How much could the tarp haul in?

Dan Rodricks

July 10, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

About critics of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I invoke the sentiment of famed seamstress Betsy Ross who, after having had her stars-and-stripes flag design criticized by George Washington, reportedly said: "Everybody wants to be the art director!"

But at the risk of sounding like one of these meddlers and cranks, I would like to offer a suggestion that, while not improving the appearance of Oriole Park, might very well delight the fans and give the team owner extra cash to pay Cal.

So, listen up, Mr. Jacobs, this one's for you.

First of all, you might have noticed how professional baseball has become somewhat commercialized. Call it a hunch on my part, but I think it's a real trend.

I'm talking about the advertising, the marketing, the consumer exploitation that goes on out there -- from the T-shirts and the souvenirs to the hot-graphic sponsor declarations on the giant video screen in center field. The market strategists haven't missed a thing. Corporate skyboxes. Billboards. Signs on the outfield wall. Even the video features that appear on the big screen between innings -- each has a sponsor. Time checks on radio broadcasts have a sponsor. "Pitching updates" on cablecasts have a sponsor. Everything is brought to you by somebody, or Mr. Nobody, and don't forget to tell 'em Jim Palmer sent you.

It's numbingly beautiful. American excess in excess.

I was drowning in all this again the other night, immersed in its gestalt, when suddenly before my eyes fell a vision.

It was a giant swath of unsponsored, non-commercialized space. A massive canvas waiting to be painted. A huge blank billboard.

It was the tarpaulin, spread perfectly across Wednesday night's wet infield and short-outfield by the crack ground crew. The boys almost always do a superb job, looking as they do like Lilliputians pulling a gigantic won-ton wrapper home to supper.

When the air was stamped out of the thing, and it finally settled down, it glistened under the lights.

Surrounded by myriad multihued stimuli, all fueling the commercial machine with their messages of buy, buy, buy, sell, sell, sell, the tarp looked like an empty tank begging to be filled with more of this high-octane blend.

What a waste!

Hey, listen, I'm no Jerry Della Femina. I'm no J. Walter Thompson. I didn't come up with the "Uh-Huh" babes to sell Diet Pepsi. But I know a good thing when I see it.

How did the marketing boys miss this one, Mr. Jacobs?

In every rain delay, there's a huge captive audience for somebody's commercial message.

Think of the possibilities.

Morton Salt's slogan is "When It Rains It Pours." Need I say more? What do you think they would pay to get in on the Camden Yards hoopla?

As it rains on Oriole Park, thousands of men and women sit in the stands, under umbrellas, worried about their sump pumps. Tell RTC me Maryland's leading home sump-pump dealer wouldn't put down Big Paper to be on the Big Wonton Wrapper. Let Hechinger and Home Depot have a bidding war.

If Bill Veeck were still alive, I know what a publicity artist -- dare I say the Michelangelo of shameless promoters? -- like him would do. He'd paint the thing in multicolored polka dots and turn it into a giant Twister game. Imagine 10,000 wet fans bent over and squirming in the world's largest game of Twister? Imagine the mangled, knotted limbs in a mass of twisted humanity -- and wire photos going all over the globe.

Or how about a giant crossword puzzle with the corresponding clues included in the program?

Baltimore is "The City That Reads," so maybe, as a public service, the Orioles could print a different short story on the tarp for each home stand. Combine that with a binoculars give-away night, and we could have 47,000 men, women and children sitting in the rain and reading, "Horton Hears A Who."

But that's not commercial enough. The money-producing potential of the tarp is absolutely awesome and, to be absolutely depraved about it, I wouldn't waste it on public service.

The Orioles could charge big bucks for an advertisement on the tarp. Nearly 50,000 people in the stands and countless others watching on television would be forced to stare at the biggest advertisement in Baltimore for, during some rain delays, more than an hour. We're talking big, big bucks.

We're talking Stephen L. Miles, attorney at law, and former assistant state's attorney. A big advertiser. A big face. If I were Mr. Jacobs, I'd say, "Let's talk about it."

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