The Undercard: Don't change Oriole Park at Camden Yards

On Monday, the Baltimore Business Journal got the scoop that the Orioles are looking into making modifications to their stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and the changes are pretty major.

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Angelos, son of majority owner Peter Angelos, told the BBJ the team and architecture firm Populous are looking into "constructing party decks in the left- and right-field corners of the upper deck . . . a home plate club; and an expansion of the group picnic area down the left-field line" and possibly "creating an open concourse on the first level by tearing out sections of seats, and the concession stands and restrooms behind them, to create a large walk-through area with views to the field."

Most of these are terrible ideas and should not be done.

This goes beyond the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," but yes, let's also acknowledge that Camden Yards consistently ranks as one of the best venues in the entire sport. Why mess with it?

The location near downtown and sweeping views of the city skyline from the seating bowl are inherently features that make Camden Yards great, and nothing Angelos mentioned will change them. But another part of the experience of seeing a game there is that much of it looks and feels distinctly unmodern, and for a sport that's obsessed with its heritage, as baseball is, that's a good thing.

Sure, there have been updates over the years, with the addition of a bar and seating area over the batter's eye in center field and improvements to the video technology on the scoreboards, but otherwise, there's not much in the way of visual distractions to pull your attention away from the field. Ripping out seats to add party decks and other doodads would make Camden Yards more like a mall park—the behemoths that came in its wake and combined some of the retro touches made popular by Camden Yards and added things like swimming pools—and take away from its congruent array of seats.

Okay, maybe you're not convinced by these quasi "dang kids should be watching the game" sentiments, so let's consider who really gets screwed here: the little guy. The seats in the corners of left field and right field are some of the cheapest in the stadium. Party decks connote some kind of special package or access, meaning tickets for these new areas will almost certainly be higher.

Then there's the home plate club. This feature, which literally places a physical barrier between the uber-rich and everyone else, has become popular in stadium design over the last decade, and it's repugnant—for both its socioeconomic implications and visual aesthetic. The former is pretty obvious—a section for richies who decided they can no longer deign to sit beside anyone who isn't loaded with cash, gaining access to an exclusive area with fancy booze and drink. Tickets for the best seats behind home plate currently go in the neighborhood of $60-$80, and while that's not cheap, there's something inherently democratic about the idea of anybody being able to walk up and buy them. A home plate club would likely push the price well north of $100 per seat. Well-to-do folks already have skyboxes and the club level, and that should be enough.

Also, as anyone who has watched a Nationals or Yankees game can tell you, these premium seats often go unoccupied, either because they weren't sold or whoever bought them can afford to piss away the money if they so choose. On TV, this makes the stadium appear to be empty, and the people who do show up generally seem uninterested in what's unfolding before them. From the stands, it can be a bit frustrating to see the best real estate going unused.

Putting in such a section would seem to be a cash grab, but then there's the rather counter-intuitive move of ripping out seats and concession stands to create an open concourse. Maybe it would be nice to not miss a pitch while you head out to grab beer and nachos, but I'd rather have revenue-generating seats blocking my view so we can re-sign first baseman Chris Davis, please and thank you.

It's understandable for the Angelos family to want to keep up with the times, but a lot of these ideas seem to be overthinking things a bit. What's great about communal place like Camden Yards is that it brings people from all walks of life into one space and has them brush elbows. It is a place where someone who owns a huge estate in Monkton can cheer on the Orioles next to a guy who owns a rowhouse in Pigtown. Maybe that's a bit fanciful, but many of these proposed changes would enforce that this ideal could never be.

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