Safety patrols do their part, but Orioles strike out

John Steadman

February 26, 1993|By John Steadman

Operating a business within a community, as the Orioles do in presenting baseball entertainment, also translates into an obligation -- especially when the park they play in, where they are making tons of money, was built by the citizens of Maryland. Other private businesses should be so fortunate as to enjoy such a privileged arrangement.

The Orioles, for the second year in a row, have decreased the number of free tickets they will offer to members of the safety patrols -- the youngsters who stand outside public and parochial schools in all kinds of weather to make sure the rest of the students are protected from the dangers of passing traffic.

Two years ago, during their last season at Memorial Stadium, the Orioles made 17,900 tickets available for Safety Patrol Day. Moving into their new downtown facility last season, they could free only 3,000 seats. This year it drops again -- to 2,600 -- for the Orioles' game with the Kansas City Royals on May 2.

From 17,900 to 2,600 is a reduction of 85.5 percent, which means the majority of the safety patrol members will not see the Orioles at play on a day that traditionally has been reserved for their enjoyment. The mercenaries among us will defend the Orioles and say they shouldn't be expected to give away what they have a chance to sell.

That's a question the Orioles have to ask themselves but which, unfortunately, they already have answered. Julie Wagner, community relations director for the team, said since the availability of tickets is limited, the Orioles will present every safety patrol member with a certificate of recognition for the duties they've performed.

"As soon as we can, we'll up the number of admissions," she said. "But in the past, it was rare when we had more than 3,000 to 5,000 children at the game."

Had the Orioles so desired, they could have blocked off a home date and accommodated all the safety patrol members. It would have been a case of informing their regular customers that on this one day they were going to salute the safety patrols, as they've been doing for 39 years. They could have let it be known that on this occasion, they were sacrificing the chance for profit to honor a deserving group of young people.

The program to reward the safety patrol officers began in 1954, the Orioles' first in the American League. Four years later Gov. Millard Tawes endorsed the idea with an official proclamation. In 1985, the one-millionth safety patrol member came through the gates. So there's no dispute over how successful the effort, thanks to the Orioles, has become during almost four decades of existence.

Richard Forstner, a member of the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers, Inc., is in charge of the gathering at the ballpark. The safety patrol baseball concept involves youngsters from schools Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's, Charles, St. Mary's and other Maryland counties.

Civic-minded men of the stature of Dr. Frank Bennett, Paul Burke, Lt. Larry Jacques, Lucien Peters, Earle Smith, Norris Rannels, Herb Armstrong and Richard Hartman participated in the early organization that rewarded the safety patrols with a day at the ballpark. It was a gracious act on the part of the Orioles, an excellent public relations gesture.

Now it has changed. The Orioles, with their new-found popularity, obviously could sell every ticket in the ballpark. But there is a time when management should ask itself if making such a high rate of income in Baltimore doesn't mean that the team should also give something back. What better cause than the safety patrol, a group devoted to doing for others?

From 17,900 tickets to 2,600 is a drastic cut, even though the Safety Patrol Day organizers aren't about to look a gift Oriole in the mouth. They'll take what's available. But it would have been a generous move by the Orioles had they attempted to accommodate the entire safety patrol membership.

The Bowie Baysox, the Orioles' Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League, will play all their home games at Memorial Stadium this season. The team plans to welcome the safety patrols at Memorial Stadium in what is a commendable action. That's being a good neighbor but, for the kids, it's not the same as seeing the Orioles play a major-league game.

Things of long standing, when saluting a wholesome endeavor similar to the safety patrol, deserve to be preserved, not eroded. It's the one day when selling tickets shouldn't be all that important.

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