By Tim Richardson
Baltimore could again host the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Greg Bader, Orioles director of communications, confirmed that the team presented its request this past offseason to the commissioner's office for Oriole Park at Camden Yards to host the 2016 MLB All-Star Game.
Baltimore hosted baseball's Midsummer Classic in 1993, one year after the opening of Oriole Park. The stadium has commonly been referred to as the ballpark that forever changed baseball, because its look and feel have influenced other cities to build stadiums modeled after the design, amenities and geographical positioning of Oriole Park.
Should MLB grant the request, the All-Star Game would take place during Oriole Park's 25th-anniversary season.
Terry Hasseltine, executive director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing, said employees from his office and the Maryland Stadium Authority discussed with the Orioles how Maryland residents had interest in bringing the event back.
"We initially talked about 2014, because of the tie to the War of 1812 commemoration and the anniversary of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner," Hasseltine said. "But we learned that year was unavailable and the following year, the game would be played in a National League park."
This season, the All-Star Game will be played at Kauffman Stadium, home of the American League's Kansas City Royals, and the NL's New York Mets will host the 2013 contest at Citi Field. Although the game traditionally rotates between the leagues, there have been exceptions. NL parks hosted back-to-back All-Star Games in Pittsburgh in 2006 and San Francisco in 2007.
Marla Miller, senior vice president of special events for MLB, said commissioner Bud Selig had always liked to rotate the site, but decided to alter that 2006-07 process to help showcase those two teams' new stadiums.
"There are a number of different categories we need to have from both an operational and logistical standpoint," Miller said. "But my office doesn't do anything until we are informed by the commissioner of the cities that have formally submitted interest to MLB."
Miller said the commissioner's office had heard from a number of clubs, but that MLB hadn't made any decisions beyond the 2013 game. Helping the Orioles' case for the 2016 game are the improvements the team made to the stadium before the season.
The renovations feature a new roof deck in center field, with outdoor deck seating, a full-service bar and seats facing the field. Additionally, the wall of the out-of-town scoreboard in right field has been reduced in height to improve views of the game.
Another enhancement is in the bullpen picnic area, where six statues will immortalize legendary Orioles Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.
"A major factor in these iconic events is the fan experience that supports the activities surrounding the game," Hasseltine said. "There are few places that offer the critical mass of hospitality, culture, history and fun, all within walking distance. Oriole Park easily stands out as a destination spot."
Of the active AL ballparks, there are only three that have never hosted an All-Star Game: Tropicana Field in Florida, Target Field in Minnesota and the new Yankee Stadium in New York. Although the Tampa Bay Rays have never hosted an All-Star Game, they play in a facility that was built in 1990 and is lacking many of the modern amenities of parks across the league. Minnesota did host the All-Star Game in 1985 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, but the team began playing in its newly constructed ballpark in 2010, and is currently bidding to host the All-Star Game in 2014. The old Yankee Stadium was the site of the All-Star Game just four seasons ago (the new park opened in 2009).
Baltimore's other AL competition comes from Oakland and Toronto, which have gone more than 20 years without hosting an All-Star Game. The stadiums in those cities, like Tampa, are older venues that don't offer the modern-day amenities of Oriole Park.
"Improvements to Oriole Park would be taken into consideration," Miller said. "Given the sophistication of the game and all things involved with it, renovations and improvements are certainly reviewed."
When a MLB team submits its formal bid to host the game for a particular year, the process is detail-oriented.
"MLB provides the club with an All Star Specification Book that requests information on hotels, convention centers, city services, tickets, size of stadium … all things taken into consideration and reviewed by MLB once the club has made its submission," Miller said. "It also includes a specific breakdown of the operations and logistical needs for the entire time the game would be in the city."
According to Baltimore's Department of Planning, the weeklong festivities surrounding the 1993 All-Star Game generated $31.5 million for the area and its businesses. City officials estimated that the game and related events from July 8-13 that year brought more than 230,000 visitors to Baltimore, who spent an estimated $16.4 million on items from hotel rooms to souvenirs.
Although some have questioned Baltimore's ability to handle the All-Star Game more than two decades later, Hasseltine said the area was more than qualified to meet any requirements.
"A few years ago, as we were preparing information on the city to be a part of the U.S. bid for soccer's World Cup, we developed an impressive list of assets critical to competing for national and international sports events," Hasseltine said. "While the U.S. ultimately was not selected, Baltimore was part of the final package, because it met the stringent requirements necessary to successfully stage an event of that magnitude."
Hasseltine also said he thought Baltimore had a track record for successfully hosting top-tier events through the years. Among the items he cited were the Army-Navy football games (2000 and 2007), Chelsea versus AC Milan soccer match (2009), NCAA men's lacrosse national championships (2003, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2011) and the Baltimore Grand Prix (2011).
Hotel rooms and convention space are two key items in the MLB All Star Specification Book. Tom Noonan, president/CEO of Visit Baltimore, shares Hasseltine's opinion that Baltimore can accommodate the All-Star Game in relation to hotel and convention space needs.
"There are about 9,000 rooms right now in downtown Baltimore," Noonan said, "all in walking distance to Oriole Park. Not to mention another 4,000-5,000 rooms near [Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport], plus hotels in surrounding counties and located between Baltimore and D.C. So I don't see there being any problems, as we can clearly accommodate the hotel needs."
Noonan said there were about 6,000 hotel rooms in Baltimore in 1993.
"Obviously we want the game in Baltimore," he said. "It's a major asset from a standpoint of exposure, considering what the All-Star Game brings. The event would probably drive more rooms in two days than what a convention would do over a five- or six-day period."
The All-Star Game includes a weeklong celebration known as FanFest. The convention centers for the last two games (Anaheim, Calif., and Phoenix) are each about three times the size of the Baltimore Convention Center, which is roughly 300,000 square feet. But Noonan said he was confident that the facility could handle the needs of FanFest and other activities throughout the week.
Greg Schwalenberg has been a beer vendor at Orioles homes games since 1979. He has been around for the 20 years of Oriole Park and worked the All-Star Game in 1993.
"I didn't get to see the Home Run Derby or the game, as I was running the stands working," Schwalenberg said, "but there were certainly a lot more unfamiliar faces in my section those nights and there was such a tremendous buzz about the entire event."
As for hosting the All-Star Game in 2016, Schwalenberg said he would be ready ... and so would the city.
"I think the fans of Baltimore would love it," he said. "Fans in general would love Oriole Park, and it would be a win-win for everyone."
Issue 174: June 2012