D.C. counts more than just turnstiles Huge Miami turnout downplayed at RFK

April 06, 1991|By Kent Baker

Baseball expansion's proving ground shifts to RFK Stadium in Washington this weekend when the Baltimore Orioles conclude their exhibition season against the Boston Red Sox.

But no one involved with the committee trying to secure a National League franchise believes Washington has to match the efforts of Miami, where a total of more than 125,000 fans watched the Orioles and New York Yankees in two games a week ago.

"They [Miami] put all their eggs into promoting two games," said Chip Akridge, president of Metropolitan Washington Baseball. "We think that is kind of a weak sign of support. We think a better sign is a full-blown season sales campaign, which we undertake Tuesday."

Still, Akridge's group will show keen interest in the turnstile count at RFK, where the Orioles' top crowd in four previous games was 37,204 for a 1989 game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

"Obviously, we're hoping for a big turnout," Akridge said. "And I think there will be because the high level of interest in baseball in Washington is going to manifest itself."

But the promotion itself is not an undertaking of Metropolitan Washington Baseball. That is the sphere of Sports Productions Inc. And Russ Potts, president of the company, says he is optimistic about what will happen.

"We've had lines at all of our ticket locations," Potts said. "With good weather, we've got a chance to fill it up. Right now, we're in the neighborhood of 35,000 per game."

The stadium has been re-configured for baseball, meaning 4,000 to 5,000 seats have been removed from the left-field area. The current capacity is 48,173.

"Obviously, Miami stressed those two games," Potts said. "But Washington is talking an entirely different thing. The key is season tickets. Washington's foundation is that accent, and I think they've put together an excellent campaign."

Tom Hipp, vice president of Akridge's group, said that for five years of exhibitions, Washington has averaged approximately 32,000 fans, compared with 21,000 by Miami, including this spring's explosion.

"Everybody down there all of a sudden said, 'Let's go to the game,' " Hipp said. "But last year they only had 21 and 24 [thousand] for the Yankees and Mets against the Orioles."

"Even at that, 120,000 people only translates into 1,500 season tickets," Akridge added.

Unlike Miami, where some tickets sold for $2, prices will be steep at RFK. Ticket prices run from $6.50 to $20.50.

"Those are big numbers," Akridge said. "But sales have been pretty brisk, and I know the weather's going to cooperate."

He is campaigning for support from the Orioles, who have publicly stated a neutral position, for the Washington bid.

"We're looking to Baltimore as an ally," he said. "I hope we can all cooperate in this marketplace, and that they will meet with us soon."

Akridge said no meeting has taken place because his group has been involved with the season-ticket drive and entertaining the expansion committee and because the Orioles have been in spring training.

"We've had a difficult time arranging anything," he said. "But we've all been running around like one-armed paper hangers. I don't draw any conclusions from that yet."

The Orioles were 58-32 at this stadium from 1962-71 before the Senators left Washington. They are 3-2 in exhibition games there since then.

Orioles exhibitions at RFK Stadium

/%. .. Year.. .. Opponent.. .. Result

. .. 1972.. .. Pittsburgh .. W, 5-2

.. 1988.. .. New York Mets L, 10-7

. .. 1989.. .. Pittsburgh .. W, 6-4

.. 1989.. .. St. Louis. .. W, 7-6

. .. 1990.. .. St. Louis. .. L, 11-10

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