$13 will buy you one bad seat and a pain in the neck

MICHAEL OLESKER

June 25, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

On breezy nights in Section 70 at the new baseball park, it's considered fashionable to wear a sweater and a neck brace. The sweater is for a slight chill. The neck brace is for turning your head at right angles over nine innings.

Section 70 is the last group of seats in left field just before you get to the foul pole. You'll know when you get there, because orthopedic surgeons are flying lazy circles directly overhead.

The Orioles call these lower box seats. We used to call them general admission. In either case, it looks like a clear case of collusion between Eli Jacobs and the chiropractic community.

In the old days, these seats were 75 cents. Now they're $13.

This being 1992 and not 1957, it isn't just the price inflation that's offensive, it's the language inflation -- calling them lower boxes and charging the same price as seats behind home plate when you're miles from the action and fighting vainly to see who's batting through impossible stadium sight lines.

The seats out here, as countless callers to radio talk shows have noted, do not face home plate. They face straight ahead, which is where Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux stand and do nothing at all for astonishingly long periods of time. Sometimes, they lean over and place their hands on their knees. Occasionally, they glance up at the crowd. Once, I caught Anderson biting his fingernails, and everybody around me said, "Hey. Look at that," because it was the closest we'd gotten to something that looked like action.

You find yourself staring at outfielders a lot.

This is because, human physiology being what it is, your natural inclination when sitting in a rigid chair is to look straight ahead. It is not to turn your head and body at a sharp angle for three hours.

This is the brave new world of ballparks? If so, gimme the past. Through 37 summers on 33rd Street, entire years of them out in the bleachers, I never had a seat where I couldn't look directly at home plate.

At Camden Yards, if you're downstairs and located between the infield and the foul pole, turning your head sharply is only part of the problem.

You're trying to see through a line of heads in your own row, which are located directly between you and home plate. Since everybody's having the same visual problems, many people are leaning forward. This means, you have to lean forward, too, which means that a domino effect takes over, lots of leaning people with their heads turned at sharp angles.

By the bottom of the first inning, my neck hurt. By the bottom of the fourth, my lower back hurt. Somebody smart is going to hire a physician and an attorney and look into the first chiropractic class-action lawsuit.

Here's what's almost as bad: I never felt involved in the game. My body kept wandering back to its normal, comfortable position, which is facing straight ahead. Hey, Devo, how's your mom? Hey, Brady, how's your manicure? Portions of innings slipped past without me remembering to look homeward. Friends seated with me said they spent long periods of time simply looking at other spectators.

At Camden Yards, the scoreboard replays aren't a luxury, they're a necessity for everybody who couldn't see the play when it actually happened. So there it is, on video. How is this different from seeing it on TV? Well, it's farther away, and you're uncomfortable.

Also not to be dismissed, there's a whole bunch of other stuff going on when you look at the scoreboard. It's not just Guess the Attendance, it's Guess the Attendance as Sponsored by. It's not just "Heroes of Birdland," it's Heroes as Sponsored by. It's the seventh-inning stretch, with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," as Sponsored by. Hey, I don't need a sponsor to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Am I objecting to capitalism? No, just to greed.

Are they really charging people money to walk through the ballpark while there's no game going on? And the Orioles are pocketing someof this money themselves? But it's not their ballpark, it's the state's!

The fact that people are paying money to walk through an empty park, and standing on line for $13 tickets to left field seats where you bend your body into contortionist positions, tells us something else.

One of the great hype jobs of history has been perpetrated. A fever sweeps the land, a belief that somehow buying a ticket to enter the ballpark entails something more than merely watching a baseball game.

So holy has the implied endeavor become that, to watch the big billows of smoke rising from Boog Powell's barbecue pit beyond right field is to find yourself wondering: Is that smoke from Boog's place, or have they just elected a new pope?

The state of Maryland raised millions of dollars for this ballpark, and the finest architects and builders were hired, and we now have thousands of people sitting there who can't see what's going on.

In the off-season, the Orioles should do two things: Yank out all those seats pointing to the outfield instead of home plate, and angle them properly; and lower the cost of those seats, so that those sitting near the foul pole aren't paying the same price as those near home plate.

Of course, knowing the Orioles, they'll say: "No problem. Of course, if we lower those ticket prices, we probably won't be able to afford Cal Ripken."

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