Outfield bumpers to carry ads, recalling older parks

ORIOLES PAD SALES

March 29, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

First Orioles player to bounce a ball off the B&O warehouse? Easy, Sam Horn.

First Oriole to achieve the rare training-room cycle -- lounging in the whirlpool, Jacuzzi and sauna before batting practice? Start by ruling out general manager Roland Hemond, who seldom sits down. Everybody else could be a candidate.

Now the sure stumper in any Oriole Park at Camden Yards quiz book:

First Orioles player to hit a line double off the right-field petroleum advertisement?

You heard it right. Advertising is coming to the Orioles' new ballpark, and it isn't stopping at the foul lines.

By Opening Day, the padded outfield walls of the new ballpark should be decorated with three painted signs. In right field, Champs, a sporting apparel retailer, and Baltimore-based Crown Central Petroleum have rented space. In left field, part of the wall will belong to First National Bank of Maryland, according to the team.

The ballpark's out-of-town scoreboard, which is raised about 8 feet above the outfield warning track in right field, also is flanked by billboards.

The Orioles aren't the first major-league team to rent the playing field. Throughout baseball history, many teams have done it, including two that played in ballparks now regarded as classic -- Ebbets Field and Fenway Park.

But that was a few generations ago. Today, there are teams that sell advertisements above outfield fences, teams that sell advertisements inside gurgling water fountains -- there's even an expansion team that sold the name to its soon-to-be stadium. (Welcome to Coors Field, future home of the Colorado Rockies).

But last week, Major League Baseball and American League officials said they believed the Orioles are the only team now offering advertisers pieces of fair territory.

The placement of the advertisements has been approved by American League president Bobby Brown, according to the Orioles. Team spokesman Rick Vaughn said the league office did, however, offer guidelines for the wall signs, including this one: Limit the use of white. Brown apparently hopes to avoid the situation in which an outfielder might lose sight a baseball that hopped into a painted ice-cream sandwich.

Phyllis Merhige, a spokeswoman for the league president, said a league representative would be in Baltimore before Opening Day to inspect various details of the ballpark, including the outfield artwork.

"I am certain someone will look at it ahead of time to make sure it's OK before the first game," Merhige said.

The Orioles are not alone in believing that advertisements have a place in the field of play. The idea has the blessing of the Maryland Stadium Authority, the ballpark landlord. The stadium authority has a financial stake in the sale of ballpark advertising; the rent the state collects from the Orioles is based, in part, on team revenues.

But Herbert J. Belgrad, the authority chairman, said he found the outfield signs appealing in other ways, too.

"I've seen slides and pictures of the old ballparks, and part of their charm were the advertisements," Belgrad said.

The 15-year ballpark lease bars the state from commercializing the name of the stadium, but otherwise puts no real limits on the selling of advertising, Belgrad said.

"Primarily, that [where to place ads] is an Orioles decision because we didn't want to do anything -- and couldn't do anything -- to interfere with the playing of the game," he said.

Although the wall signs probably won't be completed for several days, the rest of the green padded wall is quickly taking shape. Last week, about half the outfield sections were fitted into place, and the remaining pads should be hooked up by the end of this week, according to Ken John, president of Promat Inc., the Colorado-based company that makes and installs the pads.

John is not new at this. His firm has manufactured cushy walls for a lengthy list of major-league parks, including Dodger Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Royals Stadium and a job he just left with his three-member installation crew -- Riverfront Stadium.

Before they are through at the new Orioles stadium, the Promat workers will install 240 padded sections, most 4 feet wide and 7 feet, 6 inches high. Pieces that fit beneath the out-of-town scoreboard are slightly larger -- 8 feet, 6 inches.

Promat isn't sticking on any pad. For most stadium jobs, the company uses a 3-inch foam cushion, stapled to a plywood board and wrapped in a tough vinyl shell. On this job, the Orioles and the stadium authority sought to go where few outfield cushions had gone before -- their pads are 4 inches thick.

When the men from Promat are done, the entire circumference of the field will be padded, which is not exactly what the stadium planners had in mind at the start. The first plans called for low railings in foul ground to be exposed. But those plans changed at the request of the Major League Baseball Players Association, which voiced concerns about possible player injuries.

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