Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a magical place. When you enter the ballpark, the sights, aromas and sounds take you back to a simpler time — to a place where the hustle and bustle, the fears and frustrations, the stresses of life fade away for a few hours.
Some of my happiest memories reside at Camden Yards, the old-timey, red-brick ballpark at the edge of downtown that is marking its 30th anniversary this weekend. At least once a year, it’s where my daughters and I have a standing date. They’re not huge sports fans, but there’s a connection to the Orioles and the stadium that always gets them excited.
When they were little and I’d say, “Let’s go check out the birds,” they’d jump up and down screaming, “Chicken tenders! Chicken tenders!”
Now that they’re both in college, when I say, “Let’s go check out the birds,” they mischievously eye one another and say, “Ooooh, chicken tenders.”
Sometimes, it’s that simple. The Orioles plus chicken tenders equals daddy-daughter memories for a lifetime.
As a father, there’s no greater joy than seeing your kids happy. And Camden Yards has always been one of their happy places.
One of my favorite memories was sitting in the upper-deck cheap seats, glancing over and seeing them filling out their All-Star ballots in 2014, the last time the O’s advanced to the American League Championship Series.
The oldest, 14 years old at the time, asked me whom she should vote for.
But the 12-year-old wasn’t having any of it.
“I don’t need your help, Dad,” she told me as she furiously shaded in the various boxes.
Upon inspecting her ballot, I feigned anger.
“What in the world is this?” I protested. “You didn’t vote for Adam Jones, Mike Trout or Derek Jeter!!!???”
“You have to explain your criteria, this is just absurd.”
“Mike Trout sounds like a fish, and I don’t like fish,” she said. “And Adam Jones and Derek Jeter are boring names. I voted for the guys with the coolest names.”
And for the remainder of the game, she’d randomly stare at her ballot and sporadically blurt out, “Edwin Encarnación! … Madison Bumgarner! … Yoenis Céspedes! … Yu Darvish! … Dellin Betances! … Yasiel Puig! Now those are some names worthy of being All-Stars.”
As fans of the team, it’s easy to be dismayed at the fact that it’s been eight years since we’ve won a playoff game, and that out of the 30 years the stadium’s been standing — replacing venerable Memorial Stadium as the Orioles’ home — we’ve only experienced postseason baseball here five times.
But there are so many magical moments and things about the place that are worth celebrating.
To honor the 15 years that I’ve been taking my girls to the ballpark on this grand anniversary weekend, here’s my list of 15 Orioles originals that are worth celebrating.
1. The Charm City Chicken Shack’s chicken tender basket in a souvenir helmet.
2. After the strike-shortened 1994 season, Cal Ripken helped bring disgruntled fans back to ballparks all over the country when he played in his 2,131st consecutive game on Sept. 6, 1995, breaking what many thought was the unbreakable record of the “Iron Man,” Lou Gehrig.
3. Although the Orioles lost 12-6 when they hosted the Cuban national team on May 3, 1999, American audiences were treated to their first glimpse, Olympics notwithstanding, of Orestes Kindelán, the most prolific home-run hitter in post-revolutionary Cuba, and the extraordinary pitcher José Contreras, prior to him defecting and coming to play Major League Baseball in 2002.
4. Polock Johnny’s polish sausage with the works. It’s actually been around since 1921.
5. Camden Yards got its first postseason signature moment during Game 2 of the 2014 AL Division Series, when Delmon Young cracked a go-ahead eighth inning double against the Detroit Tigers. Those in attendance will swear that even Paul McCartney’s concert wasn’t louder.
6. Vida Taco Bar. What can be better than baseball, nachos, tacos and margaritas?
7. Chris Hoiles smacked the one hit that every baseball player dreams of. On May 17, 1996, down 13-10 to the Seattle Mariners with the bases loaded, full count and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, he knocked a Grand Slam out of the park.
8. The stadium opened in grand fashion on April 6, 1992, with Rick Sutcliffe tossing a five-hit shutout to beat Cleveland 2-0.
9. Harris Creek Oyster and Seafood is a must-stop spot if you’re into po’boys, fried Cajun catfish sandwiches and jumbo lump crab cakes.
10. The Birds kicked off the 2014 postseason with a packed house of orange-clad fans waving rally towels that said “Welcome to October” as they destroyed the Detroit Tigers 12-3. A relatively tight game turned into a rout after the Orioles knocked in eight runs in the eighth inning.
11. On June 30, 2009, the O’s might have been in last place, but they gave the home crowd something to cheer about when, trailing 10-1 in the seventh inning, they rallied to score 10 runs and defeat the first-place Boston Red Sox.
12. Boog’s BBQ. If pit beef and pulled pork sandwiches are your thing, Boog’s, named for the great Orioles slugger from the 1960s and ‘70s, Boog Powell, who turns 81 this month, never disappoints.
13. Attman’s. For a true slice of old Baltimore, nothing beats the culinary masterpiece that is their Cloak and Dagger sandwich, with tender, juicy pastrami or corned beef combined with coleslaw and Russian dressing on soft-seeded rye.
14. Exactly one year after Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record, “Steady” Eddie Murray, the beloved fan favorite with the O’s from 1977 to 1988, returned to the franchise in 1996 and hit his 500th career homer on Sept. 6 of that year. The Hall of Famer is one of only seven people in MLB history with over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.
15. Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, if only to pay homage to one of the greatest fans this town has ever known, pop in and grab that Mo Gaba fried shrimp platter.