Out-of-town board takes a licking, keeps on ticking


March 22, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Of all the electronic gadgets that await baseball fans at the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards, only one had to survive ballpark boot camp.

What would you call it? For a week, men with baseball bats deliberately took aim, smashing line drive after line drive off the helpless computer component.

Next came the big shoe test. Gangs of employees from Daktronics Inc., manufacturers of stadium scoreboards, took turns kicking and otherwise striking the module in broad daylight, right in the company parking lot in Brookings, S.D.

It seemed cruel, a textbook case of computer abuse. But there were good reasons for the kicking and plunking. Daktronics officials were conducting research to gauge the durability of the new ballpark's out-of-town scoreboard.

In most instances, it is not important to know whether a ballpark scoreboard will still operate after having its transistors rattled by a line drive by Cecil Fielder. The majority either are displayed well beyond outfield walls, where even towering home runs cannot find them or, in the case of auxiliary boards, are suspended from faraway facades.

But the out-of-town scoreboard is a new and unusual situation. At the new ballpark, it is embedded in the right-field wall, an inviting target for left-handed pull hitters.

For many of the partners in the ballpark project -- the Orioles, the Maryland Stadium Authority and Daktronics -- this raised several questions. Among them: If Joe Orsulak were to run head-on into the wall at full throttle, would he break the board? Conversely, would it break him?

Also, the ballpark planners wanted to know whether batted balls that carom off the 25-foot wall might often, or ever, shatter individual lamps.

Daktronics took care of part of the problem by fitting the scoreboard with a black mesh steel screen. In turn, the screen rests on "separators," which jut out about two inches in front of the bulbs.

Seth Hansen, the Daktronics official who has worked most extensively on the Orioles ballpark, is confident that the combination of the steel screen and the separators just about eliminates the chance of shattered lamps.

"I would not say never, but [batted balls] will just short of never come in contact with the lamps," Hansen said.

As for outfielders hurtling into the Detroit-Cleveland game -- and, perhaps, injuring themselves or the Indians -- that, too, apparently has been thoroughly checked out. Eli Eisenberg, technical manager for the Maryland Stadium Authority, said Major League Baseball has tested the board and found it safe.

The out-of-town scoreboard is composed of three main sections. On each end panel, Orioles technicians will show the scores and, if the games are in progress, innings of up to eight major-league games being played on that day. Pitchers' numbers also will be displayed on the board.

The center panel, a dot-matrix board, often will offer more information about a particularly riveting out-of-town game. If Roger Clemens has a no-hitter going in the eighth inning, expect to see it noted on the center panel, unless, of course, he has it going against the Orioles. Then check the main scoreboard.

If you are wondering whether scores posted on the out-of-town board will be current, you should stop. The scoreboard will be linked electronically with SportsTicker, a service that provides continuous updates. But Eisenberg said that an Orioles scoreboard attendant probably will intercept most updates before posting them.

The reason? "The Orioles are very sensitive about having scores change during the middle of a game or in a critical situation," said Eisenberg, a former member of the Orioles video production staff. "We found through the years on Diamond Vision that you can excite fans with an out-of-town score, maybe at a time when you don't want to be distracting players on the field."

In a related electronic development, Eisenberg reported that the ballpark JumboTron, which suffered minor damage in a wind storm two weeks ago, has been repaired. The board, 96 feet long by 272 feet wide, was turned on for the first time on Thursday, when it displayed a test pattern. The first pictures appeared on the screen Friday.

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