Stadium seating causing pain -- actual, symbolic Fans in high-priced seats complain about odd twists.

April 23, 1992|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Staff Writer

The Opening Day magic at Oriole Park at Camden Yards never touched some fans who are disappointed with the new stadium's sight lines and their seat locations.

Most of these fans bought season tickets well in advance of Opening Day, believing their seats would be as good as or better than the ones they had in Memorial Stadium.

But fans in the back rows of terrace box seats say structural overhangs partially block their view of the Baltimore skyline, main scoreboard and Sony Jumbotron video board, the large state-of-the-art television screen that provides replays, messages, sports trivia and player information.

Other fans sitting in lower box seats down the left- and right-field lines say they miss part of the on-field action because their view is frequently blocked by vendors and fans walking up and down aisles.

Some fans with lower box seats say the seats face straight ahead. These fans complain that they're uncomfortable while sitting in their seats because they have to turn their heads sharply toward home plate or to the scoreboard to see the action.

Ironically, fans in upper deck boxes and upper deck reserved seats seem more pleased than those with seats closer to the field.

"We've bent over backwards to please everyone with their seats. Some other franchises, like Toronto, never gave people the choices that we did," says Oriole spokesman Bob Miller. Toronto opened its new Skydome in 1990.

"We put hundreds of hours into the seat assignments for our 20,000-plus season ticket holders," Mr. Miller says.

Jennifer Shantz, of Columbia, may still disagree, however. She bought a $4 bleacher seat in Section 96 (plus an added $2.75 phone charge cost). When she sat in the seat recently, she found she couldn't see first base. Her view was blocked by a corner of the right-field scoreboard.

"I'm quite disappointed," she says.

The new ballpark, which has been praised since it opened earlier this month, is designed to be an old-fashioned asymmetrical stadium with lots of exposed structural steel, open porches with dramatic urban views, roomy concourses and large concession areas.

Fans may disagree, but one Oriole publication says about 100 of the new stadium's seats are obstructed, "most[ly] by safety railings required by building regulations." That's far fewer than Memorial Stadium, which had 4,500 obstructed-view seats, most under overhangs and behind concrete pillars.

"I'm definitely underwhelmed," says Phil Roe, a banker and Northeast Baltimore resident who sits in the back of Section 27, terrace box. While the view of the field is not blocked, he can't see all of the video scoreboard because of the overhang of the club-level seats.

"These annoyances become more aggravated in the light of all the hype. If your expectations are modest, and there's a pimple here and a blemish there, you don't mind so much," Mr. Roe said during a recent game.

Bill Dougherty, a Bolton Hill resident, sits in the last row of Section 31, in a terrace box seat behind home plate. His view is also obstructed because of the overhang from the club seats. That means the arc of a high fly to the outfield or of an infield pop-up can't be seen.

"I have much worse seats than I had in Memorial Stadium. I feel like I'm boxed in, and I have to keep turning my neck to see. I can't see any of the skyline or the city. You see the field, just the field, not the sky. Literally, it's a pain in the neck," he says.

Mr. Miller of the Orioles says that's not fair.

"You cannot take your old seat at Memorial Stadium and transport it into a new ballpark. The configuration is totally different.

"People had raised expectations of what their seats would be if it wasn't an identical view or sightline to what they were used to," Mr. Miller says.

"When our fans become used to Oriole Park, they will probably find there are more advantages to the entire ball park and to

their seats than what they had at Memorial Stadium.

"This whole structure is new and unfamiliar. We're asking people to settle in."

When asked if some fans did indeed get bad seats, Mr. Miller says, "I would dispute the term 'bad seat' if you simply can't see the scoreboard or have to turn your head. It isn't necessarily an ideal seat, but it isn't a bad seat."

"If you sit in any other ballpark across the county, you would probably be doing so from higher up and farther back," Mr. Miller says.

The fans sitting in Section 9, terrace box, may be most upset. Joel Cohen, 68, a retired government attorney, says he has an obstructed-view seat in Section 9's last row.

"I'd like to have Larry Lucchino here for an inning. I was unbelieving that the Orioles would sell these seats at premium prices." His seats

are the third most-expensive sold.

"I inquired about changing my seats closer to home plate, and an Oriole employee told me she had nothing," Mr. Cohen says. "I asked about next year, and I was told that the All-Star Game [scheduled at Oriole Park in 1993] would make seats tight again. They're really not trying to help. The greed and arrogance are amazing when they're pulling 45,000 a game."

Mr. Miller disagrees.

He praises the job his organization has done and says the Oriole staff has been "more than willing" to work with the team's 20,000 season-ticket holders. Most of them have seats in either terrace box or lower box.

"Unless we built a high building, not everybody could be seated between first and third base," Mr. Miller says.

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