460 feet from home, it's safe B&O warehouse windows outfitted with special glass

April 03, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

It almost certainly won't happen on Opening Day. It may not happen in the first season or even the first dozen years the Orioles play in the new downtown ballpark.

But one day, a left-handed hitter will step up to the plate at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, swing hard and hit a ball where none has flown before -- above the Tall Wall, beyond the flag court, even over the frozen yogurt dispenser in the ground-floor cafeteria.

The first home run to reach the B&O warehouse will be historic, but probably not a housekeeping mess. The ballpark's planners have seen to that by outfitting several dozen windows in the old building with a special safety glass that won't splinter into shards when smacked by a ball headed toward Harborplace.

In all, 63 of 429 windows on the ballpark side of the warehouse have the shatter-resistant glass. That's enough to protect many Orioles employees whose offices look out over the right-field line and power alley. In addition, protective glass has been used on the street level of the warehouse, where the finishing touches are being put on a ballpark restaurant and bar.

Ben Barnert, one of the architects who picked the locations for the safety glass, is a senior vice president for HOK Sports Facilities Group. He said the process was guided more by instinct than by studying the habits of American League sluggers.

In picking the spots, Barnert said, "We looked at the distance from home plate to the warehouse and, taking into account the 25-foot right-field wall, just decided we'd go up four floors.

"We knew that would be safe," he said.

Extremely. Only balls that are crushed will come close to reaching the warehouse. Even over the right-field foul pole -- the nearest point between home plate and the old building -- the measurement is 460 feet. Move away from the line and the numbers soon get ridiculous.

Barnert said the architects were protecting against the biggest hitters and the longest shots.

"We are thinking about the next generation of Bo Jacksons on the left-handed [hitting] side," he said. "Or George Brett in his younger days."

The safety glass used in the warehouse is not unusual or indestructible. The 3 1/2 -foot-wide by 6 1/2 -foot-tall windows consist of two panes -- the exterior glass is treated with a sheet of a clear plastic that prevents it from shattering when struck by your average ballpark hazards, including mammoth home runs.

Frank LaFata, projects manager at Caplan Glass, the Baltimore company that supplied the shatter-resistant panes on the street level of the warehouse, said the glass does break, but not into dangerous, flying shards.

"The only thing I could compare it to is the windshield of an automobile," LaFata said. "The only time you have to replace that glass is if it did get hit with something and cracked."

The architects could have chosen even more home-run-resistant materials, including plastics such as Plexiglas and Lexan. But glass is best for office workers who sometimes enjoy looking out their window, Barnert said.

"You don't have the visibility and vision like you do through glass," he said.

When the ballpark plan was still young, break-resistant glass was the furthest thing from the minds of some of the planners. The idea of an occasional broken window in the warehouse did not offend them. Enchanted was more like it.

"At first, it sounded neat for a player to get up to bat, blast one and break a window in the warehouse," said Barnert, the project architect.

Then the architects started thinking about falling glass shards, and what that might bring, including the threat of lawsuits.

"You think about all those people congregating in Eutaw Street," Barnert said. "Then the insurance companies come into play. Liabilities issues are hanging over your head. We can't have that."

There are also advantages inside the eight-story warehouse building, which houses a private club, party rooms and a memorabilia shop in addition to the Orioles' headquarters office. Most of the team's space is on the second and third floors, which would put many employees on the west side of the building squarely in the line of fire.

"I'm hoping a ball hits my window," said Charles Steinberg, the Orioles director of public affairs. "That's as romantic as it gets."

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