This week's news from Oriole Park at Camden Yards is big. Bigger than a breadbox. Bigger even than a large onion bialy.
The news is about steel trusses. These are the large things you see around the ballpark that are tall and green and serve a number of vital functions, like holding up the new Orioles stadium.
Last week, workers erected a couple of humongo trusses just beyond the outfield wall in left-center field. They are about 60 feet tall, weigh about 26,000 pounds apiece and, to the untrained eye, look a lot like anchors for the world's largest volleyball net.
In coming weeks, workers will begin connecting the steel with horizontal pieces. Then they will be installing things like a high-resolution TV screen, an old-fashioned clock and a panel that continuously displays an updated line score of the game. By Opening Day, what now is a couple of pieces of naked steel will be the main scoreboard at Oriole Park.
Orioles fans know about scoreboards. For years, they have made do with a fairly primitive one at Memorial Stadium. The bulbs burned brightly enough. The problem was, there weren't enough to display everything the Orioles thought you'd like to know. When you got the Orioles score by innings, you lost the
game notes. When you got a special hello to the Rotary Club, you lost ticket availability for Day-Glo wallet night.
At the new ballpark, the Orioles promise better things. Working with Daktronics Inc., a South Dakota-based scoreboard maker, they have devised a plan that seemingly will tell fans everything with the possible exception of Cal Ripken's home phone number.
In the main scoreboard, you'll get the inning-by-inning score, facts about each hitter's previous at-bats and game notes. You'll get Sony Jumbotron, the new ballpark TV that is supposed to give the kind of picture you get in your living room. Rest assured you'll get the usual assortment of advertisements.
Designing a nifty scoreboard is one thing. Operating it is another. In the four months before Opening Day, the Orioles have a lot to master. Charles Steinberg, Orioles director of public affairs, and the team's chief scoreboard strategist, already has made one trip to the Daktronics plant in Brookings, S.D., "to study the facility where the board is being manufactured." Steinberg said he planned another soon.
The Orioles don't expect the electronic components to be delivered until late February or early March. But the roughly 15 team employees who will operate it will start preparing sooner.
"We want to have been trained to some degree by then," !B Steinberg said.
As the scoreboard steel is erected, other projects are moving ahead. In January, the ballpark sound system will get some attention. The system largely was installed months ago, but workers will be returning to put in speakers and other equipment that might have been damaged if it was brought to the site
during earlier construction phases.
They don't want you in stadium, yet
Roll down your car window as you drive by. Take a lazy stroll along the ballpark perimeter. But the folks who are building Oriole Park at Camden Yards politely are making this request:
Don't venture inside. At least, not yet.
"We're asking people to refrain from wandering into the stadium," project manager Tom Rogers said. "We understand people are curious. But it will be available to everyone in a few months. We're asking people to help us get done, and to wait."
Most areas of the ballpark site are fenced. But there are gaps and, in recent weeks, some fans have walked through. Last Sunday, Rogers said, about a dozen people wandered inside and were found poking through the stands.
The unannounced visits create several problems, said the project manager. Because work at the ballpark usually continues during weekends, fans could be injured, he said. Rogers also said construction crews are more vulnerable to vandalism because security guards are busy trying to shoo away the honest baseball fans who simply want to stare at the 48,000-seat ballpark.
"It's making it difficult for our police and security guards to keep unwanted intruders out," said Rogers, who noted there have been isolated cases of petty theft and window-breaking at the site.
To combat the problem, extra guards have been assigned to the ballpark and auxiliary lights are being turned on at night, Rogers said.