The last time I was at Camden Yards, it was August of 2007 and Johan Santana pitched for the Minnesota Twins as the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. After that season, my dad switched his baseball allegiance to Washington when Nationals Park opened. And before I knew it, I had gone eight seasons without attending a game in Baltimore.
Seattle was in town for a mid-week, three-game series, so my brother Charlie and I trekked up to Oriole Park for Wednesday night’s game. I schlepped in at 5 p.m. when the gates opened, and hung out in left field for Orioles BP.
Just a few minutes later, a bald, white Orioles right hander, who I presume was Steve Pearce, hit a deep fly ball to my right. I knew I could catch it, so I jogged across my empty row and realized that an usher and two women were standing on the stair case right in my path. It was too late to hop over the row of seats as the ball hit the railing on the stair case and bounced up towards the concourse. Both the usher and the women were startled by the ball and the usher jokingly pretended to be perturbed. But he, of all people, should know not to stand around during BP without an eye on the field. C’mon son!
That, unfortunately, was my closest chance of the day. The Orioles really didn’t hit that many homers, and when I finally headed over to right field when the Mariners were hitting, nothing came my way.
Once the Mariners finished hitting, I headed over to the third base side where Charlie was sitting behind the Mariners’ dugout. Oriole Park has a good reputation for being a relaxing atmosphere to watch baseball, and at no point did an usher ask to see my ticket so I can affirm that reputation.
As the players milled out of the dugout in the minutes leading up to first pitch, I moved down along the left field line, just behind third base, to see if I could snag a ball and get some better pictures. There was a family down there with a sign for Nelson Cruz, who played for the Orioles in 2014 and is still a fan favorite in Baltimore. In addition, there were a few people who were looking for an autograph from Robinson Cano. Wouldn’t ya know it, but both of those players actually acknowledged their respective fans and came over to sign some autographs.
Poor positioning and an overall lack of effort prevented me from getting down to the front row. However, I did benefit. As everyone else was concerned about getting up to Cano, I realized shortstop Chris Taylor (pictured left, facing towards the camera) was finished with his pregame throwing and had a ball in his hand. We made eye contact and I raised my hand (I didn’t have my glove on). Without any verbal prompt, he tossed the ball my way and I caught it uncontested. The same thing happened last year at Safeco Field with Brad Miller. Right place, right time sort of deal.
Taylor, by the way, was just called up last week and is taking over for Miller at shortstop. Miller is moving into a utility/designated hitter/outfielder sort of role. Since Baltimore’s starting pitcher Wednesday was left handed, the same side Miller bats, Brad unfortunately did not get to start the game. Taylor’s promotion is in no way related to underperformance from Miller, who actually won the AL Player of the Week honors last week with four home runs on the Mariners’ homestand.
When the game began, I remained in my too-good-to-be-true spot in the third row behind third base. I’m not joking, no usher ever confronted me. After several innings, I ended up moving back behind the dugout where Charlie was–an almost empty row.
In the second inning, I had my first of two foul ball chances on the day. Chris Davis, Baltimore’s left-handed clean-up batter, skied a high pop up my way. I was sitting on the end of a row, and got up to maneuver down the steps to the front rail. At first, the ball appeared to be right on its way towards me, but then descended short. Kyle Seager, Seattle’s third baseman, made the catch about 15 feet down the line from me, right next to the rail. Had the ball carried further, he would have been right next to me for the catch.
The picture right is of the exact swing that produced the foul ball. After I took the picture and saw the ball’s flight, I put the camera in my right hand and held onto it as I ran down, glove on my left hand.
As for the game, Mariner catcher Mike Zunino hit an RBI double in the second inning to put Seattle on top by one. Two innings later, outfielder and former Marlin Justin Ruggiano crushed a two-run homer into the seats in left-center.
Roenis Elias pitched a gem for Seattle, going 7 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on six hits and recording four strikeouts in the process. Taylor hit his first career triple in the seventh inning to tack on a the fourth run. And I did get to see Brad Miller play when he recorded a pinch-hit single in the top of the ninth (pictured below).
My second foul ball chance of the day also came off the bat of Chris Davis. In the bottom of the ninth, representing the tying run, he hit a high foul ball well over our heads towards the upper deck. It hit off the facade and bounced back our way. In fact, almost exactly our way. It was headed towards the home plate end of our row, and we were on the third base end. I scooted across the mostly empty row, but had to pull up because there were two people sitting down, who had previously not been there. The ball bounced on the steps (I think) and was bobbled by a bunch of fans sitting in front of us.
Back to the game. Mariners’ closer Fernando Rodney had an eventful ninth inning. Starting with a 4-1 lead, he allowed consecutive singles to bring the tying run to the plate. Davis, whose at bat included the above-described foul ball, struck out looking. Steve Pearce stepped up and was set down likewise. J.J. Hardy then singled to draw the Orioles within two, but Rodney induced a groundout on the next batter to finish the save.
I got a pretty neat picture of Rodney (right) with his signature arrow celebration. He mimes shooting an arrow, then Logan Morrison, first baseman, puts his arm around him and the two gaze at the mock arrow’s landing spot. In the picture, you can also see the first base umpire hold the ultimate “out” call, with Travis Snyder, the retired batter, pulling up in dismay.
The Mariners won by the final score of 4-2. It was Elias’s first win of the year. Ruggiano had a double in addition to the home run, and was interviewed after the game by Root Sports, the Mariners’ television network.
As this was the first game at Oriole Park in some time, as well as the first time I attended batting practice in Baltimore, I think I should re-rank it on my stadium list. Oriole Park, after all, was the trailblazer of the so-called “ballpark revolution.” Many new stadiums were modeled after it and have mimicked its charm.
My previous top three were, in order: PETCO Park, Great American Ball Park, and Safeco Field.
I have to take into account the surrounding city, so it therefore cannot best PETCO Park in San Diego. Oriole Park, since it’s right next to M&T Bank Stadium (home of the Baltimore Ravens) is in a similar position to Safeco Field, where the surrounding neighborhood is a sports district. Great American is also in that spot near Cincinnati’s football stadium. In that sense, Camden Yards has a better district than both Safeco and Great American. It’s cleaner, easier to navigate, and just feels ballpark-ish.
Further, Oriole Park is better for batting practice than both PETCO and Safeco. There’s more left field seating as well as the flag court in right field that provides an open space for batting practice maneuvering. It’s also a bit easier to navigate than PETCO. The warehouse decorating right field is a unique feature and defining characteristic. Finally, the fans and ushers are both of utmost friendliness. All things considered, Oriole Park at Camden Yards now ranks #2, behind PETCO and in front of Great American and Safeco. The #5-11 parks are, in order: Fenway, Minute Maid, Marlins, Nationals, Dodger Stadium, Turner Field, and RFK Stadium.
Finally, the ball Taylor threw me was the first I’ve acquired this season. Therefore, it was my first with Rob Manfred’s, the new commissioner’s, signature.
Every Major League Baseball I had acquired up to yesterday bore the signature of Allen “Bud” Selig, the previous commissioner who retired in January.