New ballpark's scoreboard: high-tech, old-fashioned


April 14, 1991|By Mark Hyman

Imagine sitting in the new ballpark at Camden Yards o Opening Day, 1992. If you're lucky, sitting behind the Baltimore Orioles dugout (then on the first-base side). If you're hungry, snacking on a carved pastrami sandwich (then available at the nearest sliced-meat stand).

You have questions.

You wonder, what is Cal Ripken's batting average? What inning are they in up in Boston? How do you spell Orioles? What time is it? Did I leave the turkey pot pie in the microwave?

At the new ballpark, customers will get most of the answers, according to the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority, which last week put out to bid the final plans for the main scoreboard, auxiliary scoreboards and an out-of-town scoreboard -- a package costing about $2 million.

The stadium authority also is asking for bids for a $400,000 to $500,000 electronic sign board -- maybe reaching 90 feet in the air -- that would flash messages outside the new ballpark.

Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the stadium authority, said he expected to award contracts for the main scoreboard package by May 1.

The array of blinking lights and television pictures will give fans plenty of updates and trivia, and will far outstrip the information that can be conveyed at Memorial Stadium, the Orioles say.

"This gives us the potential to communicate more relevant information clearly and consistently than I have seen done in any other ballpark," said Charles Steinberg, director of Orioles Productions, whose electronic empire will expand considerably

when the Orioles shift to the Camden Yards ballpark.

In planning the scoreboards, Steinberg said the Orioles' "guiding philosophy" has been to make sure fans aren't operating with less baseball gossip than some guy with a Walkman who's sunbathing at the Inner Harbor. "We'll give the fans at the ballpark everything he or she will get at home watching on TV or listening on the radio," Steinberg said.

The scoreboards will be a mix of new and used equipment. Designs will range from usual to unique. Here are the electronic details:

* The main scoreboard.

Mostly, it will be standard issue -- a series of boxes containing expected elements such as a game-in-progress display and places for four advertisements. Diamond Vision at the new ballpark should look familiar, too. Next winter, the television screen in use at Memorial Stadium since 1985 is scheduled to be dismantled, taken by truck to the new ballpark and plugged into the new scoreboard.

At the top of the main scoreboard at Camden Yards, creativity arrives. The Orioles logo will be spelled out here, although it hasn't been decided how. The design also will include a clock (with hands). In a traditional ballpark, you don't even wear a digital watch.

Beyond that, the top of the scoreboard remains undesigned and uncharted. Hoffman said the stadium authority and the Orioles will ask the scoreboard manufacturer, when selected, to "come up with something unique" to give the scoreboard a look like no other. For this, the stadium authority has budgeted $150,000, said Hoffman, who listed a few possibilities as exploding scoreboard or a multicolored light show, in neon.

* A full-time, out-of-town scoreboard.

For young readers, the ones under the impression that the Orioles played with eight men before Cal Ripken, this is an electronic gizmo that displays the score of every major-league game except the one going on in front of you.

Orioles fans -- at least, those with long memories -- know how handy out-of-town scoreboards can be. From 1954 to 1969, they watched one at Memorial Stadium. An information boom arrived the next year, when the original stadium scoreboard was replaced with a more sophisticated message (or matrix) board. For the first time, Orioles fans got more messages such as, "Dr. Jones, call your office" -- but the competition left less space for the staples, such as scores from New York, Detroit, even Cleveland.

Longtime Orioles fans have been waiting two decades for the return of the out-of-town scoreboard. They are ready.

"A major improvement," said Stan "The Fan" Charles, an Orioles season ticket-holder since 1980 who is host of a local radio talk show about baseball.

"With the intensity of fantasy and Rotisserie baseball leagues, it's aggravating to see scores only every couple of innings."

The location -- in the right-field wall -- is worth noting. The ballpark will be dotted with touches intended to recall the golden age of baseball -- at least the age that the designers think of as golden. Locating the out-of-town scoreboard in the right-field wall at the Camden Yards ballpark is a classic case.

Orioles principal owner Eli S. Jacobs, 53, grew up near Boston admiring Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. So, Camden Yards has borrowed liberally from the defunct home field of the Dodgers. The parks share short right-field porches, and both have tall outfield walls that include scoreboards.

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