or is it going to hit the warehouse and bounce back, so should it be a little closer?" Smith said. "At the end of the day, you do the best you can and I think it feels like it's a pretty comfortable set of dimensions."
A glance at the two oriole bird weather vanes placed on opposite sides of the top of the center-field scoreboard give a clue that there is a wind blowing in along the warehouse, Smith said.
"You know there's an impact," Smith said. "The one closest to the warehouse is always kicking in a little … And that would indicate it's true that there is wind coming through Eutaw Street hitting the warehouse and bouncing back in a different way than the way it swirls around the rest of the park."
Though Davis' power is more naturally toward the middle of the field, he said he's seen balls he's hit toward the flag court drift toward right-center field.
"There have been a few balls that I've hit to straightaway right field that you can kind of see as they're falling," Davis said. "I wouldn't say they're being blown with that force, but just being guided that way. The tough thing about it for me is that most of the balls I've hit really far are right-center, center field, left-center, so I've always been a guy who's had more power to the middle of the field than down the lines. There have been a couple balls I've hit on the road, where I've thought, 'That would be fun to hit at home and see where it would have gone."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he's been told for years that the construction of the Hilton Baltimore beyond the left-field gates — the hotel opened in 2008 — had created a stream into left-center field.
"It's changed since that hotel was allowed to go up," Showalter said. "That changed the ballpark, they tell me. It changed to way the ball carries, especially right around the bullpen."
There's definitely been more power to left field at Camden Yards, as shown by the fact that two homers have been hit into the left-field second-deck club level this year — by Manny Machado and the Cleveland Indians' Edwin Encarnación — after just two balls landing there in the ballpark's first 25 years.
Floyd believes that if anyone will be able to hit the warehouse, it's Davis.
"Chris Davis is probably the only one who sticks out in my mind," he said. "You think if anyone's going to hit it, it's going to be Chris Davis, right? With the lofty homers that he has. But when I think back at my time of knowing a lot of players that come through Baltimore, I really don't remember too many really prolific bona-fide Aaron Judge-looking lefties that they have had. … When you think of the guys who have come through, ["Big] Papi" [David Ortiz], [Jim] Thome, and none of them came close.
"That poke is a legit pull homer. It almost has to be an off-speed pitch, maybe a cut fastball, that you absolutely destroy and turn on that ball. As left-handed hitters, right-center is usually where we hit most of our homers. We've seen some absolutely destroyed baseballs that go 20 rows deep in right-center next to the wall where the fans sit. I've seen Chris hit some balls like that."
Showalter points to the lack of prodigious left-handed power bats nowadays.
"There's a dearth of left-handed [power] hitters," Showalter said. "Look at the lineups — I've never seen it. … One thing about the warehouse, take a look at the left-handed power guys. [Rays first baseman Logan] Morrison this year, but I don't know why. I look around at the league leaders in the minors, and they're all right-handed."
Morrison, who has a career-high 24 homers at the break, was the hitter to most recently park a home run on Eutaw Street, on July 1. Three Eutaw Street homers have been hit this season, with Boston's Jackie Bradley Jr. and Cleveland's Jason Kipnis doing so before Morrison. And last season, six homers landed on the concourse, with Davis and fellow Oriole Pedro Álvarez each hitting two. But it was Morrison's blast — a towering shot down the line — that Davis thought might be it.
"I mean, as soon as he hit that ball, I jumped up and thought, that ball's got a chance to hit the warehouse and it was the same thing as most," Davis said of Morrison's 424-foot blast. "I don't know if it's reachable anymore. I don't know if we'll ever see it. There's a guy in Texas, Joey Gallo, I've heard several guys talk about how prodigious his power is and how he put several balls on top of the roof in right field in Arlington, which is unheard of.
"So I'm sure there are guys who will have the chance to do it. I would love to be the first guy to do it, especially with having all the Eutaw markers that I have out there, but I don't know. I thought Pedro Álvarez had a great chance last year. And we would have early BP sessions when I thought, he's going to hit it. And it was the same deal. I think our best bolt was on one hop. So hopefully the stars will align one way before I'm forgotten about and I can put one out there."
Smith believes another hitter will hit the warehouse eventually.
"I do, if for no other reason than Ken Griffey Jr. did it, so somebody else will," Smith said. "Was he aiming for it? I don't know. It's nice that these things aren't everyday occurrences because it would take the magic out of it. … When Frank Robinson hit [a home run] out of Memorial Stadium, that happened just once. Ken Griffey Jr.'s warehouse story will become similar that he's the only one to have hit it. But I think that's pretty interesting that that was in 1993.
"And I think at the time, if you asked me, I would have thought, well, if it's happened once within the park's first two years, then we should expect it every two years, and here we are waiting after 25 years for the second one."