Camden Yards’ new look leaves smoky sluggers and hopeful pitchers in Baltimore


BALTIMORE — Austin Hays knew his old office was getting a makeover. The left field wall at Camden Yards – his turf – receded almost 30ft, its height raised nearly 13ft. But nothing could prepare the Baltimore Orioles left fielder for the sinking feeling when he first saw the stadium mini-monster — and the first month of anecdotal data that confirmed his newfound reality.

“It’s exactly what I thought it would be, from the moment I stepped onto the field and saw how far it was,” said Hays, a fourth-year outfielder whose best 22 circuits in career last year depended considerably on the more comfortable dimensions. . He’s playing exactly how I thought he would in left field.

“Very big. Very far.”

And it’s arguably the most transformational change to a baseball stadium in 30 years since the opening of Camden Yards in 1992 heralded a new era of more comfortable stadiums. They’re celebrating the anniversary off the pitch with special ticket prices and memorabilia of the stadium’s greatest moments throughout the park.

On the pitch, Camden 2.0 was accompanied by curses and bats thrown.

“There’s a lot of, ‘It was a home run last year,'” says Orioles catcher Anthony Bemboom, who often acts as the park therapist for opposing hitters in the box.

They have reason to cry: Going to Camden Yards made a 180 from a batter’s haven to a home run hellscape.

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Orioles left fielder Ryan McKenna makes a catch near the new left field wall at Camden Yards during an April game against the Red Sox.

The data is pretty disheartening: Camden Yards ranks 27th in the major leagues for home runs, as measured by park factor, at .677, well below the neutral rate of 1,000, with anything greater in favor of hitters and nothing less than one that favors pitchers. A year ago, it ranked No. 1 at 1,574, a 25% jump from second-placed Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, which takes the No. 1 spot this year.

Anecdotal evidence is perhaps more damning than statistics.

The New York The Yankees came to town this week with baseball’s two biggest and baddest hitters, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, ranking 1-2 in MLB in outing speed; Judge’s 14 home runs lead the majors.

It only took two games for them both to get robbed.

On Monday night, Stanton sent a low crier deep into left field who jumped the wall in the corner where the barrier protrudes from the corner and is 378 feet from home plate. It’s not far from where the dimensions once measured 364 feet and after watching a replay, Yankees manager Aaron Boone concluded it would have been a home run in years past.

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“It’s minus one for us,” he noted wryly ahead of Tuesday’s game.

It wasn’t so funny a few hours later, when the judge hammered a deep pitch to left field in the top of the first inning. A guttural murmur rumbled through the crowd; the ball had the sound, shape and appearance of a doubt.

And it hit the top of the wall, a 100.8 mph shot that traveled 399 feet. The popular Twitter account, @would_it_dongnoted that it would be a home run in 29 of 30 baseball fields.

Judge settled for an RBI double and, like Stanton the night before, was kicked out third overall, perhaps partly stunned by events.

There’s no fooling the judge twice, though: He went deep to center and right-center field in two subsequent at-bats, 410 and 422 feet, leaving no doubt.

Still, a two-track night that should have been three has a certain sting to it.

“I knew he didn’t stand a chance, but I was hoping, for old times sake, he would die,” Judge said after another Yankees win. “But I learned my lesson and went to the right field.

“It’s a parody, man. I’m quite upset. It looks like a Create-A-Park now. I didn’t like it because I always liked coming here and playing here.

And that shows you the Orioles are onto something.

Camden Yards in 2021 (left) vs 2022 (right)

Camden Yards in 2021 (left) vs 2022 (right)

Mutual disarmament

As the Orioles’ surprise to the playoffs turned into an ugly 100-game losing streak and right-handed hitters like Manny Machado, Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo left town, Camden’s greatest power shows came almost always opposition feasting on Orioles. pitch.

Mookie Betts, now a Los Angeles Dodger, hit 15 homers in 45 appearances here for the Boston Red Sox – a superb homer every three ABs. Mike Trout and former Yankee Baby Bomber Gary Sanchez hit 10s in just 36 at-bats.

And yes, Judge himself slammed 14 out of 47 from 2016 to 2021.

With that in mind, the Orioles have shown that the best defense is a good stadium designer.

They requested and received permission from MLB to move the left-field wall back and up, a move that followed a highly deliberate rebuild that saw the Orioles’ pitch bludgeoned. The staff sported the worst ERA of the majors in 2018, 2019 and 2021, years in which Baltimore lost 115, 108 and 110 games.

So GM Mike Elias opted for the redesign, a pragmatic move given that the middle-market Orioles might never afford the kind of sluggers supposed to climb that wall with regularity unless they manage to develop a host of clones of right-handed judges.

During the first year of this great experiment, however, a few other things happened.

Across the league, the ball started acting like an anvil, adding another offensive suppressor.

And, in a chicken-or-egg scenario, Orioles pitchers have taken another step forward in development, spurred by the free agent acquisition of Jordan Lyles, a dependable veteran notoriously absent from their scruffy teams. of ’18, ’19 and ’21.

Baltimore now ranks 18th in the majors with a 3.81 ERA; better yet, the adjusted ERA of 101 puts them right at league average and ahead of throwing-centric clubs like Tampa Bay and Seattle.

It helps that a bunch of mid-rotation guys are a year older and wiser, and rookie Kyle Bradish has turned into a potential top guy. But is part of that reinforced by the fact that the Orioles no longer have a 364-foot power driveway and a tiny fence lurking over their shoulders?

“It definitely gives you a lot more confidence,” says left-handed starter Bruce Zimmermann. “There’s really no other way to put it, when you don’t have to worry about jamming or hard line drives sneaking in – if you give up a home run, you drop a home run.

“It’s always been a small park and it’s definitely a big equalizer. I know the hitters probably aren’t too excited about it. But it’s nice to have a park that plays a little more level than in the past.

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Less Charm, Better Weapons

Zimmermann, who has a 2.72 ERA in seven starts, grew up in nearby Ellicott and was in high school when Machado, Adam Jones and JJ Hardy attacked the front porch with a vengeance and led the Orioles to the first three playoff berths in six years. Machado, he said, was Camden Yards’ ultimate hitter, beating so many “low howlers who came out by six or seven rows”.

Now the low fence that connected the fans to the players is gone. It’s a disorienting and, for some, shocking sight for long-time visitors.

“I feel like that kind of took away the charm of this place, which is a pretty special place,” Boone said of the Yankees. “I don’t think it’s a secret, it’s one of the most beautiful parks in the league. It’s always like that. For me, that makes it a little less.

Aesthetics are one thing and the challenges on the pitch are another. The towering wall – not as high as Boston’s Green Monster but also not as close – and Baltimore’s responsive pitching staff created an ambience not seen here for most of the park’s existence. Previously, coming to Charm City was not such a tactical dilemma.

“It’s a real challenge to come here right now,” Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said earlier this month. “They throw the ball really well.

“The ballpark is definitely part of it. We’ve hit a few balls in this series that you’d expect at this stadium, even most stadiums, and they’re not even close. It’s going to be a chore to set up races. You kind of have to stack the moves quickly, instead of planning them one at a time.

The Baldelli twins got scared when left fielder Nick Gordon slammed into the sharp corner of the wall at center left, a potentially dangerous spot for outfielders sprinting for a fly ball. Hays says there will be scenarios where outfielders “have to stop so they don’t kill themselves.”

The tough corners and power outage could make the place a Bermuda Triangle for left fielders. The biggest part of the equation, however, is developing, retaining, maybe recruiting a pitching team. That effort should soon be bolstered with the arrival of top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, who is thriving at Class AAA Norfolk, with southpaw DL Hall not far behind.

Even right-handed punchers know this, bittersweet as it is.

“That should help attract more pitchers to come here in the future, which is definitely a good thing for the organization,” first baseman and DH Trey Mancini said. “But as a right-handed attacking player, it’s a big leap from what it was to what it is.

“It stinks every time you hit a ball in that area that you think should be a home run, but at the same time there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to go for the aisle of power or the center or the oppo. That hasn’t changed. It’s not ideal when that happens, but you also can’t go home plate thinking about the new left-field wall, or you’ll have other problems.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New Camden Yards dimensions leave smoldering sluggers in Baltimore