BALTIMORE (AP) — Twenty years ago, Cal Ripken Jr. had mixed emotions leading up to the inaugural opening day at Camden Yards.
Like so many others, it didn’t take long for Ripken to become a fan of the new ballpark. On the 20th anniversary of that historic first game on April 6, 1992, the Baltimore Orioles will mark the occasion Friday on Opening Day against the Minnesota Twins.
Ripken enjoyed many a celebration at Camden Yards, most notably the night in 1995 when he set the major league record for consecutive games played. Initially, however, the Hall of Fame star was hesitant to back the team’s move from venerable Memorial Stadium.
“I have to tell you, I was very torn because of the history of Memorial Stadium and the love I had for Memorial Stadium,” Ripken said this week. “I remember walking into Camden Yards for the first time, and it felt like the ballpark had a history already.
It felt like games had been played there before. It had a real good baseball feel to it. It made you quickly forget about Memorial Stadium and let you focus on the here and now.”
Brady Anderson, who started in left field for the Orioles on that day, recalled, “There was a certain amount of awe going out there. It was a stadium perfect for the city, a great place to watch a game. It was the first park of its kind.”
The Orioles won the game 2-0. Back then, Camden Yards was a new ballpark with an old-fashioned feel. Now it’s an elderly stadium that has aged very, very well.
“I was downtown a couple days ago driving by the ballpark and I thought, `Man, that thing still looks brand new,”‘ Ripken said. “They’ve taken care of the field, and now that the trees around it have grown up, it looks like it’s matured in a whole new way. I just think it’s fantastic, the best ballpark in the league.”
Jake Arrieta, who will start on the mound for Baltimore on Friday, hopes to reprise the performance of former Oriole Rick Sutcliffe, who tossed a five-hitter in that memorable opener in 1992.
Sutcliffe, appropriately, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch against the Twins.
Arrieta was 6 years old when Camden Yards opened its doors for the first time, but the right-hander can appreciate the
significance of his first career opening-day start.
“It’s a big day for the organization, for the Oriole family, for fans all across the country, and obviously in Baltimore
specifically,” Arrieta said. “For all the fans who have been on board with the Orioles since Camden was opened, it’s a big day. It’s hard for me to put it into words about how big a day it really is because I didn’t necessarily grow up an Orioles fan, but all the history that’s here, I’ve kind of have seen that over the past few years.”
A sellout crowd is expected, just like in the old days when Camden Yards was filled for every game. Attendance has steadily dwindled over the past several years, mostly because the Orioles haven’t had a winning season since 1997.
“You can’t deny the fact that when the place has 48,000 people in it — which it did for many years — there’s a liveliness to the ballpark,” Ripken said. “It’s a great ballpark, period, but certainly you want the energy that we experienced for all those years. It makes it that much better.”
It’s up to the current-day Orioles to bring back the magical feel that Camden Yards had in the 1990s.
“I think it’s our responsibility now to kind of get the other part of that ballpark right,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter
said. “Unlike a lot of places, our fans do come to see the venue. They can have a great day here. But they also come to see us win, not just to play. That’s the only way they complete their day. Hopefully, that’ll happen more this year.”
The Twins are also looking for a turnaround after going 63-99 last season — like the Orioles, they finished in last place in
2011. The problem, for the most part, was the loss of key player to injury — most notably Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
“You know, we’ve both been pretty banged up the last couple of years, but you want to give yourself a chance,” Mauer said. “You want your guys out there and playing, and no one wants to be out there more than us two.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire said, “We had a lot of our big players hurt and that hurt our chemistry because they weren’t out there on the field and leading this ballclub. They were in the clubhouse and the training room.”
Morneau played in only 69 games last year and in 81 in 2010. If the Twins to make some noise in the AL Central, he’s got to contribute.
“He didn’t sit this winter. He went out and worked,” Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan said. “He’s doing fine, he’s
participating, he’s got a smile on his face, he’s in tremendous shape.”
Carl Pavano, 36, will start for the Twins. Pavano, like Camden Yards, looks far younger than his age.
“I still think it’s the best park in baseball,” Anderson said.
Showalter added: “You walk through there and you wouldn’t believe it’s 20 years old. It’s stood the test of time.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)