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The Camden Effect: At 25, ballpark’s legacy is large in MLB

A quarter-century later, Larry Lucchino can be self-deprecating about a vision that ushered in a new era of ballpark construction.

“I tell everyone I’ve had one good, original idea in my 38 years in baseball,” said Lucchino, whose career as an executive has included stints with Baltimore, San Diego and Boston. “It was to build a traditional, old-fashioned ballpark with modern amenities, intimacy and irregularity.”

It sounds so simple the way Lucchino describes it, and he insists the Orioles weren’t trying to set any sweeping trends when they opened their new ballpark 25 years ago. That’s exactly what happened, though. Oriole Park at Camden Yards became the model for a period of groundbreaking transformation in the way baseball venues were built.

Over two-thirds of all major-league teams now play in facilities that opened in 1992 or later, part of a ballpark boom that has changed how fans and players experience the game — and has led to some contentious debate over how to pay for it all.

Three years before the Orioles opened their new park, the Toronto Blue Jays began playing at SkyDome, a futuristic stadium with a retractable roof and a hotel overlooking the field. For Baltimore, Lucchino wanted something more understated.

“We didn’t let people use the ‘stadium’ word — the s-word,” said Lucchino, who was president of the Orioles from 1988-1993. “We fined anybody five bucks if he called it a stadium, because to us, it was a ballpark. The word had a different connotation.”

Located downtown and built just for baseball, Camden Yards was a departure from the trend of multipurpose venues that seemed largely indistinguishable from each other. The B&O Warehouse beyond right field made Oriole Park instantly recognizable — like Wrigley Field’s ivy or Fenway Park’s Green Monster — and although the ballpark’s simplicity was part of its appeal, it included some innovations that improved the spectator experience.

“You never knew where a good idea might bubble up,” said Janet Marie Smith, an architect and urban planner who served as vice president of planning and development for the Orioles and oversaw the ballpark’s design and construction. “It was in a fan forum that someone said, ‘Why don’t you elevate the bullpens beyond the outfield fence so every fan can see who’s warming up?'”

The Orioles drew over 3.5 million fans in the first season at Camden Yards, increasing their attendance by 40 percent from the previous year. Baltimore drew at least 3 million in each of its first 10 seasons at the new park, with the exception of strike-shortened 1994.

BALLPARK BOOM

In that 1994 season, Jacobs Field opened in downtown Cleveland. It was designed by HOK Sport, the same firm that worked on Camden Yards. (HOK is now called Populous, and Jacobs Field is now Progressive Field.)

The Indians enjoyed an attendance bump of their own as they began a mid-1990s renaissance that would result in two American League pennants. The Texas Rangers also opened a new park in ’94, and the Colorado Rockies followed suit the next year.

Across the majors, teams wanted to replicate Baltimore’s success. From 1992-2012, a total of 21 new parks opened. When there were no additions to that list from 2013-16, it was the first time since Camden Yards opened that even two consecutive seasons had passed without a new ballpark.

“The wave of new ballparks has dramatically improved the fan experience in terms of access, sight lines, food options and a variety of other issues,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in an email. “These new ballparks have allowed baseball to ride a wave of record attendance that has improved the economics of all 30 clubs.”

When Lucchino moved on to the Padres, he was a driving force behind their new ballpark. Smith, meanwhile, helped turn the main stadium from the Atlanta Olympics into a baseball park, and the Braves began playing there in 1997. Atlanta is moving into a new home in the suburbs this season.

Lucchino and Smith both ended up in Boston, where they oversaw improvements to Fenway Park that included new seats atop the Green Monster. Lucchino, who had looked to Fenway as inspiration for Camden Yards, had come full circle.

“We used Camden Yards as a model for Boston by saying, ‘We want some of the modern amenities that exist at Camden Yards up here,'” said Lucchino, who is now the chairman of Boston’s minor league affiliate in Pawtucket. “The old-fashioned stuff came from Fenway to Baltimore, and the modern amenities and the newness came from Baltimore to Boston.”

THE BALLPARK EXPERIENCE

As much as fans have come to appreciate a traditionalist approach to designing ballparks, there’s still room for more exotic attractions. Putting seats on the Green Monster is one thing, but at Arizona’s Chase Field, there’s a swimming pool beyond the outfield fence. That’s the type of idea that might have fit back at SkyDome, when the Blue Jays seemed eager to test the limit of what could reasonably be added to a baseball stadium.

Now called Rogers Centre, SkyDome made its own mark on the sport. Five other current ballparks also have retractable roofs. The only remaining dome without one is Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay Rays have played since their inaugural season in 1998. The stadium actually opened in 1990.

When it comes to the “modern amenities” Lucchino talks about, fans aren’t the only constituents who can benefit. Players notice when their work environment improves.

“It’s a home away from home. You get a chance to go to (Philadelphia’s) Citizens Bank Park, and you walk in and the clubhouse is huge, and you get the hot tub, the cold tub and the pool where you can swim,” said Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs, who played in the majors from 1992-2011. “You always look forward to going to those new ballparks, with the brand-new locker rooms.”

DEBATE OVER FUNDING

While new parks can benefit players, owners and spectators, they require huge financial commitments — a thorny issue that isn’t going away any time soon. The use of public money in sports has caused a lot of tension over the years. By the time Marlins Park opened in 2012 in Miami, it had been at the center of all sorts of controversy, and the opening was delayed a year because of a lawsuit challenging the ballpark’s financing package. The team prevailed in court.

The Braves, who began playing at Turner Field only two decades ago, already have a new ballpark. The 2017 season will be their first at SunTrust Park in Cobb County. The county contributed about $400 million in public funding.

Last year in Arlington, Texas, voters approved public funding for a new retractable-roof stadium for the Rangers.

“It looks to me that we’re entering an environment where at least owners and the people who can extract the subsidies are saying 15 to 20 years is the useful life of these facilities,” said Brad Humphreys, an economics professor at West Virginia University whose expertise includes sports economics. “If that’s the case then this boom of construction from the ’90s, those stadiums are going to be considered obsolete in 10 years. It is frightening when you look at the size of the subsidies we’re giving out the last 20 years.”

The lesson from Atlanta’s experience is that not every new park is going to be a long-term success story. With so many ballparks being built, some are bound to be more forgettable than others — especially when the style of Camden Yards has been mimicked so extensively.

“I don’t have a crystal ball that’s any better than anyone else’s, but I can tell you that one of the biggest concerns I had when we were working on Camden Yards is: Would it stand the test of time?” said Smith, who now works in the front office for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I can tell you I certainly feel easier about that question, now that 25 years has passed.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Lightning falls further behind despite gaining a point against Montreal

The Tampa Bay Lightning gained a point Saturday night.

Still, it lost ground.

The Lightning dropped a 2-1 game in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens, but watched as both of its playoff competitors won. Tampa Bay now trails Boston by four points for the final wild-card spot and both Toronto and Ottawa by five points for third place in the Atlantic Division.

Montreal’s winning goal came from Alexander Radulov 51 seconds into overtime.

The Bolts lost despite  34 saves by Andrei Vasilevskiy, who gave up a questionable goal in the second period.

“Well, you can look at it a couple of ways. You can say, ‘Well, that was a bad one to give up.’” coach Jon Cooper said. “Or you could look at it and say that Vasy made like six 10-bellers and we still pushed that game to overtime. It was one of those games,  they’re a good team and we’ve been asked for so much from our guys and they just keep delivering and delivering.

“Kind of the signature of this team, they found a way in the third to will us at least a point and give us the chance that we had in overtime. So I look at it as a complete positive because we got a point out of the game and we can sit here and say, ‘They got the better of us tonight.’ I guess there’s not much wiggle room left, but not getting a point out of that game would have been devastating.”

Yanni Gourde scored for the Bolts for the third straight game to force overtime.

Tampa Bay plays at home tonight against Dallas.

Rowdies clobber Toronto, 4-0, to stay unbeaten after two games

Coach Stuart Campbell wants to make his stadium “a fortress.”

Star player Joe Cole wants more than that. He wants an entire city behind the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

It’s hard to blame the Rowdies for being ambitious after team walloped Toronto FC II Saturday night. The Rowdies won 4-0, scoring three times in the first half to remove any doubt as to the night’s outcome. The Rowdies drew 4,326 fans.

We were happy with the result and the performance from last week and we just talking about building on it,” Rowdies coach Campbell said. “We want to make this place a fortress. We want to make teams hate to come here.”

The Rowdies had been impressive in an opening week victory over Orlando City B, 1-0, but were even better Saturday night. Tampa Bay has now given up only 10 shots in its two wins. Toronto ended up with seven shots, but only one was on goal.

We played really well last week and we played well tonight,” Cole said. “The difference was we put the ball in the back of the net. It’s a good start for us. It’s great that the crowd turned out tonight. We want to put on a show and get the whole city behind us. You can’t do much more than score four goals.”

Damion Lowe scored in the 12th minute for the Rowdies. Georgi Hristov scored his second goal in two games in the 20th minute and Cole scored his first of the season in the 22nd. Deshorn Brown scored his first in the 70th minute.

“The goal was to attack, attack, attack and be relentless,” said midfielder Michael Nanchoff.

Still, the second straight shutout impressed Campbell, too.

“Defending starts from the front and the front two (Hristov and Cole) set it all off tonight,” Campbell said after his teams’ second-consecutive clean sheet. “It filters back through the midfield, the back four and the goalkeeper. They’ve been great. They’re desperate to keep a clean sheet and it’s something we spoke about at halftime.”

Tampa Bay is home for the third straight game Saturday against Ottawa.

Five things to watch for at the Tampa Bay Rowdies-Toronto soccer match

Five things to ponder about Saturday night’s game between the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Toronto FC II:

1. Mirror images. Both teams won their opening games 1-0. The Rowdies beat Orlando City B, while Toronto beat Phoenix Rising. In a way, then, this early-season battle of the unbeatens could be the start of competition in the USL’s Eastern Division.

2. The finish: For the Rowdies, one of the oldest problems that continues to nag is the ability to finish its runs. That was a problem Saturday night. The Rowdies dominated Orlando City, outshooting it 21-3, but could only manage the one goal. Georgi Hristov, who scored on the team’s penalty kick, missed two of those opportunities.

3. Marcel Shaffer: Shaffer had an impressive debut for the Rowdies last week, but he played only eight days after arriving from his native Germany. Shaffer should be more acclimated this week.

“To win games is the most important thing in my life since I was five years old,” Schafer said this week. “As a soccer player, you train every day for Saturday night, for the main part of the week. To win games is why I’m here. That’s why I’m a soccer player and that’s what I live for.”

4. Defense rules: Goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald will likely play instead of Matt Pickens again this week. Fitzgerald was good enough to get a clean sheet (shutout) last week, but he really didn’t have to do a lot of work. The defense in front of Fitzgerald allowed only three shots, which should the Rowdies a chance in most games.

5. The crowd: The Rowdies drew a record crowd of 7.710 last week against Orlando City B. Can they do it again? It’ll be tougher, with the Lightning playing and the Rays opening the next day. But the Rowdies have emphasized their crowds all off-season. Look for another boisterous bunch.

 

What to watch for at today’s NCAA Final Four

Some things to watch for in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday:

MEN IN THE MIDDLE: Seven-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski is Gonzaga‘s center and he will be matched up with 6-10 Maik Kotsar of South Carolina.

Karnowski, a senior, averages 12.2 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field. Kotsar, a freshman, averages 5.8 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Karnowski has been battling a back issue.

“It was mostly my lower back, maybe a little bit going to my legs,” he said. “Basically any movement where my disc had pressure was painful. Just going every day to the practice facility was a big challenge for me.”

With two big men going at it, it won’t be easy to officiate inside.

“Obviously I’m bigger than 99.9 percent of the players in the NCAA,” Karnowksi said. “I just try to play through that and whatever happens I cannot complain. The referees always talk and I want to see their perspective. At the same time I don’t want to go emotional. I want to stay in the game and stay dialed in.”

BACK AGAIN: North Carolina has a chance to leave this Final Four with a better result than last season’s last-second loss to Villanova in the championship game.

“I think the offseason was the biggest part where we felt like we had unfinished business,” All-America forward Justin Jackson said. “Now we’re here for Oregon. And we don’t look past that or anything. We’re focusing on Oregon. And I think the whole unfinished business or revenge, I don’t know how you can have revenge on a team that wasn’t the person that took it from you. And so for us, we’re just trying to focus on Oregon and that’s it.”

COACHING EXPERIENCE: This is North Carolina coach Roy Williams‘ ninth Final Four, six more than the other three coaches combined.

“We had a chance to talk a little bit last night,” Williams said of the four coaches. “But the good thing is that I consider those three guys friends before this happened, guys I have a ton of respect for.

“And then let’s be honest, I’ve coached at two pretty good places. I’ve coached at Kansas and North Carolina. And it’s not easy to get here, but it’s easier at those two places, and I’m not trying to be humble, I’m being what I think is truthful. It’s easier to get here with coaching at the places I’ve been coaching. I don’t pat myself too much about that.”

HEALTH ISSUES: South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, the Southeastern Conference player of the year and the tournament’s leading scorer with a 25.8 average, practiced Friday after missing it the day before because of illness.

“I’m going to share this with you, but he said to me last night, ‘Man, I feel like I’m letting everyone down,'” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “I said, ‘Huh? What is wrong with you? Letting who down? The game’s Saturday. You’ll be all right, man.’

“But that’s just who he is. He feels that our guys practiced and he was not there to help them. That’s who he is. But he’s in good spirits. I’ve been giving him a hard time all morning, because I know he doesn’t like it, that the rest of us worked yesterday and he laid around in bed and watched TV.”

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II, the point guard for the high-octane offense, has been battling ankle issues. He practiced Friday and is expected to play Saturday.

“I don’t think there was ever a thought in our mind that he wasn’t going to play, just the type of guy that he is,” Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Justin Jackson said. “But it does give us more confidence knowing that he’ll be out there with us.”

FIRST TO 80: The North Carolina-Oregon game should be one where both teams try and get out and run, a lot.

Oregon averages 78.9 points per game while the Tar Heels average 85.0 points, scoring 80 or more 26 times, 90 or more 17 times and over 100 six times.

“We’ve got to limit their touches in the paint as much as we can, which is a very difficult task since they run so many things to get the ball inside,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “We’re going to have to do a tremendous job defensively to try to keep the ball out of there a little bit.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Rays’ Chris Archer thinks his team will surprise some people

Outside the clubhouse, there is new synthetic turf and old banners. There are questions and skeptics.

Inside, there is hope and promise and optimism. Two days short of Opening Day, why wouldn’t there be?

Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays stands in front of his locker, and he expresses his belief in a team that many think is bound for the AL East Cellar. Archer believes. Someone has to, right?

“I think we’re super-talented,” said Archer, who will start Sunday against the Yankees when the Rays start their season. “We need to remain healthy, and we have a few guys who need to get healthy. And that will happen in due time. But with our ability to pitch and the upgrades that we’ve made as of late, they’ve been talking the whole offseason that they’re going to go out and try to get guys to make us better defensively and on the offensive side. They literally have not stopped throughout the offseason and Spring Training.

“[The Rays have] added Peter Bourjos — great defender. We’ve got two great defensive catchers, and guys have played really good at their respective positions at Spring Training, too. So I’m really looking forward to it.”

Those who still need to get healthy include shortstop Matt Duffy, outfielder Colby Rasmus and catcher Wilson Ramos.

It’s rare to find a prediction that doesn’t have the Rays in the AL East.

“And I think that’s typical for the Rays,” Archer said. “We’re always a sleeper. We’re always an underdog. Nobody’s going to give us some love until it’s October 1 and we’re still in this thing. As long as we take it day by day, we’re talented in a different way than a lot of these teams. We’re constructed differently. But those differences are our advantages.

“Especially after the past two years haven’t been too awesome,” Archer said. “But having Longo (Evan Longoria) coming off a strong year and some of the bullpen guys we’ve added, position players we’ve added, and the way certain players have looked during Spring Training, definitely looking forward to April 2 kicking it off.”

Lightning’s victory over Detroit led by guys who don’t often score

No one will ever call them the new Triplets.

J.T. Brown? Really? He hadn’t scored a goal in 46 games.

Andrej Sustr? Honestly? He had scored only one in 45 games.

Yanni Gourde? Seriously? He had scored three goals … in his life.

Thursday night, however, they all found the net in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. It was a timely effort, because the Bolts had to play without Nikita Kucherov, who has been their most valuable player all season. Kucherov became ill just before the game.

The Lightning is just outside of the playoff chase, trailing the Boston Bruins by three points for the final wild-card berth and Toronto by four for third place in the Atlantic Division.

When Sustr scored, the loudspeaker played his chosen song. It was Britney Spears “Oops!…I Did It Again.”  It has been a long time since the song was hit; it has been a long time since Sustr scored.

“I didn’t know if we’d get to hear it,” said teammate Alex Killorn.

The Bolts also got goals from Killorn (his second in 22 games) and Jonathan Drouin (his first since, well, last game).

“Eventually, you need secondary scoring,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “Someone’s going to lead your team in scoring. Some one is going to be second, then third. But when you’re missing those guys, the goals have to come from somewhere. We got one from Brownie and one from Schu. Killer hadn’t been on for a while.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy won his 20th game of the year for the Bolts, stopping 31 of 34 shots.

Cooper was hopeful that Kucherov could play Saturday night when the Bolts host Montreal.

Could the Bucs still be a destination for runner Adrian Peterson?

Are the Tampa Bay Bucs done with reeling in big names to help their offense?

Maybe not.

Speculation has returned to the Bucs after quarterback Jameis Winston worked out in Houston recently with former Minnesota Vikings’ great Adrian Peterson. The Bucs were linked with Peterson early in free agency, but due to his age (32), his injured knee and probably his price tag, things never materialized. Peterson remains a free agent.

I’ve seen Adrian Peterson many times — one of the best running backs to ever play,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter told ESPN. “I’m anxious to talk to Jameis and ask him about how his workouts went.”

The Bucs need a running back because of the suspension of starter Doug Martin for the season’s first three games this season. There is a possibililty that Tampa Bay could draft a back.

Rays sell out their 12th straight opening game against Yankees

Attendance problems? Those are for the other 80 home games.

For openers, the Tampa Bay Rays have plenty of fans.

The Rays have sold out their 12th consecutive opener, selling out Sunday’s game against the New York Yankees at the Trop. Tickets are available for the remaining two games in the season-opening series against the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. and for the first weekend series of the season, April 6-9, versus the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Rays are 9-10 in their openers.

Chris Archer, 9-19 last season, starts on the mound for the Rays.

“You either win or you learn,” Archer told MLB.com. “And I learned 19 times lsat year.”

The Rays will be an unsettled bunch on the field, as shortstop Matt Duffy, outfielder Brad Rasmus and catcher Wilson Ramus are all hurt. However, outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, third baseman Evan Longoria and second baseman Brad Miller are intriguing draws, and the Yankees are still the Yankees.

Game time is 1:10 p.m.

Fans can look forward to some major changes in NFL games

Time to celebrate?

NFL fans could see an enhanced flow of play and fewer restrictions on how demonstrative players can be in their jubilation after big plays.

At the busy league meetings Tuesday, owners passed several rules changes, adopting resolutions they believe will speed the game and improve player safety. They also put off until their May gathering in Chicago potentially allowing a bit more creativity in player celebrations.

Commissioner Roger Goodell asked that any adjustments in the rules be tabled so he could meet with players to “bring clarity to the rules while allowing players more ability to celebrate” while avoiding over-the-top demonstrations. He can expect lots of feedback from those players.

The team owners, who on Monday approved the Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas, were apprised of ways the overall time of games can be shortened. Much of that will come through a reduction in the number of commercial breaks per quarter.

But a change in handling officiating of video replays also will serve that purpose, as well as provide more consistency in making calls, the league believes.

Referees will now watch replays on the field using Surface tablets, eliminating “going under the hood” to watch on television monitors. League officiating chief Dean Blandino and his staff in New York will make the final decisions on those calls, with input from the referee, who in the past was the ultimate arbiter after consulting with league headquarters.

“We’ve been doing this for three seasons, since 2014,” Blandino said of the centralized reviews. “It’s worked in the replay process.”

Blandino, who has two assistants who also can make the final decisions at the officiating headquarters, said he has no concern about being undermanned during a heavy schedule.

There are plenty of other things fans can look for in 2017:

—”Leapers” trying to block field goals or extra points have been outlawed.

That was a slam dunk, and passed unanimously.

“To a person, the players’ association was quick to say ‘we don’t like this play,'” competition committee chairman Rich McKay said. “That absolutely always plays a part in our decision. It was an easy play to get out.”

—Made permanent was the rule disqualifying a player who is penalized twice in a game for specific unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. McKay noted that just because ejections and suspensions for egregious hits have been made a permanent rule instead of a one-year deal doesn’t mean the league has a problem. The committee believes suspensions are “the ultimate detriment to players” and will curb any further incidents.

—Crackback blocks by a backfield player who goes in motion no longer are legal.

—An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for committing multiple fouls during the same down with the purpose of manipulating the game clock will be instituted.

Unchanged is the length of overtime in the regular season; a proposal to drop it from 15 minutes to 10 was tabled, a subject likely to be addressed at the May meetings in Chicago.

Giants coach Ben McAdoo agreed when asked if a 10-minute overtime could make it more difficult for both sides to have a possession, as now required if the receiving team in OT doesn’t score a touchdown on its first series.

Also tabled was eliminating the mandatory summer cutdown to 75 players, which would leave only one cut at the end of preseason.

Voted down were suggestions to permit coaches to challenge any officials’ decisions other than scoring plays and turnovers, which automatically are reviewed. Washington’s proposal to move the line of scrimmage to the 20-yard line instead of the 25 if a kickoff is sent through the uprights was defeated.

Withdrawn were proposals to award a third coaches’ challenge as long as a team was correct on one of its first two challenges instead of on both; eliminating the maximum of three challenges entirely; and permitting a club to negotiate and reach a contract with a head coaching candidate anytime during the postseason. Now, there is a specific window for interviewing such candidates, whose season must be over before they can be hired.

The league also discussed allowing players and coaches on the sidelines to use the tablets to watch video, but that was not on the voting agenda Tuesday. For now, they can only look at still photos on the tablet.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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