"Man, I hate the f**king Yankees."
Those were the words spoken, straight from the mouth of one passing Baltimore Orioles fan to another, mere moments after I bought my ticket from the box office Tuesday evening, a few feet away from the Eutaw Street entrance to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. And, immediately, I felt a strange sense of belonging; that I was, in a way, at home.
As I made my way south down Eutaw St., walking between the marvelous baseball amphitheatre and once-upon-a-time B&O (Baltimore & Ohio Railroad) Warehouse, and then around Oriole Park on Russell Street, I was engulfed in what seemed to be a Yankees fans' invasion. They had followed me from New York. Finally, upon arriving at Baltimore's infamous Pickles Pub on Washington Boulevard, directly across Russell St. north of the ballpark, there I was, a neutral party amongst a sea of orange and pinstripes.
But I wasn't about to get my Switzerland on. At approximately 5:30 pm Tuesday evening I decided that for one night, and one night only, I would be a Baltimore Orioles fan.
The Baltimore Baseball Experience
If you ever venture south to Maryland to watch an Orioles game, here's your first tip: head to the ballpark early. You've got no excuse; you're in Baltimore. Grab some seafood for lunch at one of the many Inner Harbour area restaurants, and aim to be at the park around 5:00 pm. Washington Blvd. is the spot, and pick your poison: Pickles Pub and/or Sliders Bar & Grille. Outside each venue are huge patios where you can hang out, although it's standing room only because by 6:00 pm both are packed. For your convenience, bars are set up on the patios as well; you don't have to venture far to grab the next round. They are both quality spots where you can easily spend a couple of hours, enjoying your favourite adult beverages before the game. Two blocks northwest of Oriole Park, on Pratt Street, you'll find Camden Pub, another popular local watering hole. I didn't venture that far; I'm easily satisfied, and Pickles Pub and Sliders Bar & Grille scratch right where itch.
For my history buffs: even closer to Camden Yards, on Emory Street, a block north of Washington Blvd., you'll find the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. Again, I didn't make it that far. Now, I know Ruth is a baseball legend; a local Baltimorean, his statue stands outside Oriole Park. And while I certainly do appreciate baseball history, Ruth goes a little too far back in time for me to visit his museum. I've been thinking about it, and, in what I hope will make an interesting future column, I'm curious as to which players, in the shadow of The Steroid Era, will be immortalized in statue form outside the new ballparks that will be built over the next 25 to 30 years.
Back to business. Full disclosure: I've been to Oriole Park at Camden Yards before. Two years ago, to watch the Orioles entertain my Toronto Blue Jays. Upon walking into Pickles Pub on that first visit, decked out in my powder blue Toronto jersey and black Blue Jays cap (majestically curved and without its sticker, I might add), an Orioles fan, absolutely dumbfounded, stopped my buddy Dean and I and said: "Wow. I thought you guys were unicorns."
What I love dearly about the Orioles baseball experience is the setup on Washington Blvd. A couple of great pubs and, in between the stadium and the bars, tents where you can buy peanuts, bottled soda, cheeseburgers, sausages, and even crab cakes. It's all right there; literally two minutes from the ballpark. All you've got to do is cross the street. That, my friends, is exactly what Toronto lacks. Sure, there's now a St. Louis Bar and Grill on the ground floor of a new condo across the street from the Rogers Centre, but it's a St. Louis; a franchise. It's got no baseball atmosphere, no baseball charm, and no connection to the Toronto Blue Jays. Pickles Pub, Sliders Bar & Grille, and even Camden Pub, are certified Baltimore Orioles institutions.
I know what you're thinking: he's jealous of the Baltimore Orioles. In any capacity. Well, schedule the intervention because, yes, it has indeed come to this.
Enough complaining. The local beer I sampled at Pickles Pub was Resurrection, proudly brewed in Baltimore at The Brewer's Art. The "Abbey-style ale ... with five types of barley malt and lots of sugar" wasn't bad, and very reasonably priced at $4 per 12 ounce glass. At Sliders you get even more bang for your buck: a can of National Bohemian beer, more affectionately known as "Natty Boh," for only $2. Originally proudly brewed in Baltimore, it's now brewed by MillerCoors in North Carolina, and distributed by the fine folks at Pabst Brewing Company. But you don't care about all that because at $2 a can, who gives a damn, right? Think about it: in Baltimore, you can have five Natty Bohs for the price of one Rogers Centre beer. And drop $0.25 back into your pocket. I love them, my Jays, and I'll never walk out that door and leave them, but they, and mother corp. Rogers, should absolutely be ashamed of their beer prices.
I'm glad I got that off my chest. Thanks. Anyway, on my previous visit to Baltimore, I sampled the sausage across the street from Pickles Pub. Fond memories. This time, I went with the cheeseburger, loaded with red peppers and onions. It'll run you $5 and, after a couple of Natty Bohs, will hit the spot.
A Pristine Park
Oriole Park at Camden Yards celebrated 18 years this April. Can you believe it? Me either. It means we're getting old. However, with how she's been maintained, she still feels brand new. And she's as beautiful as they say; as magnificent as you've heard. The immaculate grass, the Warehouse in right field, the first-of-its-kind two-tier bullpen, downtown Baltimore in view behind centre field ... if I was Cal Ripken, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards was where I went to work half the time, I'd have never called in sick either.
Unfortunately, what Oriole Park at Camden Yards doesn't have is an open-concept field-level concourse. Where you can, if you fancy, stand behind the last row of seats in the lower bowl and watch the game. It's how I've watched many a ballgame on #TBRTOAL so far. While Oriole Park's main concourse is as spacious as they come, a tunnel leads to each section. That being said, there's something about that walk through the tunnel, leading to the field. Especially in a section around home plate. Magical.
Word on the streets is that when you're at Oriole Park, you must try the Boardwalk Fries. So I did. They're fresh cut, and cost you $5.25. Don't get me wrong, they're good. But there was too much hype. I was expecting life-altering fries, if those exist, and was left slightly disappointed. As for beer, draft will cost you $6.25 inside the park. Microbrews Heavy Seas Classic Lager and Flying Dog's Snake IPA will cost you $7.50. I didn't try either; I was Natty Boh'd out. The point is: microbrews are available. I hope you're taking notes, Rogers.
Your last nugget of advice: make sure to take a walk around the park during the festivities, especially on Eutaw St. while the game is being played. Concessions line the west side of the street, including the famous Boog's BBQ stand, and on your right is the massive Warehouse. She's a sight to behold herself, and be sure to look for the right field area Warehouse wall plaque, marking Ken Griffey Jr.'s 1993 Home Run Derby moon shot. He remains the only mere mortal to hit the building. You can even venture into the standing room area in right field, and wait for the home run ball you always think is coming your way.
Bonding In Baltimore
I paid $9 for my "Upper Reserve" ducat and watched the game from a chair up top, behind home plate. The seat and the price again had me feeling like I was back in Toronto. Except for, you know, the amazing outdoor ballpark. It was up in section 336 that I rendezvoused with Daniel Moroz, a fellow member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, and editor of Camden Crazies, an aptly titled and popular Orioles blog. Because surely you've got to be a little crazy to be a fan of the Os.
It was a pleasure to talk baseball with Daniel. He's a knowledgeable baseball cat, and knows his Orioles inside-out. He's also big on sabermetrics, to the delight of the budding baseball nerd in me. For the Matt Wieters lovers out there, Moroz is also the brains behind the wildly popular Matt Wieters Facts website. Here's my favourite, and the ultimate, Wieters fact:
"Before reporting to Camden Yards, Matt Wieters travelled through the time-space continuum and righted all the wrongs in Orioles history: He wiped Cleon Jones' shoe polish off the ball, settled the 1981 baseball strike so they could win the division, straight-jacketed Jeffrey Maier, and intercepted Roberto Alomar's loogie before it hit its mark."
Yankees fans made up at least half the crowd Tuesday night, and as the boos poured down on local hero Mark Teixeira, who spurned Orioles orange for Yankees pinstripes, Daniel and I lamented on being fans of two teams perennially fighting each other to stay out of last place in the American League East, by far baseball's toughest division. We put our differences aside, though, and I enjoyed a night of complaining, again, about the deep pockets of the Boston Red Sox and Yankees, the newfound success of the Tampa Bay Rays, MLB's unbalanced schedule, and Bud Selig's limited desire for either an expanded playoffs format, and/or realignment. Thanks for your ear, Daniel. We've got a lot in common, you and I.
Near to our seats, two proud, and might I add severely inebriated, Orioles fans made the chilly night that much more enjoyable with chants of "Yankees Suck!" and "Go home Yankees! (Clap Clap ClapClapClap)" One of their better chants was inspired by Baltimore shortstop Cesar Izturis: "Hail Cesar!" They pounded it out about 25 times during his at-bat, and went wild when Izturis came through with a clutch RBI base-hit late in the game.
The. Orioles. Won. I kid you not. They beat the Yankees, and the Baltimore fans in attendance partied like it was 1983. The score was closer than it should have been, thanks to a brutal two-out "Hail Cesar!" Izturis error in the 9th inning that kept the game going. But Baltimore eventually came out on top, 5-4. Everyone, including myself, was on their feet in the ninth, willing the Orioles to their first home win of what has been an epically dreadful start to the 2010 season.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself Tuesday night. Cheering on the Orioles while they faced the Evil Empire was easy. You see, we fans of the Blue Jays and Orioles, we share more than a common interest. Sure, we both want our respective teams to win the pennant, and the World Series. But there's more than that to our relationship. We share a bond: more than we hate each other, we hate the New York Yankees.