Everybody is mad—something beautiful has been ruined; the sacred is now the propane. This is a “travesty:” the left field at Camden Yards is totally borked. Just look at it!
Once a neat parabola, the outfield fence now has the uneven pith of a preschooler's first attempt at collaging. Over the off-season, the Baltimore Orioles pushed their left field fence back by about 30 feet and pumped its height up to 12 feet as a counter-measure to giving up a league-leading 155 long balls at home last season. So far, the Orioles have gotten the results they were looking for—there are just 1.3 homers per game this year at Camden Yards, compared to a MLB-high 3.4 per game last season.
And while teams have tinkered with their ballpark dimensions for years, no one has ever done so as hamfistedly as the Orioles. This is very silly and a little sad: the Orioles were so desperate to stop Gleyber Torres from launching mighty taters against them that they made left-field the same size and jagged shape of a post-Yugoslavia Balkan nation.
“I feel like it ruins the park,” said Aaron Judge, the Yankees slugger who lost a homer to the gaping maw of left field, “It was quite a beautiful park the way it was.”
Conversely, this big, stupid renovation has made Camden Yards one of the best stadiums in the league, a monument to baseball’s inherent silliness.
Beyond simply being the only sport that people play while wearing a belt, baseball is unique in that each stadium can be as weird as it wants to be. And yet, every team now seems to be trending towards luxury-box-friendly sameness. In the 21st century, 16 teams have built new stadiums, but can you remember a single notable thing about any of them? All the rough edges have been smoothed out. Houston tamped down their cool little hill in center field; the Marlins dismantled their South Beach-kitsch dinger sculpture; the Rockies store their balls in a humidifier to make their games less Mario Super Sluggers-y. Whereas the sports century-old cathedrals (Wrigley Field, Fenway Park) have some differentiating weirdness like live vegetation or a giant green wall, the prevailing movement in modern ballparks is a drift towards an anodyne equilibrium.
In this sense, the reconfiguration of Camden Yards represents a return to more romantic version of baseball, one before the bloodless private-equitization of the game. Crucially, it gives the stadium A Thing, a quality that you can’t find anywhere else in sports. Although Camden Yards has been widely regarded as one of the nicest stadiums in baseball for the last 20 years, its niceness in turn spawned a wave of similarly faux-retro imitators in 11 other ballparks. Now, it has a defining feature so nonsensical that no other team would ever try to replicate it. A big empty space was chomped out of the stands in left-field because the Orioles felt like it.
If second base can be in the wrong place for over 100 years, why can’t left field have a severe right angle in the wall? I mean, the Orioles couldn’t stop the other team from scoring—what else were they supposed to do? Get better pitchers?