Lucchino promises to do something about pain-in-neck seating

John Steadman

July 24, 1992|By John Steadman

What Larry Lucchino observes and hears about the physical contortions (literally pains in the neck) experienced by ticket holders in the seats along the left- and right-field foul lines brings a personal promise that corrective measures will be taken. The president of the Baltimore Orioles says the matter is being reviewed and, furthermore, agrees the problem is serious enough to warrant change during the off-season.

Alterations can't come soon enough for those spectators who have to turn their heads almost 45 degrees to watch the action between the pitcher-hitter-catcher at Oriole Park. It's difficult to comprehend a project could cost $265 million and have such a restricted predicament for the ticket buyers.

When the situation was first disclosed in this newspaper, before the season opened, the detractors came down hard. Hate mail arrived by the box. Too often the truth hurts and a segment of the public didn't want to believe such a momentous construction mistake could have happened. But it was there, plain and simple.

The facts and resulting complaints, plus headaches and nerve trauma, soon proved the cheerleaders were taken in by all hype. Lucchino, dealing with the matter directly, insists "alternatives are being examined."

He was asked if the Maryland Stadium Authority and the architectural firm of HOK signed an agreement with the Orioles that specified the "seats were to face second base and the pitcher's mound" -- a provision that was not fulfilled.

"We were in the planning together," Lucchino said. "We worked with the architect and the authority, so it's not fair to assess them with all the blame."

So, in a world that seems obsessed with passing the criticism on to others, Lucchino is willing to at least share the disdain of those seat occupants involved.

Asked if 5,000 or 6,000 seats might be an accurate estimate, he replied, "I don't know the number, but I wouldn't think it to be that many."

The error in construction is compounded by the fact season tickets holders in the two areas, from third base to left field and first base to right field, come back game after game to place continuing strain on their necks. "Maybe they can be relocated, but when they see the alternative positions they may want to continue in their present locations," Lucchino said. "We'll offer them season tickets elsewhere.

"The park is not perfect but overall it works. We are not blind to the situation. Clearly, we have a lot of empathy for those involved with tickets in the particular locations you're talking about. The Orioles will do all they can to rectify the condition."

Lucchino went on to explain there has been consideration of even eliminating seats to gain enough room within the rows to make the adjustment so those remaining seats can be turned toward the pitching mound. But even if that takes place, he's not sure it would resolve the problem. "Maybe even another type of seat could be installed," he said.

The Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority proclaimed there wouldn't be a bad seat in the entire facility. But that turned out to be an overstatement. There are bad seats, more than the Orioles realize, and the elevation is such that men, women and children have to find "openings" between the heads of other fans to see the field.

However, criticism of the park isn't keeping the spectators away. It shows how tolerant the public can be, even when it has been told to expect one thing and is made to put up with something it didn't anticipate -- the ongoing inconvenience of going to a ballgame and getting their necks and dispositions bent out of shape.

On another matter, Lucchino confirms the Orioles are looking at a possible training camp location in Orlando, Fla., which is what we've been trying to tell them ever since the day they announced they would not be going back to Miami. Orlando offers a chance to play off the immense appeal of Disney World and to draw substantial crowds to exhibitions.

It also is far more accessible to Baltimore than Naples, another projected site far down the West Coast of Florida, which doesn't in any way offer the schedule of direct flights between Orlando and Baltimore. Hopefully, every seat in Orlando would be directed toward the pitcher/catcher.

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