Day Eight 2019: Camden Yards, Baltimore

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Previous game: Bethpage Ballpark in Long Island

Next game: Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.  

Miles traveled to get here: 238

Miles traveled total: 3,912

Final Score: Toronto Blue Jays 8, Baltimore Orioles 6 

After a few delays, the Greyhound from New York arrived in Baltimore in the middle of the afternoon. I had already booked an AirBnb a couple of blocks from Camden Yards, which looked to be about a mile walk from the bus station. It definitely wasn’t the most scenic of strolls, but I didn’t encounter many people on my way over.

After checking into my room, I walked outside and noticed two things immediately. One was that I was about two blocks from Babe Ruth’s birthplace (more on that later). The other was that a bar, Quigley’s, was about ten feet from my room. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a place closer to a bar than this one. I had a good amount of time before game time so it seemed like an excellent place to soak up some local culture.

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Quigley’s 1/2 Irish Pub in Baltimore. See the steps on the right side of the photo? That was my AirBnB. How could I NOT stop by?

I think it was Quigley himself who greeted me from behind the bar. The two other patrons sat to either side of me; one of them had literally been hired by Quigley about five minutes before I walked in. I was his very first customer, sort of. “You ready to start working?” Quigley asked his new hire. “I guess so?” he said. I was a little sad I had missed the interview, whatever that was. “Here, you should have a beer first,” Quigley decided, cracking open a Bud Light can and sliding it toward new guy. Then he opened one for himself. Then he asked me what I wanted. Before I could answer, he told me I should try one of their local specialties. As long as it wasn’t Bud Light, I said.

While the new hire was finishing his pre-work beer, Quigley regaled us with a meandering story about his time at a national bartender’s convention, I think in Atlantic City. First the story was about a random girl who came right up to him and kissed him passionately for no reason. Then it was about a fight that happened directly in front of him, where one guy knocked out another guy and the head of knocked-out guy landed on Quigley’s back, drenching his fancy silk shirt (“one of the Jerry Garcia shirts, you know what I’m talking about?”) in blood, which he didn’t realize until someone told him later. Then he drove home the next morning in his bloody shirt because he didn’t bring any other clothes. I kept thinking the Girl part of the story and the Fight part of the story were going to come together in some sort of extraordinary cinematic climax, but when I asked what became of the girl, he gave me a quizzical look and told me he had no idea. I was having a hard time figuring out where this story was going, but at least it contained an impressive level of profanity, considering we had just met five minutes before.

By this point the new hire had just about finished his Bud Light, so Quigley put him to work removing cans of beer from a fridge that the two of them were going to move. I turned in the other direction and started a conversation with the fourth guy who was there. He seemed super nice, and had lots of good tips about both Camden Yards and Nationals Park. When I asked why he was in town, he told me his wife was in the hospital and things weren’t looking good; she has leukemia. I didn’t want to pry at all, but I was really glad to provide a distraction for him, at least for a few minutes; he seemed relieved to be talking baseball. I finished the rest of my beer and headed over to the ballpark.

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Let me just get this out of the way first: Camden Yards is the best ballpark in the country. It’s really hard to compare all of them, particularly when it comes to Fenway and Wrigley, both of which are ballpark nirvana. So I generally sort of just put those two in their own category. But even Red Sox and Cubs fans, as much as they might love their fields, probably have to admit that they’re kinda dumpy. In a great way, of course! I loved Tiger Stadium, too, but it was pretty dumpy and they eventually tore it down because it had neither a giant green wall nor a cool ivy-covered wall. If there was some sort of iconic feature to Tiger Stadium, I think there’s a decent chance it still exists today.

But all three of those had/have their infrastructure problems (along with the two older West Coast parks, Dodger Stadium and the Coliseum). Camden Yards, on the other hand, has an old-school feel but all the amenities of a modern park. It’s the best of all worlds. And on top of that, the people there are incredibly nice. Thus, I think it might actually be the best one.

I walked in from the centerfield entrance, directly into the statue garden. It’s shaded, which is sort of an odd perk, but I realized as I was strolling through it that most other stadium statue areas are baking in the sun. You felt like you wanted to linger there, instead of just snapping a photo and quickly moving along out of the heat like you do in most ballparks.

 

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After walking along the warehouse wall area, I met up with a Twitter friend, Sierra, who was born in Santa Rosa CA, but has since landed a job in ballpark services at Camden Yards. She’s a true free-spirit who isn’t afraid to do things her way. And the fact that she loves baseball, I mean REALLY loves baseball, led to her to pursue a job at the park. I love when people are determined to mix what they love with making a living; the two don’t have to be separate, you know! [full transcript of interview with Sierra here. Audio of interview here]

Anyway, Sierra is slowly warming to Baltimore, and is even considering staying there long term once she finishes her degree.

“I’m in a ballpark operations,” Sierra told me as we sat at a table in Dempsey’s, which is in that giant warehouse wall you see at Camden Yards. “So we run all the game-day staff and the day-to-day events with all the ushers and security and parking and media credentials, things like that.”

Sierra’s love for the game was instilled early on, when she was at the tender age of 0.1.

“I have to credit my dad for that,” she said. “He took me to my first game at Candlestick Park when I was six weeks old, which was the start of it, but I grew up going to a lot of Giants’ games, obviously at AT&T Park after that.”

She’s not fully committed to the Orioles yet (“who cares about the American League, right?”), but she does love working at Camden Yards, and clearly has a knack for interacting with the fans.

Speaking of which, the ballpark personnel at Camden were the nicest I have ever encountered. It was obvious that there had been training sessions in how to make people feel good about their ballpark experience. I wish that same training had taken place at other stadiums that I won’t mention, but that rhyme with ‘Hanky Arcadium.’

 

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And the food was fantastic.

Boog’s BBQ follows (or maybe started, who knows) the trend among stadiums of providing a famous retired hero with a place to serve brisket and pulled pork and coleslaw. I’m not clear on whether each of these athletes actually had a knack for whipping up delicious BBQ before these opportunities came along, or if they just happen to have the right face and personality (and name: Boog) to make people want to eat it. Frankly, I don’t care all that much. Boog’s was out of this world.

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I am happily married but if I were single and it weren’t considered socially inappropriate and weird, I would marry this sandwich.

I had the Pit Beef Sandwich with chips. The meat was tender, juicy, not-at-all dried out. It felt like a sandwich that had been put together 60 seconds before I took my first bite, and that’s not always the case for ballpark food. Even the chips were extra-special.

Just outside of Boog’s booth is a ridiculously good condiments and toppings bar, with several different BBQ sauce selections and sliced onions and a rockin’ horseradish. I was tempted to try some of the other delicacies at Camden Yards, especially the crabcakes, but I was absolutely certain I had made the right choice.

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Members of the Baltimore Men’s Chorus. the super smiley guy in the back row without the hat was really interested in my trip, and even stopped me to shake my hand the second time I wandered by the group way later in the game. These are some really cool guys!

It was Pride Night at the ballpark, I think the third time on the trip for me. I felt lucky enough to be at a game when everyone’s in an even more celebratory mood than usual. Kudos to MLB and the owners and local activists (and whoever else!) for making these happen. The Baltimore Men’s Chorus did a tremendous job with the National Anthem (both of the anthems, actually, since the Orioles were playing Toronto), and then I was able to chat with a few of the guys afterward; they’re a wonderful bunch.

I’ve seen two grand slams on this trip: On my very first day, the Marlins’ Brian Anderson hit one against the Brewers. Today, Toronto’s Rowdy Tellez hit one, and the Jays eventually held on to beat the Orioles 8-6 before a sparse crowd that became even sparser as the game dragged into its fourth rain-drenched hour. It says something about Camden Yards that I still thought it was the best ballpark on the trip, despite this being probably the worst and longest game, between two not-very-good teams. I was excited to see Vlad Guerrero Jr., who went 3-for-5, but not much else in terms of the game. Right now in Baltimore, the draw is the park, not the game itself.

The weather seemed to hold up for a long time, but eventually the rains came in about the fifth, and they didn’t really stop for the remainder of the game. I was fairly surprised that they never delayed it; it got to a point where grounds crew guys were throwing that quick-dry sand down around the bases and on the mound every time there was a break in the action. And since the Blue Jays changed pitchers 39 times after Edwin Jackson departed, they had a lot of chances to do so.

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Zach and Rob: two of the nicest people I met. Maybe the nicest, honestly. They’re in the auto painting business, along with those other dudes behind us.

For a while, since I was sitting mostly in covered areas, I didn’t realize it had started to rain. Eventually, I started to see more and more people heading up to the covered seats. Down the third base line, close to the section where I actually had a ticket, I met Zach and Rob, two automotive painters from Easton, MD. When I first sat down next to them, they were in a rather involved conversation about where to get a cheap bushel of crabs. I was immediately intrigued, as I had never heard such a conversation before.

Easton is across the Chesapeake Bay, about an hour from the park. I really couldn’t picture where they were talking about, and they had these AMAZING southern accents that made me even more confused, as it sounded like they were from Georgia or Alabama. But nope, they told me, that was just how people talked in their neck of the woods (I think they actually said ‘our neck of the woods.’). At any rate, I had to check out a map when I arrived back home.

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Ohhhh! That’s where Easton is!

Zach and Rob were in town on the owner’s dime, I think, as they were going to some sessions at an auto painting seminar the following day. There’s no doubt that they were the most excited anyone’s been to be featured on the blog, so I hope I didn’t wait too long and they forgot to check. I’ve met a ton of fun and kind people, but no one has made me feel as much like a big-shot as these guys. Fellas, if you’re reading this, send me a message; I had a great time hanging out and would really like to know what you ended up paying for that bushel of crabs!

The game itself, as I mentioned, was long. I mean, REALLY long. Four hours and five minutes for a non-delayed nine inning game between two teams with 45-89 records that featured 12 pitchers throwing 374 pitches. I had to laugh as I was leaving the stadium and heard that the winning pitcher, Edwin Jackson, had moved to 1-4 on the season. Losing pitcher David Hess fell to 1-9. Not a masterpiece, but the fans were cheering ’til the last out and the home team did make a bit of a game of it when they came back from an 8-2 deficit by scoring four in the eighth and then putting runners on first and second in the bottom of the ninth to bring the winning run to the plate. Nothing happened after that, though.

I did get to see Waterford Kettering alum Paul Fry pitch for the Orioles, and from the super-close and super-wet seats right behind the plate; there weren’t many fans left down there in the mist at that point. I never had Fry as a student while I was teaching at Kettering, and I retired from coaching the ninth grade baseball team before he made his way through the program. Mike Malley, one of my very good friends, who has also since moved on from Waterford, was Fry’s coach in high school, so I made sure to tell Mike I was one of approximately 350 people left at Camden Yards watching Fry pitch. I’ve followed his career from afar for a while now. He gave up a couple of hits to the Jays in the last inning but escaped unharmed to lower his ERA to 3.21. It’s cool to see someone you have a personal connection with do well, even if you’ve never had a chance to meet that person. The other major league player who graduated from Waterford Kettering? Kirk Gibson. My current school, Palo Alto High School, also has some impressive baseball lineage. But since I had made the mistake last year of actually SAYING something to Paly grad Joc Pederson while the Dodgers were playing the Rockies and I was on the field for batting practice, I decided it would be best to keep my mouth shut this time.

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It was very cool seeing Waterford Kettering Alum Paul Fry throw for the Orioles.

 

The game finally ended and I made my way back the few blocks to my AirBnB. The next morning, I was planning on writing for a while and then checking out the Babe Ruth museum before figuring out how to get to DC for the Nationals game.

The Ruth birthplace and museum is very cool: it’s a $10 admission but I think it’s worth it, just to know that you’re in the very place where the Babe was born. He didn’t actually grow up much in this house, as it belonged to his grandfather. But his mother was upstairs when the Babe made his first appearance and, I’m guessing, the brick house looks pretty much the same as it did in 1895.

 

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This was the most confusing trip out of town I’ve had thus far, rivaling only the infamous Milwaukee bus incident for sheer perplexity. I thought I was doing pretty well, and really only made one mistake, that ended up leading me to a delicious coffee and sandwich stop. I picked up a $2/fare downtown Baltimore train heading toward the bus station and was confident that I was on my way to D.C., until that train decided not to stop where I thought it was going to. I even go off at the stop that was closest, thinking I could just walk the rest of the way to Penn Station, but changed my mind and got right back on. It was the wrong decision, as the next stop was not for a few miles down the road. For a while, I didn’t think it was going to stop again. Here I got off, looked at the posted digital schedule that told me the next train headed back in the opposite direction was coming in 29 minutes, and decided I had time to try to find coffee. Sure enough, as soon as I wandered far enough away to not be able to make it back in time, a train DID come, in far fewer than 29 minutes. At that point I figured enough poor travel decisions were being made that it would be best to just find coffee no matter what and try to regroup.

 

The place I did find after wandering for a bit, Artifact Coffee, was absolutely delicious; the best coffee I had on the trip, and I say that as a guy who is very much NOT a coffee snob. Normally I’m just like “Starbucks? Pete’s? Philz? Gas Station? Sure. Whatever. I like coffee.” But THIS coffee was super great. The homemade English Muffin ham-and-egg sandwich was spectacular too. This was the best regroup I’ve ever had.

Eventually, I made my way back to the station and from there back to near-enough Penn Station to be able to walk, like I should have done two hours before. It didn’t matter much, as the Nationals’ game wasn’t until 7:00 and I was full of good coffee.

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