Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Monstrous Preparations for June 2nd

Grave Digger and the rest of the Monster Mashers won't be here until Friday.  But this kind of bodacious bash requires a lot of preparation, and the advance team has already been deployed.

In anticipation of the 4:00 am arrival of the dirt convoy, the heavy artillary is on standby.

Earthmovers have been mustering all day.  By 3:00 pm, there was enough equipment outside M&T to build another ICC.

But it's no mere road they're gearing up for-- It's the dreaded "Path of Destruction."

Of course, playing pattycake with a bulldozer on a football field is not the only thing necessary to transform a stadium complex into a motor sports speedway.

The Monster Truck event begins on Saturday afternoon with a pit party for fans to meet the drivers and admire their steeds.  This takes place on Lots B and C, and of course refreshments will be served.  Which means stadium operations will distribute trash and recycling receptacles along with crowd controlling barriers.  They were being placed late this afternoon.

Tomorrow, the dust will fly when the dump trucks unload about 3,500 cubic yards of dirt on the field, which is protected by a plastic membrane.  The"shapers" who sculpt mud moguls and other obstacles are real pros.  Their designs are computer generated, and a crew of eight will work for 18-20 hours on their course.

They were about half way through the process when this picture was taken last year.  The dirt was still being nudged into shape when these wreckers were added to the course. 

By the time they finish, this field will have every tacky lawn ornament short of a pink flamingo punctuating the course.

And if you are already gasping at the thought of what  this does to air quality, be assured water vans periodically spray the course to keep dust settled.

Much as I love on-site reporting, the 4:00 am procession of dump trucks and bulldozers will perform their wizardry without me.  I'll be back online when the vehicles themselves roll into town.  It's not unlike the pachyderm parade down Pratt, but without need for a bucket and shovel.  Who could miss that?

The Advance Auto Parts Monster Jam Path of Destruction is just about the most fun a family can have -- particularly with the youngsters, who just can't get enough of the action.

Tickets are still available, for the event and the pit party beforehand.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Just like the Green Monstah"

The season was almost two months old before the annual migration of Red Sox Nation descended on Baltimore.  Eager to record their reactions to the new amenties at Oriole Park, I ventured to Eutaw Street as soon as the gates opened.

Naturally, the Beaners got there first.  You can count on them to get the jump if they aren't warming up across Russell Street.

The above two lost no time in securing rail seats on the rooftop deck overlooking centerfield.  When I asked what they thought of this new perch, the one on the right remarked.  "This is great!!  Just like the Green Monstah."

The two on the right preferred being out of the direct sun but still at the bar with a big flat screen.  They were still there when I left some time later. "Yastremski" suggested the stools be sold as season tickets because he could spend a whole summer there.

These fellows were celebrating an annual rite of summer.  Every year, without fail, they catch at least one Bosox game at Oriole Park.  Part of the ritual is stopping in at Boog's place as soon as they arrive.  From there, they check into flag court for batting practice and a few brewskis.  They were particularly impressed with how lowering the rail in Flag Court improved the sight lines on the field.  They considered this a great improvement to both the visual and gastronomical experiences.

Not everyone rushed the gate when it opened, of course.  There were still some standing around outside waiting for the crowds to thin.

This philosophical soul, with his "Still Believe" Sox shirt, is spending some quality time with Babe.  I had to giggle at the irony.

Usually when you see Sox fans assembling at Babe's pedestal, you hear references to "The Curse" or another perceived slight that this Baltimore boy became a huge star only after leaving Boston.

Not this fellow.  He was content to sit there and reflect on what a great pitcher Babe was and how well he performed on the mound for the Red Sox while he was there.

And yes, he does believe the Sox will rise again, just as his shirt says.

As annoyed as many true Oriole fans get with this invasion, (and yes, we've seen those "Fenway South" t-shirts, too) there are a number of our neighbors who see it in a very positive light.

After taking pictures in the stadium, I wandered across Russell Street.  It looked like Opening Day.   You couldn't wedge into any of the establishments, the sidewalks were filled, and the folks from Boston (as well as the locals you can see in this picture) were having a splendid time pre-gaming.

I've been told by several of the folks on the other side of the bar that this has been one of the best springs ever.  Crowds are up, people are coming earlier before the games and staying later afterwards.  There is a positive energy in the air, and the regulars seem to be taking in more games than in previous years. 

While this might not be the most reliable economic indicator, (just as the observations from the rooftop bar are hardly architecturally astute,) the vibes from this first visit of Red Sox Nation are gratifying.  They were generous in their praise of our stadium enhancements, they genuinely enjoy visiting here, and they revel in the whole downtown scene.

We may not agree on much, (unless the Yankees come up in the conversation,) but we do share a great appreciation for the magical experience of Camden Yards.

Monday, May 28, 2012

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Planning . . ."

Marco's wheels came off in Indy yesterday, but for the Andretti team it's full throttle here in Baltimore.  The green flag is now waving.

As promised, tickets for the 2012 Grand Prix of Baltimore are on sale at Ticketmaster.  We visited the purchase site and found the following:

Yes!!  Tickets are finally on sale!

For the time being, the course layout and access looks pretty much the same, although there is a disclaimer saying this will change.  We've heard they will add additional gates to the course.  One will be at Turn Ten, where access to the watering holes last year required a trip up Pratt Street and around University Hospital, causing immense distress to drinkers and docs alike.

Ditto for Little Italy, where an added gate keeps pizanos close to the action and accessible to fans.

The ticket site also promises that reserve seating will go on sale July 15, so it is possible the map will change by then.  Among the tweaks under consideration are adding pedestrian bridges and removing chicanes on Pratt and Conway Streets.

(Chicanes are artificial anomolies in the course that forced drivers to slow down before they crossed the tracks, like the one on the right.  Evidently, the drivers weren't keen on the precaution.)

Perhaps the best news coming out of last week was that Race On managed to acquire the concrete walls built for this course.  Race walls are special order items, and take months to create.  After just one use, they are still structurally sound and should last over the length of Race On's contract with the City.

We also hear there should be some announcements coming shortly about race sponsors and partners.  With just three months until the teams hit town, we anticipate Grand Prix of Baltimore is going to be making news regularly.

And keep waving that green flag . . .

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Hidden Messages of M&T

Unitas Plaza on the north side of the stadium is a swarm of fans on game day.  Many rub the shoe of ol' High Tops for luck before entering, giving his toe that extra gleam. 

But even before this tribute to Johnny U was dedicated in 2001, there was a more subtle reminder of the heroics of Baltimore's prolific passer at the same site.  You may have walked over it a hundred times without noticing.  In fact, it takes a raven's eye view (and some Madden expertise) to recognize it.

Under Johnny is a mosaic line of scrimmage. 

Outlined between the hash marks, in x's and o's, is a classic passing play.  The quarterback stands behind a six man offensive line.  There are four receivers running patterns downfield (note white lines with arrows) as possible targets while the fullback (white line with "t") blocks.

Of course, it looks a lot different once movement starts.  Maybe this picture explains it a little better.

Just imagine that "o" on the near side as Raymond Berry, heading for the end zone.

This mosaic doesn't represent any particular play or memorable moment.  But it is one of the hidden messages that gives our complex a sense of place.

There's another one, perhaps even more obscure, that pays tribute to Baltimore's industrial past and the manufacturing district that relied on Camden Yards for transporting their products.

The south side of the stadium is quiet now, and if you're a Ravens regular you may think it looks odd without the big purple tent that has anchored the corner for many years. 

Other than that, there isn't anything worth noting, is there?   (No, those stripes do not represent beer tallies.)

Now look again -- with raven-vision -- from about 50 feet up, and see what the corner really represents. 
The sidewalk design is actually a keyboard, with the turf shaped like a grand piano.  At one time (I'm told) this area was planted into a lovely garden.

However, the beds were eventually pulled and replaced with a tree buffer and astroturf surface --more conducive to the Backyard Bash and revelers who now occupy the area on game days.

But why a grand piano?  There doesn't seem to be much of a connection between classical music and NFL football (although our superb Marching Ravens may disagree!)

This picture shows the Knabe Piano headquarters, which occupied almost a city block at the corner of Eutaw and West Streets.  This five story factory was built by German immigrant William Knabe just before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Knabes were the official piano of Carnegie Hall, and the favorite of singers who valued the dulcet tones produced by the superior craftsmanship.

The building stood on  this site for more than a century, changing hands many times through the years. It eventually produced Sweetheart Cups and Maryland Paper Products. 

Today, of course, the site is occupied by M&T Bank Stadium.  The building's cupola, where old Mr. Knabe would watch ships bringing his imported mahogony and rosewood into the harbor, was transported to the Baltimore Museum of Industry.  It is now a gazebo gracing the waterside garden.

You can still find Knabe pianos, with their exquisite workmanship, in concert halls as well as private homes.  There used to be one on the club level of the stadium (although we can't find anyone who knows where it went.)

But the memory of this particular part of Baltimore's proud heritage lives on in the sidewalk design.  Be sure to check it out the next time you visit.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sailabrations Start Here

The War of 1812 Bicentennial comes to Baltimore with a big splash next month as a flotilla of tall ships from around the world call in our historic harbor.  They will be joined by other masted schooners and US Navy vessels in several locations.
On the weekend of June 16-17, the Navy's elite Blue Angels Squadron will perform over the harbor and nearby Patapsco River. 

In all, it will be nearly a week of exciting activities celebrating Maryland's maritime heritage as well as our role in defending our young country against a formidable naval power.

As thousands of visitors are expected each day, and attractions are staged in various parts of the harbor, the best plan to enjoy a hassle-free experience is to park and shuttle to the sites. 

Which brings us to another important role Camden Yards plays in the operations of downtown Baltimore -- transit station to the masses.

Starting Thursday, June 14, MSA will be providing parking with a free shuttle service to Locust Point (where the tall ships will be open to visitors) for $20.00 in Lots G and H.  These lots, east of the light rail track at M&T Bank Stadium, are easily accessible via the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, I-95 and 395.

On the weekend of June 16-17, when the Blue Angels are performing, all day parking will be available in Lots A, B, and C for $20.00, which includes transit on the shuttle going directly to Fort McHenry.

At Camden Yards, visitors are within walking distance of the Inner Harbor as well as downtown.  The light rail stops at both locations, so it's convenient for the world-premiere performance of composer Philip Glass' Overture for 2012, on Sunday, June 17 at the Meyerhoff

There are many details to come on the Star-Spangled Sailabration, so we suggest you check their website frequently.  But start planning now to make your first stop at Camden Yards where you can leave your car and be assured convenient transport to your destination.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

As The Bird Flies . . .

Look at what popped up on Eutaw Street!  Now if you wonder where those franchise fledglings, those O's of Tomorrow, roost, this is all the direction you need.

If you fly, of course.  Distance is calculated by how The Bird gets there, and he doesn't fight traffic on I-95.  So you might want to tack on a few miles if you rely on GPS.

Speaking of The Bird flying the coop, he recently took off on a goodwill mission to his winter quarters in Sarasota (listed here as 893 miles away.  That's a lot of flapping.)

From there, The Bird glided to Gainesville to personally pitch Sarasota's bid for the Florida High School Athletic Association Baseball Finals — previously hosted at Ed Smith Stadium before construction caused the tournament to wing away.

We can only guess The Bird made a good impression, particularly after whistling at the administrators.  So hopefully, Sarasota and Ed Smith Stadium will welcome this high school classic back in May 2013, 2014 and 2015.  Who can resist The Bird?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Getting the Job Done

"Those irises are so pretty!" we hear frequently this time of year. 

Yes, they're very pretty.  Also very Ravens purple, making an attractive entrance on the south side of the complex.  But that's only part of the reason why they're there.

These hard-working irises, and their less flashy neighbors, the tough ornamental grasses, have an important job to do.  One they are very good at, as I saw this morning.

We had heavy thunderstorms last night and this morning.  Real gullywashers, as the farmers used to say.  When those torrents hit the acres of asphalt around us, the runoff drains into perimeter areas with tremendous velocity. 

This particular outfall, below Lot D, was a real problem.  It eroded after every downpour, leaving trash and parking lot detritus in the crevices.  In addition to being an unsightly mess where nothing could grow, it was also the landfill for beverage bottles discarded by the locals.

A few years ago, MSA applied some environmental engineering to the problem.  The soil was regraded, heavy rocks were placed below the drain, and the entire area replanted as a rain garden.  Those beautiful irises are the second line of defense against runoff, after the rock breakwater.  Their thatched tubors are firmly anchored so they won't wash away.  And unlike many species, they can handle damp as well as dry beds.  They flourish in watershed areas.

What you can't see in this picture is the three inches of water they are sitting in.  In another hour so, most of that will be absorbed instead of polluting the Middle Branch just below our complex.  The soil on the banks won't become silt in the river, because it is held in place by those grasses and their extensive root system.

At the same time this problem was addressed, another unattractive environmental challenge was met.  The steep slope between the stadium and train tracks, home to a colony of groundhogs who kept the surface unstable, was cleared of scrub invasives and rodents.  It was replanted with low maintenance, drought tolerant shrubs and grasses.  Within a year, purple butterfly bushes covered the area below the pedestrian bridge and the grasses anchored the problem area below the retaining wall.

(Yes, they're pretty, too.  And they smell wonderful in the late summer, when they're covered with migrating monarch butterflies.  But that isn't as important as their full time job, which is holding the bank in place.)

We haven't been able to do as much of this environmental planting as we'd like, because of the budget challenges.  But thanks to the Ravens and their home playoff appearance this year, we're able to do a little bit more this spring.  In a few weeks, there will be more perennials (purple, of course) on the hill, and new ornamental grasses to correct the failing swale along Ostend Street.  The irises, which have multiplied over the past three years, will be divided and replanted  into a larger spread.

So admire the beautiful flowers.  We all do.  But also appreciate them for the job they do so well.

Monday, May 14, 2012

4,000 for Lunch? Right This Way!

The elevator doors had almost closed when I was joined by a man on a mission.  During our brief ride, the Delaware North server relayed what had him in such a hurry.

"Parties on six and eight," he puffed.  "Four suite groups and an evening reception in the Bullpen Picnic."

In catering parlence that means all hands on deck and a lot of scurrying;  for facilities folks at Camden Yards it's just another day at the office.

Big and concurrent parties are a regular feature around here, whether the Birds are in town or not.  In fact, some of the largest fetes held around Oriole Park occurred during football season.  One such epic event was the barbeque staged for the entire Brigade of Midshipmen when they played Maryland on Labor Day 2011.

With the 4,000 strong came their fleet of buses, which also had to be accommodated.  And the country-western band giving a concert performance on Williams Plaza.

Check and check.  We can handle it all.  Even the gate crashers (suspiciously resembling families and girlfriends) that joined the Brigade for the fun.

36 buses were threaded onto Camden Street, the buffet was staged on the wide sidewalk near Russell Street, and the Mids ate . . .  everywhere.

(Not quite everywhere.  University of Maryland's enormous marching band mustered on the south side of Oriole Park.)

When they finished eating and cleaning up, the Mids assembled into companies for their march to the stadium.  A truly impressive sight, particularly since there wasn't a speck of barbeque sauce anywhere on those immaculate white uniforms.

The Brigade will be back Labor Day 2014 when they play Ohio State. 

We don't know if they'll be dining with us again or not, but I hope so. 

There is nothing more gratifying to a mother's heart than a group of polite youngsters who call you "Ma'am" and clean up behind themselves.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Andretti Takes the Wheel!

As many know, the Baltimore Grand Prix experienced a rather extended pit stop when the wheels came off last year.  So it came as a great surprise -- and even greater thrill -- to learn that a big name in the sport grabbed the controls and got the race back in gear.

Michael Andretti, scion of racing family patriarch Mario, father of current standard bearer Marco, has accepted the challenge.  His event management operation, Andretti Sports Marketing, is taking responsibility for logistics, promoting, community outreach, course construction and race operations.

It's a good thing the speed gene is part of the family DNA, because all this has to transpire within three months, when construction of the track begins.

We aren't the only ones relieved and gratified there's a new foot on the accelerator.  While having a 2012 race follow up the wildly successful (in most ways) inaugural event is important to City coffers, it is also crucial to the IndyCar league.

The Baltimore event was huge for the new league last year.  The attendance far exceeded expections, the Mid-Atlantic location was perfect for growing the East Coast fan base, and the drivers themselves loved the course and crowd response. 

(That's Marco zooming past Turn Ten)

With 2012 already on the schedule and commitments to sponsors needing to be met, IndyCar wants this race to happen as much as anyone here.

Camden Yards is not a big player in these arrangements.  After making initial modifications to accommodate pit lane and the VIP viewing area last year, our role is simply that of facility manager.  We rent the lots where the pits are located and many of the activities (including the ALMS paddock and car corral) are staged.

Still, this weekend event offers entertainment to Maryland residents and visitors and economic opportunities for the local business community.  That's a big part of our mission.

The next few months around here are bound to be turbo-charged with activities.  It's particularly exciting for Bin 400, Warehouse B, as we enjoy a splendid view of the pit and stretch down Conway (in air-conditioned comfort, I might add.)

In boca al lupo, Michael.  No matter what Donald Trump says, the racing world thinks you're the man for the job.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's that time of year again . . .

If you think football games, soccer matches, and lacrosse tournaments are exciting at M&T Bank Stadium, you should be here on Prom Night.

It was a little hard for me to get my head around this concept.  (Admittedly, I am of the era when prom meant crepe paper streamers in the high school gym.)  Though things have evolved a bit, I still wasn't prepared for the popularity of our stadium for one of the biggest nights of high school life.

(Do you think they coordinated these ensembles around the decor?  Was Nike involved?)

This month there will be 16 proms held in M&T Bank Stadium.  Since there are only four weekends in May, you might wonder how that's possible.

Well, this weekend there is one on Friday night and three on Saturday.  That's right -- three high school proms staged at one time, in one place.  Next weekend, there are two on Friday and three more on Saturday. 

Drive down Russell Street either night and watch the convoy of stretch limos snaking through the lots.  Sometimes there are even spotlights criss-crossing the sky. All they need is Joan Rivers doing fashion commentary and you'd swear it was the Academy Awards.

So getting back to the appeal of a football stadium for the Big Event.  One of them has to be pictures like these.

Another has to be the appeal of the behind-the-scenes look at a City icon.  Yes, these are in the locker room.  Yes, everyone wants to stand in Ray Lewis' locker.

But a big part has to be the beauty of the setting.  The proms are held on the Club level, beautifully decorated and dramatically lit for the many functions held there.

Oriole Park also hosts proms, but not nearly as many because the two seasons conflict, and outside events can't be held during home stands.  (Would make an interesting theme, though.)  Like M&T, Oriole Park boasts a beautiful club level with spectacular views of Baltimore.

So while these proms don't feature an Eiffel Tower made of aluminum cans (no kidding, it really was) for a centerpiece, they certainly capture the flavor of a night on the town in a very unique way. 

The staff at MSA is proud to help make that night a lifetime memory.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Dude with 'Tude

Even before the 20th season at Camden Yards began, the O's announced the return of the chirpy cartoon character who graced their caps during the 70's and 80's.

It was he who welcomed fans on Opening Day, smiling from the vertical banners outside Camden Yards and the giant video board inside.

However, the off-season enhancements to Oriole Park included a number of murals and decorative flourishes around Eutaw Street and the concourses.    It was on these walls we got our first look at his alter-ego.

Not exactly Angry Bird (although he'd probably make a good video game) but more like  . . . well,

 Ballbustin' Baltimore Bird  -- scourge of AL East.

In other words, our affable avian has made this his year to show a new, in-your-face, facet of his personality -- The Dude with 'Tude.

Wander around Oriole Park and you'll be reminded this is the Bird that takes no prisoners, gives no quarter, and keeps fighting (even if it takes17 innings and a DH on the mound) til it's done.

Today our Birds fly south from Boston to open another home stand.  They are 19-9 on the season, in first place in the AL East with the best record in MLB.

So if they seem to have a new edge to the performance, maybe it comes from all those reminders around the Park. 

This is the Year of the Bird, and a time to celebrate at Camden Yards. 

(Unless, of course, you'd rather watch
"60 Minutes.")