Have a baseball road trip coming up? Well, in a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. Over the next month or so, we'll be hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.
So, you’re interested in visiting Oriole Park at Camden Yards? I don’t blame you; it’s gorgeous. We get a lot of visitors at the Yard each year, and as long as you don’t refer to our beautiful ballpark as Fenway South or try to tell us that Derek Jeter will go down in history as the greatest shortstop ever, we don’t mind the company. Stick with me and I’ll make sure you have the best experience possible.
1. Don’t pay $20 for that garage. There are many parking garages in the downtown area that might appeal to a person unfamiliar with the city of Baltimore, but if you’re planning on going straight to the game and don’t mind a bit of a walk, park in the stadium lots. There is a lot of parking available for $8-10 in the lots between Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium (home of the Ravens). If you want to park in a garage so that you’re closer to the restaurants and other city attractions, check out the Penn Street Garage located at the intersection of Pratt & Penn. It costs $8 to park, the cheapest you’ll find in the area, and you can get back to I-95 or I-295 after the game without sitting in any stadium traffic. But keep that between us, OK? I don’t need my favorite garage to start filling up before I get there.
2. Don’t go to the Inner Harbor. If you’re the sort who wants a meal before the game, head to Federal Hill. The Inner Harbor is in walking distance of Camden Yards, but if you go there you’ll be stuck with Pizzeria Uno, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and the like. But Federal Hill, a popular neighborhood just south of the harbor, has a lot of restaurants and bars that feature good food and a lot of local flavor.
Pro Tip: Check out Abbey Burger Bistro and get the SimplyAJ, a burger created in honor of O’s center fielder Adam Jones, a frequent patron.
3. Follow the sign for Cheap Ass Beer. Everyone knows that beer at the baseball park is expensive, so follow the crowd to the Pickles Pub/Sliders conglomerate. You’ll know you’re close when you see the Brooks Robinson statue, a person dancing around in a pickle costume, and a bored-looking man holding up a sign that reads, “Cheap Ass Beer.” You won’t find fancy beer here, but what you will find is inexpensive. Cans of Natty Boh for $2 and other low budget choices for $1 more are the norm, although you can get a wider selection if you venture inside either of the bars instead of just visiting the outdoor stands.
On a beautiful day the venue will be crowded, but that’s all the better for people watching. It’s easy to strike up a baseball or beer-related conversation with a stranger, and who knows, you might even meet the family of Toronto Blue Jay Brett Cecil (OK, you probably won’t, but that did happen to me once). Pro Tip: Pickles is the bigger and more crowded of the two, but you might be better off going to the Sliders side of the house. The bar food is yummy and you might even be able to find a seat.
4. Bring in your own food and drinks. Unlike many stadiums, at Camden Yards you are allowed to bring food and drinks into the ballpark (the drinks must be unopened and in plastic bottles). For the ballpark staples of hot dogs, peanuts, pretzels, water, and soda, stock up from the vendors outside the park before going inside. It’s the same good ballpark food at half the price. And if you’re in the right place at the right time, you might run into a local celebrity known to most as simply the ice cold water guy. Ice cold water! Only one dollar!
5. Eat something from Maryland. Once you’re in the park, there are plenty of good choices. But you’re in Maryland, so eat like it. The pit beef sandwich is classic Maryland fare, and you can get a pretty good one at the famous Boog’s BBQ. While you’re there you can say hello to former Oriole Boog Powell and get an autograph if it suits you. If that’s not your style, there are two crab dishes that are currently my ballpark favorites. At Stuggy’s (a local Baltimore joint) on Eutaw Street, you can get a crab mac-and-cheese hot dog that is as tasty as it is extravagant. And over at the Old Bay stands (one each located on the upper and lower levels near home plate) are the crab dip waffle fries, which are creamy and crabby and everything crab dip should be. Pro Tip: If you decide to go for the crab dip waffle fries (and you really should), get them early. Before the game starts they really pile on the crab dip, but later they begin rationing to make it last the rest of the game.
6. Take a stroll down Eutaw Street. In some parts of the city, Eutaw Street is a working road, but that’s no longer the case for the stretch that runs along Camden Yards next to the B&O Warehouse. The warehouse was built in the early 1900s for the railroad, but these days it holds the Orioles offices, team store, and Dempsey’s Brew Pub (named after longtime Oriole Rick Dempsey). It’s an iconic structure and its incorporation into the architecture of the ballpark is beautiful. You can enter the stadium on either end of Eutaw Street and walk the corridor that is filled with vendors.
When you approach the flag court, look down. You’ll see a number of bronze plaques that look like baseballs. Each one marks the spot of where a home run ball has flown out of the park, past the flag court, and landed on Eutaw Street itself. In the 21-year history of the ballpark, 60 home runs have landed there. The Baltimore Sun has every home run documented in its home run database, so before you go to the game check and see if your favorite team’s slugger has hit one, then try to find its location.
7. Check out the statues. There are actually two sets of statues commemorating Baltimore’s finest players. Just outside the north end of Eutaw Street are the numbers 4, 5, 8, 20, 22, and 33. They represent the retired numbers of Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken, Jr., Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, and Eddie Murray. They’re neat to see and a good landmark (“Meet me at Earl Weaver before the game!)”, but the real gems are the bronze sculptures of the six O’s legends located beyond center field in the bullpen area.
The statues were unveiled throughout 2012 as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of Camden Yards. The sculptor, Toby Mendez, did a spectacular job capturing each player in one of his signature moves. Weaver stands with his hands with his hands stuffed in his back pocket, ready to argue with an umpire. Palmer is mid-windup with his signature leg kick. Brooks is up on the balls of his feet at third base, ready to make a diving stop. They are perfect.
8. Find the best views of the field. There aren’t many bad seats at Camden Yards, but there are a few places where the view of the park is especially awesome. First, check out the centerfield bar, which just debuted in 2012. It can be tough to get up there when the stadium is crowded (they keep a count for safety reasons), but the view of the field is top notch, overlooking the entire park. There are two rows of seats up there that are first come, first serve, but if you want them you have to show up extra early and be prepared not to leave.
Another great place to watch the action is from the flag court in right field. Prior to 2012 it had a six-foot wall that meant those of us who aren’t giants couldn’t watch comfortably from there. But they have replaced it with a railing that comes up to about waist high, giving everyone a great view of the field. And if Chris Davis (or your favorite power-hitting lefty) is up to bat, there’s a decent chance you could get a home run ball.
9. Treat yourself to a complimentary seat upgrade. Attendance is up at the park after the O's great 2012 season, but not so much that the stadium is full all the time. If you find yourself there on a weekday you’ll have the option to claim better seats with little hassle from the ushers. There is just one rule: stay outside the bases. If you try to sit in the lower deck between first base and third base, an usher will ask you for your ticket and kick you out of the section if you don’t have one. But there are plenty of great seats close to the field outside the bases, and as long as the stadium isn’t full no one will stop you.
10. Pay attention to the third baseman; he’s going to be a star. When 20-year-old Manny Machado was called up last season he was overshadowed by the likes of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. But 2013 has been different. Machado is thriving and people are taking note. A natural shortstop who is playing third base for now, Machado is a joy to watch in the field. He has sure hands, a rocket for an arm, and a truckload of natural baseball instinct. He is so smooth at the hot corner that it’s almost as though it’s been choreographed. And he’s no slouch at the plate either, driving doubles and setting the table for the big bats behind him in the lineup.
What are your favorite tips for attending a game at Camden Yards?
Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park, PNC Park,U.S. Cellular Field, Safeco Field, Target Field, Rangers Ballpark