|BALTIMORE -- Rick Sutcliffe remembered he had food poisoning. The Baltimore Orioles’ first Opening Day starter at their new ballpark had gotten sick on a giant submarine sandwich at Washington’s RFK Stadium two days before Oriole Park at Camden Yards was to open.
On April 5, the night before the first opener 25 years ago, Robin Sutcliffe was driving to a pharmacy near the couple’s Crownsville, Md., home looking for medicine for her husband.
“I had it bad. I was throwing up. I had a fever,” Sutcliffe said at a media session following a luncheon to celebrate the 1992 team.
Before the game, Sutcliffe and the late Cal Ripken Sr., who also was sick, were on adjoining tables in the trainer’s room.
“I didn’t know how long I was going to last. I knew I had lost a bunch of weight,” Sutcliffe said. “I was trying to get outs as quick as I possibly could.”
Sutcliffe pitched a shutout as the Orioles beat the Cleveland Indians, 2-0, in just two hours, two minutes.
Nineteen players and one coach from that 1992 team are being celebrated this weekend.
Cal Ripken Jr., who had already played 10 years with the Orioles at Memorial Stadium, remembers the leadup to the ballpark’s opening, and changing baseball homes wasn’t a huge adjustment.
“It felt like baseball had been played here before,” Ripken said. “I was so worried that the rich history of baseball would be lost if you’re going to a new place.”
The Orioles, who had lost 97 games in their final season at aging Memorial Stadium, were energized by the crowds who flocked to the new downtown ballpark.
“It was exciting as all get-out to play in front of a packed house every night,” Ripken said. “It didn’t take long to get comfortable.”
The Orioles drew a record 3.56 million fans in 1992, over a million more than they had in their last year at Memorial Stadium.
“We were the only game in town,” pitcher Ben McDonald said. McDonald, who now occasionally broadcasts Orioles games, felt it was a special time.
“There were no Ravens. There were no Nationals down the road,” he said. The ballpark stayed packed all the time. There were some good crowds at Memorial. It seemed like the fans were closer, more on top of you at this field. You could really feel the energy in the ballpark.”
Mike Mussina was in his first full season of what would be a storied major league career. He said he returns here with his family from Pennsylvania for a game once or twice a year.
Unquestionably the best starter in the team’s quarter-century here, Mussina thrived pitching in a park many said was difficult to pitch in.
“People like offense,” Mussina said. “It helped us offensively. Just because we had to pitch in a park that I thought the ball traveled pretty well, our guys get to hit in the same park. I felt if I could be efficient, I might give up a home run or two, but if we can hit a home run or two, we might score six or seven, and they’ll get four.”
Not everyone loved playing here. In one of the most criticized trades in Orioles history, slugger Glenn Davis was obtained before the 1991 season from the Houston Astros. The Orioles parted with starters Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling and outfielder Steve Finley.
Davis was out of baseball after the 1993 season, and didn’t have fond memories of his time here. He still returned for this weekend, although it wasn’t an easy decision.
“Emotional. I can say I still have a lot of monsters in the closet,” Davis said. “The mental aspect of where you felt like you might have let somebody down. The expectations were so great.”
While Davis had a hard time deciding to come back, Sutcliffe didn’t. His wife saw the invitation and immediately insisted they return.
“It’s the best ballpark I’ve ever been in,” Robin Sutcliffe told her husband. “That ballpark was built for the fan. ... It’s the only ballpark to this day that I planned dinner around going to the ballpark.”