An enlightening night at the ballpark High-intensity bulbs shine when it counts

April 09, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

They played the first night game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards last night. This time, the switch-flippers were ready.

Three minutes after the call went out to fire up the ballpark's 711 high-intensity light bulbs, they did. Without incident. On cue.

That was good news for all the officials who have a hand in operating the ballpark's new state-of-the-art lights. In the ballpark's first week of life, the lights themselves have operated flawlessly. The people who run them are moving slowly but surely in that direction.

Problems? A few. Last Friday, as the sun set on the Orioles-New York Mets exhibition game, the lights were a little late coming on. No one was sure who should do the honors, including officials in the press box, where the controls are located.

Opening Day brought a new complication -- a padlock. It seemed like a good idea to the Maryland Stadium Authority, the ballpark landlord, which does not want just anybody with an itchy finger turning on the lights and running up utility bills. But Monday, the extra security delayed the field being lighted up for about two innings.

Last night was the best effort yet. The lights worked. Better yet, the light operators had their best day yet.

Confusion about who should turn on the lights is not likely to persist. Roughly a dozen employees of the Orioles and the stadium authority have keys to the coveted light control box, including officials who will be able to flip the right switches at a moment's notice.

Still, it is important to limit access to the light controls, said Sherman Kerbel, director of facilities management for the stadium authority.

"Our real concern is with all the people who have access to the press box, including people cleaning the building and concessions workers," Kerbel said. "It is a natural tendency to turn a switch, which would be an expensive situation for us."

In all, there are four light standards ringing the stadium, including one attached to the roof of the B&O warehouse. The racks on the stadium roof loom about 167 feet above the playing field. They hold 711 metal halide bulbs, each guaranteed to burn 3,000 hours, each throwing off 1,500 watts of daylight.

The lights did not simply begin lighting the field brightly and evenly when the ballpark opened its doors. For weeks, the bulbs have been tested, turned and focused.

The testing process was exhaustive and a little strange. To make sure that the field was lighted to the satisfaction of outfielders, infielders and TV cameras, 146 flags were planted at regular intervals. Lights then were focused at each flag. In the end, the lighting experts were able to modulate lighting beyond what might be possible in your living room.

The best lighted spots on the field are within the infield diamond. There, "foot candle" measurements are 410 to 450. Short outfield measurements are 290 to 350. In outfield crannies, they fall to 240.

How bright is that? Some seating sections, hidden beneath the club level, have foot candle readings as low as 2.

Michael Doyal, a lighting engineer for Sidhu Associates, which has worked with the stadium authority to perfect the system, said the playing field is plenty light for players, perhaps even brighter than needed to see high pops and speeding fastballs.

"The [highest] illumination is for TV, not for the players," Doyal said.

So far, the stadium lights have been absolutely problem-free, said the engineer. In fact, electrical problems throughout the new building have been limited to scattered problems away from the field. A notable outage occurred this week in the Orioles clubhouse, where a circuit tripped.

Why? On a single circuit, Orioles players were running two coffee makers and two soda machines.

But not for long.

"It's a learning curve for everyone," Doyal said. "People using the space will learn what they can and can't do."

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