After years of waiting and wondering, Baltimore Orioles' season-ticket customers are about to meet those special someones in their baseball lives.
Their new seats.
Starting today, regular-ticket buyers should be learning where they will be sitting next season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. They'll receive word in a letter that began going out this weekend to the team's season-ticket customers, and should have reached all in the next few weeks.
The letters will tell ticket buyers the loca
tion of their seats in the new ballpark, citing the section, row and seat numbers. They will include a locater map, so fans can imagine the view of the game from their vantage points. Also enclosed will be a bill, which, in most cases, will reflect a $1.50 to $2 per ticket increase over prices last season at Memorial Stadium.
The Orioles did not exactly assign seats at random. Since August, they have been polling their 14,500 season-ticket customers, who've already gobbled up a team record 22,000 tickets for next season, to find out how to please the most and infuriate the fewest. They sent out about 15,000 questionnaires and fielded as many as 3,000 telephone calls, according to the team executive who led the relocation effort, vice president for sales Lou Michaelson.
Mr. Michaelson would not discuss the precise method used to assign seats. But he said the mounds of information were fed into a computer, which he said was effective in matching ticket buyers to locations they preferred. Most fans who asked for the same locations as their seats at Memorial Stadium will be sitting within three rows, he added.
"Once, perhaps twice in a lifetime, do you have the opportunity to got through a process where you're placed in a seat location for a number of years," Mr. Michaelson said. "We wanted to exhaust every avenue to meet people's needs."
Whether the assigned seat locations will delight all, or even most season-ticket holders, should be clear fairly soon. But some longtime ticket buyers were not gnawing fingernails about the situation.
John Haas, who bought his season tickets when the Orioles moved to Baltimore in 1954, said he was confident the team would do right by him.
"We've been told we'll have approximately the same location, which tells me they're looking at a lot of years of continuous patronage," said Mr. Haas, who operates a tailoring company in Baltimore. "I think they're trying to respond in the best way possible."
The Orioles are certain some fans will grumble, or at least have questions, however. So they have set up a season-ticket hot line. If you get your assignment and can't see straight, dial the Orioles at 243-9800 andthen follow voice-mail instructions.
When the computer has done something dumb -- like moving a season-ticket holder since 1965 from downstairs seats to upstairs seats -- the sales department will come to the rescue. "If we've goofed or made a mistake, we'll correct it as best we can," Mr. Michaelson said.
But even the new ballpark, which has about 48,000 seats, of which roughly 53 percent box seats, won't make every dream come true.
The Orioles have a big problem, for instance, figuring out how to please longtime ticket buyers who sat in prime territory at Memorial Stadium -- the first row of seats, between the edges of the home plate screen and the dugouts.
At the old ballpark, there are 40 such seats on each side of the field. The dugouts at Oriole Park at Camden Yards are longer and pushed closer to home plate. Result: Room along the railing for only 11 seats per side.
Many of the displaced customers have been moved behind the dugouts, and not all have been thrilled. "They are losing some, I don't know, prestige," Mr. Michaelson said of the ticket holders who won't be within arm's reach of the on-deck circle anymore.
As problems go, here is one the Orioles can endure: They already are oversubscribed for $13 lower-box seats, which are among the best in the new ballpark. That doesn't mean that Average Joes never will be closed out of the best views, though. Mr. Michaelson said the Orioles tentatively will hold 10 percent of tickets in each ticket category, including the 11,230 lower box seats, for fans who buy their tickets one game at a time.
Fans aren't the only ones clamoring for lower-box seats. Some of the best seats in the park -- Mr. Michaelson would not say precisely how many -- are being held by the Orioles to be used by VIPs and guests of the team principal owner Eli S. Jacobs. The team's present management was limited in the number of prime seats it could claim at Memorial Stadium because many belonged to customers who had held them for decades.
Mr. Michaelson was confident that the ballpark would have room for everybody.