O's close to replacing 750 seats

January 05, 1994|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Responding to numerous complaints about lousy sightlines and strained necks, the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority are close to agreement on a plan that would replace about 750 seats in three left-field sections at Camden Yards.

The new seats would come equipped with hardware parts to point the chairs toward the infield at an 11-degree angle. Even that subtle change is expected to help alleviate problems confronted by fans who say the seats in those sections leave them staring at the left fielder for most of the game.

Stadium authority and Orioles officials have discussed the possibility of using angled seats for more than a year. But they stepped up those talks recently, and last month actually sat in them for the first time during trips to the new Indians ballpark under construction in Cleveland.

Both sides came away from Cleveland trips saying the angled seats would improve a bad situation.

"While they're not perfect, I thought they improved the situation," said Bruce Hoffman, the stadium authority's executive director, who inspected the Cleveland stadium Thursday. "It might be the best solution other than tearing apart the whole ballpark, which isn't likely."

Hoffman's visit came a few weeks after a delegation of Orioles officials was in Cleveland for its own look. The officials spoke in favor of the idea to team owner Peter G. Angelos, who said of the seat-replacement plan, "I expect it to happen."

The angled chairs use the same plastic seats as the current Camden Yards seats, but have hardware parts that shift fans toward the infield. The angled armrests and chair backs protrude slightly, causing leg room and aisle clearance to be reduced somewhat.

Because some parts of the current seats could be reused, the cost to the stadium authority of putting in the replacements might be as low as $40 per chair, Hoffman said.

The Cleveland park is the first to be equipped with the special seats. About 11,000 have been installed there, in sections extending along both foul lines in the upper and lower decks.

In Baltimore, officials plan to limit their use to sections tucked near the left-field foul line -- seats that had drawn the ire of some Orioles fans since Camden Yards' opening in 1992. A number of fans purchased season tickets in the sections, expecting they'd be getting a bird's-eye view of the action. Instead, they spent the first year craning their necks and complaining about their predicaments.

Last year, the Orioles took steps to minimize the problems, dropping ticket prices in the sections from $13 to $12 and offering to move season-ticket customers to better locations. Many accepted the offer, leaving the Orioles to sell most of the left-field seats on a individual-game basis.

Hoffman said stadium authority and Orioles officials have looked at several plans for installing the angled seats, including one to remove a number of chairs in the sections.

That would permit officials to stagger seats from row to row, further improving sightlines.

In the past, the Orioles have opposed reductions in the number of seats and, in turn, the team's revenues. But Angelos, who led an investors group that bought the team in August, has said the team is willing to take that step.

"We care [about lost revenue], but it's a necessary loss," Angelos said. "You can't invite people in to see a ballgame and give them a deficient seating arrangement."

Meanwhile, Angelos' plans to add a new grandstand at the ballpark appear off this year because the parties got a late start planning the section.

In September, the owner unveiled plans for the new seating area that was to seat about 1,500. Tickets for the section were to be distributed free to local schoolchildren.

"In light of the requirements of competitive bidding and so on, we'll have to wait until 1995," Angelos said.

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