Oriole Park at Camden Yards triumphs past pre-Opening Day jitters

April 04, 1992|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Roy Sommerhof, the Orioles' chief stadium trouble-shooter, was describing the "nightmare scenario," an Opening Day in which the scoreboard would blacken, the turnstiles wouldn't turn and fans would be angered.

Moments later, just as the Orioles' Chris Hoiles was knocking in two runs with a shot between the third baseman's legs, the scoreboard went black. Down on the concourse, the televisions flickered off, drawing an angry moan from the fans.

All systems were back up and running a minute later, and the fans were back to their new-found love affair with Baltimore's new ballpark.

Such are the tribulations of the stadium shakedown cruise, yesterday's nine-inning test drive of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

There were the expected glitches. Some fans turned up with tickets to seats that didn't exist. Balky cash registers forced attendants at one concession stand to use pocket calculators. And a malfunctioning women's room forced long lines at other bathrooms.

But by all accounts, the park proved itself a high performance machine, raring to go on Monday.

"We've been working with it on paper for so long, but now we know how it really operates with people in it," said Mr. Sommerhof, the Orioles' director of stadium operations. "It was a good learning experience."

A task force of officials with the stadium, team, contractors and the Maryland Stadium Authority conducted a post-game summit to discuss "minor adjustments."

But by and large, everyone connected with the exhibition game seemed pleased with the results.

"Now that there are people in the ballpark you have a sense of a real ballpark, not just a stadium," said an obviously pleased team owner, Eli S. Jacobs.

After the years of planning and designing, the final product "exceeded all our expectations. It's awesome," Mr. Jacobs said.

Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent, a guest in Mr. Jacobs' box, predicted that the stadium would prove a model for other parks. "I think it will give baseball a shot in the arm. . . . I think it's magnificent," he said.

Among the test-run glitches:

* About 20 fans showed up with tickets for seats that don't exist. Mr. Sommerhof said the Orioles are looking into the problem.

* Some lines were longer than they should be, including a 25-person backup at the grill on the posh club level.

"It took me a half-hour to get a hot dog," said Scott Noyle, a fan who won club level tickets for the game. But, he added quickly, the stadium is "absolutely beautiful."

Bruce H. Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, agreed that food sales have to be speeded up.

"The concessionaires have never run this equipment before. Once they get used to it, it will be a very fast system," Mr. Hoffman said.

He attended Opening Day of the Chicago White Sox last year, also the opener for the new Comiskey Park. It was conducted with no dry runs.

"It took me an hour to get a hot dog," he recalled yesterday. The experience convinced him and other members of the delegation that an exhibition game before Opening Day would be helpful.

About two-thirds of the seats in each section were sold yesterday, for a total of 31,286 fans. An open house Thursday drew about 20,000, giving stadium operators a gradual run up to Monday's 48,041-seat sellout.

Mr. Hoffman, who arrived early at the park and personally repaired a toilet that was running on, said there were some important lessons learned throughout the week.

Some of the stadium's 350 garbage cans were improperly sited Thursday, for example, leaving waste overflowing some cans. Some doors didn't work in all areas, and the heat was too much or too little in some places (temperature at game time was a windy 48 degrees).

And someone accidentally hit a circuit breaker in the sixth inning,

causing the scoreboard to briefly go out.

"We're pleased. People seem to be enjoying themselves. But it's good to have these dress rehearsals," said team President Larry Lucchino.

Sherman B. Kerbel, director of facilities management for the stadium authority, spent most of the game roaming the stands, concourses and washrooms.

When he discovered a problem he would radio "command center" in the adjacent warehouse. From there, more than 100 plumbers, carpenters, cleaners and security guards could be dispatched to a trouble spot.

A few fans were spotted atop the scoreboard in the seventh inning and had to be shooed away. And there were the usual complaints of paper towels running out and clogged pipes. But for a $106 million project that has 48,041 seats, a 22.8 million BTU air conditioning system, and nearly 1,000 sinks, toilets and water fountains, it's not a bad record, Mr. Kerbel said.

"We haven't encountered anything that was totally unexpected," Mr. Kerbel said. "The people that designed the park did a good job of anticipating needs."

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