My son and I have gone out looking for America again this summer, as we do every year, through the prism of baseball parks and the cities that host them. This year, a couple of games in Baltimore this weekend and, maybe, a game Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., where "hardball" has a different meaning.
As I write on Sunday morning, we are trying to put off as long as possible the 95-degree sauna that awaits us outside the hotel walls. Rooms in Baltimore this weekend are at a premium, as Red Sox fans have descended on the city to catch a glimpse of their beloved team. Our (relatively) moderately-priced breakfast-in-the-morning site is filled with people in "B" hats and red jerseys of all varieties.
Like Packer fans following their team on the road, the Sox faithful are friendly, fun-loving, sometimes drunk and enthusiastic. Although certainly male-centric, spouses and kids are often along for the ride. Like the Cubs visiting Miller Park, they have overwhelmed Orioles fans in number and volume in the stadium this weekend. Saturday morning brought much grousing in the breakfast bar about a blown opportunity (the Os won in the bottom of the ninth) and grousing about late-season addition Eric Gagne, the new set-up guy, who set up nothing by giving up most of a 4-run lead in the 8th. Relief of a different kind was evident last night after the Sox prevailed against the vastly over-matched Orioles.
A scarcity of tickets at Fenway and a huge market that includes all of New England compels them to make the 6-to-8 hour trip for a weekend series in the nearest American League city (New York doesn’t count, of course) with a beautiful newer-but-aging ballpark. Except when they are in the stadium, the Boston faithful swarm the restaurants and shops of Baltimore’s impressive Inner Harbor. Natives here tell me that it is the same when the Yankees come to town.
The Inner Harbor is a blessing and a curse for the out-of-towner, it being the only obvious place to hang out and everybody knows about it. Lines form everywhere – you can walk or swim anywhere faster than it takes to get on the usually-fun Water Taxis – and the broad walkways are often impassable.
Out here in Airport Land, we are imprisoned by a lack of amenities and dependence on the shuttle and light-rail that gets us from this Nowheresville to Somewhere. The non-Hilton or Marriott version of hotels around here are remarkably free of non-breakfast food and newspapers. Convenience stores – heck, convenience itself – appears to have been zoned out of the area.
At the airport light-rail station, hundreds of hotel-dwellers, plopped there by their respective shuttles (ours is the only one with a little Orioles hat on the top) line up to buy train passes at only two terminals – cash-only and exact-change required. On our first trip to the ballpark on Friday, this technological impasse caused everyone in line, even the law-abiding, to just get on the train when it came by. Conflict was avoided when no one checked for tickets after we got on. A clear conscious (and a murky lesson in situational ethics for my son) was achieved by buying a round-trip ticket once we got downtown. Nobody checked on the way back, either.
At Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the now-15-year-old stadium – the earliest entry in the recent trend of ballpark construction – the park is showing its age. The bright green paint that covers metal throughout the park has faded a bit and the concrete on the ramps is starting to crack and discolor. Electronically, fans of County Stadium will recognize the yellow-on-black lettering on the main scoreboard and the not-quite-Diamond-ness of the video screen. The park is also wonderfully bereft of the video "ribbon" that runs under the upper-decks of most stadiums these days. The park maintains my favorite area in and ballyard anywhere – the concourse of concessions that runs under the warehouse along the outfield wall. It is also the best-smelling ballpark in the Major Leagues, depending on how you feel about pork products.
Tomorrow, it’s off to our nation’s capitol. Junior Bush made a point of fleeing from the city last week, on another one of his record-setting vacations. I think he knew we were coming. Wimp.