When the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited fans from attending games in 2020, it marked the temporary end to a special tradition in Baltimore. For the first time since 1996, Opening Day at Camden Yards commenced without the pregame festivities that make the celebration unique to Baltimore.
Opening Day is a civic holiday in many Major League cities, and Baltimore gives the experience its own special twist. What makes Opening Day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards different? It’s the celebratory vibe, and, of course, the props.
You’ve heard the classic expression “roll out the red carpet,” right? The Orioles roll out the orange carpet for their players each year before the home opener, extending it from the center-field wall to the second-base bag. The 280-foot carpet takes an entire grounds crew to deploy and maintain, is headed by an orange balloon arch and lined with two columns of orange flags.
Players then jog down the carpet as they are introduced over the stadium PA system, receiving a hero’s welcome from the always-raucous crowd at Camden Yards. The ballpark has sold out every home opener since its opening in 1992.
“Running down that orange carpet was an incredible feeling,” former O’s shortstop and current broadcaster Mike Bordick told PressBoxOnline in 2019. “It’s like a dream. There’s this incredible amount of anxiety because it’s Opening Day. You put all that time into Spring Training, and then boom, there is this huge amount of hoopla.”
For first-time joggers, it could be intimidating. The threat of tripping -- right into sports blooper reels forever -- is a common concern. But that fear is often alleviated after one successful stroll.
“It’s a lot longer than it looks, especially if you give high-fives to your teammates and coaches,” skipper Brandon Hyde said in 2019, after managing his first Orioles home game. “It was very, very special. The crowd reaction was phenomenal. It was everything I hoped it would be.”
Every year, the Orioles select one fan to represent the fanbase as the team’s “10th man” for the home opener. That fan is introduced as part of the O’s starting lineup. Members from a special community group also line the carpet each year as players take the field. After introductions, both teams line up along the basepaths -- the away team between second and third, the Orioles between first and second -- instead of the foul lines for the national anthem.
It is a scene unlike any other in baseball.
“We know why the fans love Opening Day, and this is the best one I’ve ever seen,” former O’s closer Zack Britton told MASNSports in 2017. “Being on the road at other stadiums, this one is by far the best. It’s something guys remember long after they are done playing.”
The headliner, though, is the carpet, which the Orioles first rolled out in 1996. Excitement was high around the club, with new manager Davey Johnson and recently signed free agents Roberto Alomar, David Wells and Randy Myers, just one winter removed from Cal Ripken’s iconic 2,131 celebration, when the idea was hatched. The orange carpet was first conceived as a surprise, rolled out during pregame introductions. But that ended up slowing things down, and in future years, everything was put in place beforehand.
In any event, the carpet was a hit with players and fans alike. So the Orioles kept doing it. And now it’s hard to imagine Opening Day without it.
“Getting to run down that carpet is truly an honor,” reliever Brad Brach told MASNSports in 2017. “My first year doing that, in 2015, was a special experience. It is a special day and great for the fans.”