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DB: “Welcome to the MLB Reports Camden Yards Expert Interview Roger. Please tell us about yourself and then give us some information on your life as a baseball fan?”
RR: “I have been an avid baseball fan my entire life. Although my loyalties are pledged to the Mets, my passion extends to all levels of the great game of baseball and its history. I am extremely fortunate to have a wife who is just about as enthusiastic and knowledgeable a baseball fan as I am although she might not be quite as fanatical. We share the same birthday, April 26, which luckily falls during baseball season, as does our wedding anniversary of Sept.10. For two baseball fans we decided there is no better way to celebrate our special occasions than at a ballpark watching a ballgame. So not so surprisingly, we have spent many birthdays and anniversaries at Shea Stadium, Citi Field, and on some specially chosen ‘road’ trips, including Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
When I was young I thought it would be interesting to see a game in all of the active Major League Stadiums but I didn’t consider it to be a realistic goal. By my early 30’s, I had only watched games at Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Veteran’s Stadium. It wasn’t until 1991 that the idea of my ‘quest’ began to take shape. That was the last year of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and Cathy and I went to see the ballpark before it was lost. It was special because it was one of the venues of the 1969 World Series run of the Miracle Mets. To make the game even more memorable, it was Cal Ripken’s birthday and a girl ran onto the field in an unsuccessful attempt to give him a kiss. Cal Ripken, Sr. was the third base coach and Billy Ripken played second base.
I’ve now seen games at 41 Major League stadiums (soon to be 42), countless Minor League parks, amateur fields, and in Japan as well. The quest has been a great way for Cathy, my two sons Bobby and Danny and I to see and experience the country. My love of the game and its history even inspired me to join the Coltsville Vintage Base Ball League and play 1860’s era baseball and serve on the Board of Directors of the Friends of Vintage Base Ball.”
DB: “Your family also has had some great ties with baseball of yesteryear? Please explain the legacy of the “Ratzenberger” name in baseball?”
RR: “My grandfather, Dewey Simmons, was an outdoorsman who loved to hunt, fish, and shoot trap and skeet. He won a number of trap shooting trophies including a state handicap championship in the 1950’s. My grandfather was one of the founders of the Housatonic Gun Club. My grandmother, Josephine, was a very interesting woman. She was a unique blend of a traditional Italian and a modern woman. I truly believe that she was ahead of her time.
One of the stories that my grandmother shared with me was how she and my grandfather were friends with a gentleman who was a former baseball player. He and my grandfather shot together – his name was Neal Ball. I used to love the way that she painted her description of him. She referred to him as always being impeccably dressed and was a “dandy”. This was an extreme compliment from my grandmother. She said that they really enjoyed their times together. She explained to me that Neal was the first “to do something” in the history of baseball. Based on my baseball “knowledge”, I thought my grandmother’s comment that Neal Ball was the first one to “do something” in baseball was not likely or I would have heard of him.
The summer after she died, while exploring the Baseball Hall of Fame, I came upon an old glove in a display case. It was accompanied with a picture and description. Imagine my astonishment as I read: Glove used by Cleveland shortstop Neal Ball in 1909 to record the first unassisted triple play in the major leagues. I was flabbergasted. My grandmother may not have remembered the details, but she was right! Neal Ball had been the first to accomplish something. He completed the 1st unassisted triple play, and against the Boston Red Sox no less!
DB: “You started a website in 2001, what made you decide to do this?
RR: “Initially, my genealogy research was my reason for building a web site. Inevitably, my love of baseball crept in, mostly focusing on my baseball quest to see games at all of the active Major League Parks with side trips to all of the historic baseball sites I could find. My website gives me the opportunity to share my baseball experiences and has allowed me to connect with others with similar interests. The website’s name, “The Ratzenberger Attic”, reflects the two basic themes that have evolved: recollections of my baseball quest and my genealogy research – the kind of things that you might find in an old trunk in your attic.”
DB: “Orioles Park at Camden Yards is on everybody’s top half for best ballpark in the Major Leagues to watch a game. Please tell us why you love Camden Yards?”
RR: “Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the first of the new breed of ballparks. After all the multi-purpose, cookie cutter stadiums of the 70’s and 80’s, it was an exciting breath of fresh air. I remember seeing the stadium for the first time and being completely blown away. It was unique and special. So much so, that it even though others have tried to copy it, it still stands out from the crowd and is one of my top 4 – along with PNC Park, and the two historical old-timers. The site lines are great and the stadium has a personality that celebrates a proud franchise with a rich history. The incorporation of the B & O Warehouse into the design provides a special charm and historical perspective that is natural and not contrived.
DB: “What advice would you give for somebody Camden Yards for the very first time?”
RR: “I always like to get to a stadium as early as possible and take a stroll around the outside of a park before the gates open to soak up the local atmosphere. As soon as the park opens, I wander around inside to get a real feel for the interior of the stadium. In that vein, be sure to get to the park early and explore Eutaw St. Search out the brass baseballs that show where some of the mammoth homeruns hit at the stadium cleared the bleachers and landed on the street. In particular, find where Ken Griffey Jr. hit the Warehouse during the 1993 All-Star Home Run Hitting Contest. Don’t miss the Orioles Hall of Fame Wall and the Babe Ruth statue. Also, walk over to the Flag Court early and watch batting practice while trying to catch a homerun ball.
When you enter the stadium, take a walk around and check out all of its unique features and nooks and crannies. Make sure to stop by one of the three Fan Assistance Centers to get a free certificate commemorating your first visit to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Either before or after the game, take the time to browse through the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards which is located in the basement and first floor of Camden Station. Finally, if you have the time, schedule a stadium tour. You’ll get an opportunity to see places including the Scoreboard Control Room, the Press Box and even the dugout. It gives you an up close and personal view of areas you normally wouldn’t have access to.
If you are into baseball history, take some extra time to explore nearby historical sites. The Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum is within walking distance of the stadium. A short drive away is the former St. Mary’s Industrial School (now the Cardinal Gibbons School), Babe Ruth’s alma mater, where he learned to play the game of baseball. You can also see where Memorial Stadium, the Orioles home before Oriole Park at Camden Yards, used to stand. The site now houses a YMCA facility and a mixed income community for seniors. I understand that there is now a ball field that shares the original site of home plate. I plan on checking it out on my next road trip to Baltimore.
DB: “What is your favorite method of transportation to Camden Yards?
RR: “That’s easy – walking. Staying down at the Inner Harbor provided us with an opportunity to walk to the game from our hotel. It beats driving by far, and coming and going, especially when there is a good crowd, just adds to the fan experience. The Oriole fans are great and the atmosphere can be electric.”
DB:”What is the food like at Camden Yards? What is your favorite ballpark food there?”
RR: “My love of the game and its history make me a baseball traditionalist so, of course, my favorite ballpark foods are hot dogs and Crackerjacks. The Birdland dog is unique and definitely worth a try. Additionally, Oriole Park at Camden Yards provides a nice variety of food to meet anyone’s taste. Even though I’m a hot dog guy, and theirs are very good, I have to admit that Boog Powell’s BBQ is something special and I’d strongly recommend sampling his fares. Boog has some of the best pulled pork sandwiches I’ve had at a ballpark, or anywhere for that matter. If you’re lucky, you might even find him there signing autographs.”
DB: “What is your favorite all time game that you have been in attendance for Camden Yards?”
RR: “My favorite game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards was on August 17, 1998. The Orioles were playing the Minnesota Twins. The Orioles won 3-2 on the strength of a 3-run 5th inning. It’s always a plus when the home team wins when attending a game at a new ballpark, unless your favorite team is a visitor. It adds to the overall atmosphere. What was special to me about that game was that it was Cal Ripken’s 2602 consecutive game played and he was 3-4. The next time I saw him play was September 27 in Boston at Fenway Park. In between, on September 20, the last regular season game in Baltimore, Cal took himself out of the line-up. So that game I saw in Oriole Park at Camden Yards was one of the last in his streak.”
DB: “As someone who has watched the team from a distance, what will it take for the park to see some better attendances again?”
RR: “The biggest factor affecting attendance at almost every stadium is the team’s won-loss record. The Orioles haven’t finished above .500 since Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened, and they’ve only finished higher than 4th once. It’s partially the result of the uneven playing field created by Major League Baseball which is slanted towards the large market teams. Hopefully, the changes contained in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will help improve the competitive balance. The current advantages enjoyed by the large market teams are not good for the game and its fans. Baseball needs to restore a level the playing field so that once proud franchises like the Orioles can rekindle their lost glory. The Orioles already play in one of the best ballparks in the majors. When they start winning more games, the fans will be sure to follow.”
DB: “From your view, how much of Cal Ripken is still at this park? Could you see him becoming the manager of the O’s one day?”
RR: “To a baseball fan, not just Oriole fans, Cal Ripken and the Orioles are synonymous. The image of Cal’s victory lap when he broke the Iron Horse’s record is etched in every fan’s memory. Cal is a class act and a true ambassador for the game. He could do whatever he wants to within the game. I am not aware of his managerial aspirations; however, I think that his impact on the game would be more limited in that role. Baseball needs more Cal Ripkens. As a player, he respected the game and its fans. Today’s players and children couldn’t find a better role model. He is a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame person. However he chooses to spread the “Ripken way”, as a manager or otherwise, is in the best interests of the game. Could I see him becoming manager some day, yes, but as long as he remains an active part of the game, everyone wins.”
*** A big thank you goes out to our Camden Yards Roger Ratzenberger for participating in the expert article Series. To read more about Roger’s baseball journey click here ***
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