As Oriole fans all over Birdland discuss how a promising 6-1 start has quickly turned into an August-esque eight game losing streak, we should all take time to remember former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor William Donald Schaefer, who passed away last evening at the age of 89.
While the Orioles are in the midst of 13-straight losing seasons, we've at least been able to watch them falter in what is arguable one of the best and most influential baseball stadiums in the U.S. and we have Schaefer to thank for that.
After the Colts slithered away to Indy in 1984, which was fueled mainly by the issue of the city not wanting to build a new stadium to replace what was becoming an outdated and inadequate Memorial Stadium, there were fears that the Orioles could do the same thing if a new stadium wasn't built. Feeling personally responsible for the loss of the Colts, even thought he himself wasn't a football fan, Schaefer was determined to not let history repeat itself with the Orioles.
Knowing the impact a new baseball stadium could provide as the cornerstone for additional downtown revitalization, Schaefer worked tirelessly to get Oriole Park at Camden Yards built in a time when cities weren't exactly running out and building publicly financed stadiums for their sports teams. Schaefer knew the great economic impact a new stadium could have on the city and also knew that if the city wanted to get another NFL team, the Orioles and that team of the future needed their own separate stadiums.
Finally, the decision was made to build the Orioles their own stadium. But this wasn't going to be just another cookie-cutter, concrete donate stadium that the 70s and 80s were known for. Rather, the stadium would have a retro and open feel, embracing the historic brick architecture of Baltimore and blending into and revitalizing the Camden Yards train depot area. The result was miraculous - an old school feel with a new twist, embracing the old and making it new, all while breathing new life into what was previously a lifeless area. The only problem was - what to name it? Schaefer, now governor, wanted to call it Camden Yards, honoring the old B&O warehouse and train history that the site possessed. Then Orioles owner Eli Jacobs wanted it to be called Oriole Park. The two agreed to combine the names, which is how Oriole Park at Camden Yards was born.
When the stadium opened its gates for the first time in 1992, it received rave reviews and breathed new life into the Orioles' fan base. Games were constantly sold out and everyone across the U.S. wanted to see the new stadium in Baltimore that everyone was talking about. Schaefer has achieved his goal - build the Orioles and new stadium and keep them playing in Baltimore and revitalize yet another downtown area, providing a big economic boom to the city of Baltimore. But Oriole Park did more than that - it also inspired a new ballpark frenzy across the U.S., as cities tried to replicate the model Baltimore followed to breath more life into both their teams and their downtowns.
So despite the recent lack of on the field productivity by the Orioles, at least we still get to watch them play in what remains one of the best stadiums in the U.S. - one that inspired a baseball stadium renaissance across the country that continues today. And for that, we should tip our cap to William Donald Schaefer. Whether or not you agreed with his political ideology, you knew he wanted the best for Baltimore and the State of Maryland. And I'm reminded of that every time I walk onto Eutaw Street and look around at the awesomeness that is Oriole Park at Camden Yards.