Officials turn attention to stadium's last bugs Perfection sought for Opening Day

April 05, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Jay Boyle, the man responsible for everything edible at the new ballpark, had to laugh.

He had not been to sleep for 36 hours. He had been working feverishly to fix a problem affecting many of the food stands: a malfunction with electronic cash registers that had forced cashiers to switch to pocket calculators. And Opening Day was fast approaching.

Not to worry, said Boyle, general manager for ARA Services, the ballpark caterer. When the iron gates of the new ballpark open tomorrow, the food stands will be fully stocked and the registers will be working at full efficiency.

And if they aren't?

"Go out and stand on Russell Street," he offered. "Because you'll see me throwing people off the deck."

Boyle is not the only ballpark official who spent the weekend trying to iron out a few lingering problems before Opening Day. Roy Sommerhof, Orioles director of stadium services, spent the weekend at a downtown hotel so he could be near the ballpark. For most members of the stadium team, 14-hour days were routine.

The effort seems to be paying off.

After a week of ballpark preliminaries, most of the kinks have been worked out. Even the most confirmed worrywarts among the planners seem confident of a smooth-running Opening Day.

"I feel comfortable. I feel confident. We're ready to go for Opening Day, and I can't wait," said Sommerhof, the Orioles' chief stadium troubleshooter.

Boyle turned decidedly serious when asked about his personal expectations for Opening Day. For several years, he has been a member of the ARA team that developed the new food stands, planned menus and brought the blueprints to life.

"As much as I've thought and dreamed about this building and our plans for it, there's some anxiety," he said. "This [stadium opening] is the biggest thing to hit this town ever -- in recent memory, anyway. Will you reach your customers expectations? You hope so."

Even the normally unexcitable Bruce Hoffman, Maryland Stadium Authority executive director, was having trouble keeping the lid on his emotions last week.

"It's a success," Hoffman said of the ballpark he helped create. "We're finished, and it's a success."

Hoffman said the ballpark's performance and appearance improved steadily during last week's activities.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, we did a 7 on Thursday, which wasn't bad for the first time, and a 9 on Friday," he said.

To improve to a 10 on Opening Day, Hoffman said the planners had to pay attention to issues like trash cans with improperly fitted lids and crowd control in the posh club level. Corridors lined with overstuffed chairs, dessert trays -- and the ballpark's 72 private suites -- were teeming with people. That surprised Hoffman and caused him to wonder whether everyone belonged there.

"The club level feels more full than I ever expected," he said. "It's like Grand Central Station up here. It's a busy concourse, and I thought it would be more like sitting in your living room."

The trash cans bothered him, too.

"We've got lids that don't fit the can very well. And I'm finding Coke coming out the bottom of some cans," Hoffman said. "That doesn't look right. We'll have to figure something out."

Hoffman wasn't alone in seeking an answer to a trash problem. Orioles head groundskeeper Paul Zwaska is concerned about litter on the field itself. During Friday's exhibition game, he noticed a considerable amount of debris whipping around the outfield, much of it collecting in left field.

The wind currents aren't likely to change. But Zwaska's game plan is. Starting tomorrow, members of the grounds crew assigned to the bullpens will be doing more to keep the outfield neat.

"We've got to be a little more aggressive going out between innings so it looks good," Zwaska said.

Friday, Sommerhof dealt with a series of small problems, too. Among them: fans with tickets to seats that do not exist, and gates that did not open at precisely the right time.

A possible error with the seating manifest might have been the cause of the ticket snafu, Sommerhof said. "We need to look at the seating manifest provided by the contractor and double-check that with the actual seats," he said.

The gate situation also can be solved fairly easily. Friday, some opened, as scheduled, at 1 p.m., others 10 minutes later.

"The ballpark is new to the fans and new to us," Sommerhof said. "We have four major gates. We need to do a better job of synchronizing when they open, so fans won't be waiting so long."

Lines at the food stands also have been a concern. The problem stems, at least in part, from the cash register glitch. Thursday, none of the registers in the food stands operated.

Friday, many still were inoperable.

Boyle said ARA is equipping the high-tech registers with many new features, including a pay-by-credit-card option. Soon, he said, fans will be able to give their credit card to the cashier and have their accounts verified in about 10 seconds.

That is when the registers are working well, which hasn't been the case so far. Friday, short lines began to form at some stands as cashiers wrestled with their calculators.

"It's a pain in the neck, not so much for accuracy, but for speed," Boyle said. "You have to look up at the menu board and say, "Gee, a hot dog is two-fifty and a bag of potato chips is a buck and a half."

By tomorrow, those problems could be ancient history. Hoffman, for one, hopes so.

"Ceremonially, Monday is the most important day," he said. "If I can, I'd like to close the door [to the stadium authority suite], watch the game and not have to work."

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