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Game-day experience: Eutaw Street brings the carnival to Camden Yards

A time lapse look at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Opening Day 2017. (Baltimore Sun video)

The Orioles were poised to bat for the first time in 2017, but Tara and Marty Girch showed little inclination to rise from their perch outside Dempsey's Brew Pub.

The Ellicott City couple sipped their beers and took in the procession of Opening Day life along Eutaw Street.

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"What's fun about this stretch is you get to see every walk of life," Tara Girch said. "Black or white, old or young. Short, tall, fat. Home fans, away fans. This is the main stretch of the park right here."

She has been coming to Camden Yards since the day it opened in 1992. She met her future husband when he cut her off in the parking lot outside. They've attended the past 19 home openers to celebrate their union. And on Monday, Eutaw Street was the only place they cared to be.

The rains held off, and the Orioles treated a sellout crowd of 45,667 to a tense 3-2 win over the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays, secured with an 11th-inning home run by designated hitter Mark Trumbo.

Toronto ended the Orioles' 2016 season with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning in the A.L. wild-card round. So the opener offered a dose of payback after six months.

It also kicked off a season-long 25th anniversary celebration for Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Fans roared as Orioles, familiar and new, ran down the traditional orange carpet to begin another season. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, state Sen. Bobby Zirkin and retiring broadcaster Fred Manfra threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

Third baseman Manny Machado made one of the best plays you'll ever witness with a diving stop and throw in the top of the 11th.

"We've traveled all over the world," Tara Girch said from her seat outside Dempsey's. "And this is one of the best views we've seen."

Eutaw Street is Camden Yards' vital artery, the place where the city feeds into the park and where the history of the B&O Warehouse meets the state-of-the art playing surface below. It's the park's most famous drop zone for long home runs and the place where many of the building's signature sights, sounds and smells (is it really a ballgame without smoke wafting from Boog's BBQ?) come together.

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It's a promenade where kids can sit to have their caricatures drawn, adults can line up to guzzle craft beers and baseball nerds can hunt for the 88 ball-shaped plaques representing each home run that has descended on Eutaw.

When the state of Maryland agreed to build a new downtown ballpark for the Orioles, club officials were adamant that the stadium be shaped by its environment, just as Wrigley Field had been in Chicago and Fenway Park had been in Boston. Incorporating an extension of Eutaw Street — a significant north-south thoroughfare — was essential to that plan.

In Boston, home runs struck over the Green Monster sometimes bounce on Lansdowne Street. But the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority took the additional step of actually bringing a city street into the ballpark.

For Gary "Toonboy" Smith, who has drawn caricatures at a stand on Eutaw Street since the park opened, the ambience starts with the brick warehouse looming above. He used to stare at the massive building from his office window when he first began working in Baltimore in the 1970s.

"The fact this building has been here so long makes this unlike any other ballpark in the country," Smith said, sketching all the while. "It's a big part of what makes this such a special place."

Eutaw Street always bustles in the hour before first pitch as fans take in the warehouse, peruse pennants and plaques celebrating the best players and teams in franchise history and gather to eat and drink.

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About 40 minutes before game time Monday, a serpentine line wound through the crowd to the counter of Boog Powell's outdoor temple to smoked meat. Underneath an orange tent sat the 1970 American League MVP himself, greeting every patron who wanted to share a moment.

"There's the man himself," said Steve Kovalic of Middle River, who was waiting in line for a sandwich. "That's a beautiful thing."

Kovalic attended the first Opening Day at Camden Yards on April 6, 1992, and he recalled his impressions the first time he strolled through the gate and down Eutaw Street.

"I hated the move from Memorial Stadium. Didn't like it. Didn't want it," he said. "But this place won me over in a hurry. It was that feel of stepping back in time. It gives you that Baltimore touch."

Beyond history, meat and libations, Eutaw Street offers a connection to the game itself, albeit infrequently given its distance from home plate. As green and white signs remind, fans must "Watch Out For Batted Balls."

In more than 1,900 games and 138,000 plate appearances, 88 home runs have reached Eutaw Street.

When the park opened, fans wondered who might channel the spirit of Babe Ruth and send a home run crashing off the brick facade of the warehouse. A quarter century later, it seems the feat might have been difficult even for the Bambino.

Some of the mightiest left-handed sluggers in the history of the game — Ken Griffey Jr.Jim Thome, Barry Bonds — have taken aim, but no one has hit the tantalizing target during a game. Jay Gibbons came the closest with a 420-foot shot down the line on June 28, 2003. The circular plaque for Gibbons' home run is only about five paces from the front door of Dempsey's. So close and yet so far away.

Griffey did hit the warehouse during the home-run hitting contest the day before the 1993 All-Star Game.

For many years, the Orioles reached Eutaw Street less often than their opponents. They simply did not have a left-handed bomber to do it regularly. That changed with Chris Davis' arrival in 2011.

He has become the king of Eutaw, depositing 10 home runs on the street, four more than any other player. The Orioles have hit the past nine home runs to reach Eutaw Street, and Davis was responsible for five, including shots on both Aug. 17 and 18 last season.

Tara and Marty Girch can often spot visiting fans making their initial pilgrimages to Camden Yards, because the people will plod around Eutaw Street with their heads down, searching for home-run plaques honoring their favorite players.

"I love seeing that because you know those are true baseball fans," Tara said.

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"It's not so much about the game," her husband said. "It's about the atmosphere."

The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Barker contributed to this report.

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