2011 marks the twentieth season that Oriole Park at Camden Yards has been the home of the Baltimore Orioles, and despite the product on the field, the park remains one of the most beautiful in baseball. And judging by the number of out-of-town fans I encounter on a regular basis, a desirable vacation spot.
When Camden Yards opened in 1992 it was immediately heralded as a unique and amazing ballpark, and one year later the Orioles got to show their home off to all of baseball as they hosted the 64th annual MLB All-Star Game. But it wasn't just a game, it was a celebration of Baltimore and of the Orioles' gem of a ballpark. There were street festivals and concerts and a fan fests surrounding the main event. It was great.
I was fourteen years old, and while I didn't have a chance to go to the game itself, I did attend the fan fest and all-star workout day that preceded it. After wandering around the fan fest at the convention center in the morning, me, my father, and my friend Jenny Stevenson found our seats in the upper deck on the third-base side. The sun was blazing and by the end of the day we were all sunburned.
I've lost touch with Jenny over the years, but one thing I will always remember about her is how much she loved Mike Mussina. You might think you were the biggest Mussina fan in the 1990s, or that you know someone else who was. But you would be wrong, because nobody loved Mike Mussina more than Jenny Stevenson. She was giddy the entire time we were there and while I don't specifically remember her reaction to Mussina not pitching in the actual game, I'm sure she was livid.
The all-star workout is unique, because there are professional baseball players everywhere and while they're in uniform and on the field, they are more relaxed than you ever see on game day. From our place in the upper deck we had a great view of the entire stadium. Mussina hung out with Cal Ripken and some other all-stars in the outfield for quite some time, and all of the players interacted with the fans, tossing balls into the crowd and signing autographs.
The biggest news from the home run derby was, of course, that Ken Griffey Jr. hit the warehouse on a fly, the first and only time that has ever happened. But the truth is I don't even remember that. I remember hearing about it after it happened, but I don't remember the swing when it happened. Perhaps it was the location of our seats, but when I think of that home run derby, all I remember is Juan Gonzalez. I can still see the arc of the ball that he hit to the upper deck in left field and the home run that hit off of the green wall in center field. I had never seen anything like it.
Other festivities included the celebrity derby which featured exactly one home run. It was hit by Tom Selleck. The only other celebrity I remember was Michael Jordan. There was also an old timers' game with Brooks Robinson. It was just about the most perfect day that 14 year old Stacey could imagine. And that was before the actual All-Star Game even happened.
I already talked about the game when highlighting Mike Mussina's snub a few days ago, but the American League put a whooping on the National League. As the broadcasters ooh'd and ah'd over the retro beauty of Camden Yards and the perfect way it was built into the city's landscape, Cal Ripken went 0-3 and home runs from Kirby Puckett and Roberto Alomar led the team to victory.
Those were good days. It's hard to remember, but back then people liked Peter Angelos as an owner. The Orioles were coming off of an 89-win season in 1992 and in the midst of an 85-win 1993. Camden Yards was sold out every night and the national press couldn't stop going on about what an amazing place it was. It was a different time for Orioles baseball, one that makes me both happy and sad to remember.