Major League Baseball stadiums don't get any better than Oriole Park at Camden Yards. That doesn't mean that Camden Yards can't be improved upon, though. On Monday, the Baltimore Business Journal posted an article about planned renovations to the stadium, in which the team hopes to continue the trend from recent years of giving facelifts here and there while preserving the classic retro feel.
Not all change is automatically bad. Some things that have been done in the stadium in the last few years include the addition of the rooftop bar out in center field, the sponsored party areas in the club level down the right field line, the placement of the legend statues out next to the bullpen picnic area, and even a renovated flag court above the out of town scoreboard.
None of those sorts of things have done anything other than blend in to what's already going on with Camden Yards. One can hope that means that the latest round of things being discussed can do the same. It is the case that the Orioles will be working with the same architecture firm, Populous, that originally designed the stadium. And at least one of the changes is very exciting to consider.
If you've been to any of the newer stadiums since Camden Yards opened, one thing you have probably noticed that's present there but not in Baltimore is an open view of the field from the concourse. That was an idea that took hold for MLB stadium design after Camden Yards was built. A few years ago, I made a trip to see the O's play in Philadelphia and the open concourse look there was the thing that stood out to me the most.
Imagine if you could stand in line for a hot dog or a beer without having to restrain your view of the game to one of those tiny TVs above the concession stands. Sounds like a great idea! There is really only one problem to contend with, just a small thing, really.
(Photo: Mark Brown/Camden Chat)
OK, maybe that's more than one thing. This is from the approximate first pitch time of Tuesday's game, which was delayed due to weather that never arrived. It filled in more by the time the game actually began. There are some seats in the way, and underneath those seats are concession stands and bathrooms, places that you can't just move willy-nilly. It is not an overnight project to do this, even if you were to limit the concourse view to a few sections near home plate.
Even if you're committed to making those moves, probably moving the heavier concessions equipment and also the bathrooms to the outer part of the concourse perimeter and moving the free-standing beer vendors to the inner half, where they don't block much of the view, you're getting rid of a whole lot of seats to open up the concourse.
There are 13 rows worth of seats in these sections, and these are not the cheap, nosebleed seats - although the back rows are not desirable due to the club level seats hanging above. The only thing to recommend them is it's a place to sit in the shade or where it's dry on a rainy day.
One way that you could make up some of the seating capacity, though probably not all of it, is by adding a few rows onto the back of the existing lower level sections. If all of that concrete is out of the picture, there's room to get seats closer to the field, and fans could just walk around the concourse without having to come through tunnels of concrete to get to their seats in those areas. Then while they were walking around you could see the action, or at least a lot more of it than right now.
Another idea that comes up in the article, which quotes team executive vice president and chief operating officer John Angelos, is adding a similar experience to the center field bar in the left and right field corners. As you have probably noticed if you've been in the crowd for even games with decent attendance, those areas tend to only sell in large numbers if the stadium is totally full.
Last year, the Rockies, with Populous also working on the project, debuted a new concept in the upper deck of Coors Field that they called the Rooftop, which essentially expands the thought process behind Camden Yards' center field deck to a larger swath of the upper level. A reader on SB Nation's Rockies blog, Purple Row, visited their Rooftop and took some pictures last April.
You can really see where they drew from the same well of inspiration as the roof top bar at Camden. PR's reader, writing early on in the Rooftop's existence, noticed that it was a heavily younger crowd up there, and since that space is open to anybody with a ticket, they could buy wherever they want and congregate there if they want to.
Is all of that a good thing? Probably not if you want to imagine a Camden Yards that's packed every night full of fans fully engaged in the game, but the simple fact is those days aren't coming back, if they ever were here. The spaces in question are not filled up most of the time. That doesn't mean they should put up something ugly and poorly thought-out, but it does mean there's a lot of room to do something.
The Business Journal notes that no specific projects or costs have been identified at this time, so it's all in the idea phase for now. That's a good thing in the case of a suggested "home plate club," which brings to mind images of the desolate wasteland behind home plate and the dugouts at Yankee Stadium, a walled-off, exclusive area that is antithetical to everything good in the world.
If you could have your way and have one thing tweaked about Camden Yards, what would it be? What would you like to make sure stays the same no matter what?