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The ‘Eighth Wonder’ Is Indeed Awesome Sight

The Baltimore Evening Sun

It’s billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” even though it is dwarfed by the largest free-standing structure in the universe, so it’s hardly surprising that the Toronto SkyDome seemed to mesmerize the Baltimore Orioles on their first visit.

“It’s different,” said coach Cal Ripken Sr., who is rarely moved to exaggeration and probably is one of baseball’s great traditionalists.

Other Orioles, especially the younger members of the team, were more in awe of the place. Outfielders Steve Finley and Mike Devereaux were stunned by the height of the CN Tower, which stands next to the SkyDome and dominates the sky.

“How high is that?” Devereaux asked, his eyes moving from the top of the eight-story SkyDome to the point of the CN Tower. For the record, the structure stretches 553.3 meters above the ground, a giant watchguard hovering over the most elaborate sports facility in the world.

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All of the glitter (a 350-room hotel, restaurants, nightclubs and a huge health club are part of the facility), however, wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the SkyDome acceptance as a baseball park. Players can be severe critics, but in this case there were minimal complaints, only one of which affected the game itself.

“They didn’t take the outfielders into consideration when they put up the lights,” said left fielder Phil Bradley. “It’s worse than in most parks (including Memorial Stadium, according to Bradley) because it’s just one string of lights. You can’t get (sight of the ball) in and out.”

Overall, though, the lighting got generally high marks from the Orioles, who were impressed with just about all facets of the playing field. Shortstop Cal Ripken and brother Bill, the second baseman, both gave thumbs up to the Astro 8 turf that covers the floor of the building.

“Usually, the first day (on artificial surface) my feet are barking,” Bill said. “But this is nice: soft and with minimal seams.”

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With the three movable roof panels open, the mass of scaffolding draws attention to the commercial end of the building. By the fall, there will be 71 hotel rooms in operation, including 31 suites, that will have a view of the field. They surround the world’s largest display screen (the 35-by-115 feet Jumbotron), a 700-seat restaurant and assorted other eating and drinking establishments that also have some viewing access.

“You know what it reminds me of?” said designated hitter Larry Sheets. “It’s like going out on a date and suddenly a baseball game breaks out. I mean, you can go to dinner, dancing at the Hard Rock Cafe -- and still watch a baseball game. It’s an event.”

Easily the Orioles’ biggest complaint involved the spartan (by comparison) visiting clubhouse quarters. “You mean they don’t have 14 television sets and a disco floor over there?” quipped former Oriole Mike Flanagan, referring to the home team’s lavish dressing-training-lounging area.

The center of the Blue Jays’ clubhouse is surrounded by four marble tables, separated enough to give the illusion of a theater-in-the-round type stage. “Either that or the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise,” said Flanagan.

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“I think if you’re going to spend that much money (almost $450 million), you should do a little more on this (the visiting) side,” Orioles Manager Frank Robinson said from the cubicle that serves as the visiting manager’s office. “This is like an old park, cramped quarters. The building itself is great ... awesome,” Robinson said. “It really is a great facility.”

One of the minor distractions in the SkyDome is that the bullpens are completely out of sight of the field. Each dugout is equipped with a television monitor that gets two pictures, one of each warmup area.

To watch the game, the occupants of the bullpens have to climb to the top of makeshift stands, similar to portable bleachers often used for high school events. “Sitting up there like that you feel like you should be giving a speech,” said Orioles reliever Mark Williamson.

“I felt like Billy Graham sitting out there,” said Orioles left-hander Kevin Hickey.

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“They should be real happy with this place,” said Orioles starting pitcher Dave Schmidt. “They have the best of both worlds with the retractable roof. I don’t like artificial turf, but there’s nothing you can do about that with a dome. Other than that, it’s great.”

The Orioles’ hitters gave high marks to the background and the lighting, even though the SkyDome is not the hitting palace that Exhibition Stadium was. “It’s a great facility,” Cal Ripken said. “The turf is real nice. The only problem I had was with my depth perception, and that was more in the field than at bat. When you look out to center field the fence says 400 feet, and it looks more like 700. But, it’s something I just assume you get used to.

“They say the ball carries down the lines, but not to the gaps in left- and right-center.”

“It’s very elaborate,” was first baseman Jim Traber’s initial assessment of the SkyDome. “The architect was very bold. I think it will start a trend with the new parks. I think the next one will have a dome that slides down alongside the stadium, completely out of sight.”

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The dimensions of the SkyDome -- 328 down the lines, 375 to the power alleys, and 400 to center field -- are especially appealing to the pitchers. “I could pitch the rest of my career in a place like this,” said rookie reliever Gregg Olson.

With 41,000 seats between the foul poles, good sight lines and close proximity to the action, the SkyDome seems to have the right combination of ingredients for both the fans and the players.


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