Electricians go to great lengths to shed light on every inch of field

January 26, 1992|By Mark Hyman

Just looking at Bill Malstrom, it was clear this man was on a mission.

But a mission to where?

Striding along in foul territory at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Malstrom wore a hard hat. A walkie-talkie dangled from his belt. In his right hand, he held a bunch of tiny flags. It was too soon for Independence Day. Clearly, Malstrom had something else in mind.

The electrical foreman was preparing to test the ballpark lights. Over the next week, he and several assistants will plant 135 flags at prescribed locations throughout the playing field. Using the flags as reference points, technicians then will climb the light standards that ring the ballpark and individually point the light bulbs. When the planting, climbing and pointing are done, the field should be brightly and uniformly lighted. If it's not, they climb the standards and try again.

The job is not as complicated or as dangerous as it sounds, according to Malstrom, who works for Dynalectric, a Baltimore electrical firm. The workers who focus the lights may get cold or lonely, but they're not likely to fall very far. Each wears a harness and is attached to a 6-foot safety lanyard. As long as the rope holds, they can fall no farther.

Focusing the lights is a two-step process. Step one: Look at the marking on the back of the light fixture that tells you at which flag to point it. Step two: Point it.

Guiding the work is a computer analysis of the ballpark prepared by General Electric. The computer surveyed various points on the playing field and assigned to each the optimal "candle power," a measure of how bright the spot should be. In a bank lobby, lighting can be about 50 candle power, Malstrom said. Measured from some angles, the pitcher's mound at the new ballpark could exceed 300.

According to Malstrom, the field is divided into three different levels of light intensity. You're least likely to see someone doing shadow puppets if you are standing on the pitcher's mound, or anywhere on the infield. Light intensity decreases slightly in the short outfield and then again in the outfield corners.

Most flags already are in place. And, allowing for weather conditions, workers should be able to begin pointing the 1500-watt halide bulbs to their proper points in the next few weeks, Malstrom said.

As for actually turning on the lights, that could be more than a month away. That final test cannot take place until power is connected to all the light standards, including one that for now is not hooked up -- the bank of lights attached to the roof of the B&O warehouse.

Other than people with homes in Otterbein, who suddenly will have the brightest night light in Maryland, those most concerned with the light levels figure to be ballplayers and television cameramen.

Ballplayers tend to get irritable when they look up for a fly ball and see darkness. Without finely tuned, bright lights, there are no televised night games and, in time, maybe no night games at all.

Malstrom hopes to get it right the first time. But he expects to be making adjustments up to Opening Day.

"That isn't the real world," he said. "Everybody will be looking at this, from the players, to the owner, to the Maryland Stadium Authority. Somebody is going to say, 'Hey, there's a light in my eye.' "

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