More seats to get infield shift

February 01, 1994|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

In a marked expansion of its plan to rescue fans saddled with sorry sightlines and aching necks, the Maryland Stadium Authority will replace 3,204 seats at Camden Yards with models that point their occupants toward the infield.

That number is sharply higher than the roughly 750 chairs the stadium authority said it was considering changing last month, and will spread the project to six seating sections in both the extreme right- and left-field corners of the 2-year-old ballpark.

The stadium authority, which operates the state-owned ballpark, said this month that it planned to replace seats in three lower-grandstand sections tucked along the left-field line.

But authority officials agreed to add to the project after Orioles officials turned over a number of letters from fans in other locations who complained their seats pointed away from much of the game action.

Many of the letters came from season-ticket customers so disgusted with their views that they asked to be reassigned to sections that would seem to be far less desirable.

"Based on that, I didn't see we had much of a choice," said Bruce H. Hoffman, stadium authority executive director.

"We think this is a flaw in our project. This is one more loose end we can tie up," Hoffman said.

Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos praised the stadium authority's decision to replace the seats, and expressed hope that they would be a "totally adequate answer."

Angelos added that he was prepared to push for further improvements if the new seats do not give fans significantly better views.

"We would insist on additional steps be taken to put all those seats in a condition fans find acceptable," Angelos said.

The stadium authority will pick up the tab for the seat changes, which may reach $250,000. Those funds likely would come from the authority's annual operating budget, Hoffman said.

Though the timetable for completing the project is uncertain, Hoffman said he expected seats in one left-field section would be installed by Opening Day, April 4. The remaining chairs then would be in place by the end of May.

The new seats come equipped with hardware parts to point the chairs toward the infield at an 11-degree angle. That subtle change is expected to help address problems faced by fans who say the seats in those sections leave them staring at the outfield.

Stadium authority and Orioles officials have discussed for more than a year the possibility of using angled seats. But their talks turned to action last month when Orioles and stadium authority officials visited the new Indians ballpark in Cleveland, scheduled to open in April, to test the seats. The Cleveland park is the first to be equipped with the new seats.

After the trip, Hoffman said the stadium authority was going ahead with plans to address sightlines in three left-field sections only. But after more talks with Orioles officials, both parties concluded that by replacing chairs in six sections, they might stem the flow of those appealing to Orioles officials for new seat locations.

Those numbers have been considerable during the first two seasons at Camden Yards. Many of the disgruntled customers have been those with seats in the extreme left-field corner. The Orioles have moved more than 1,000 season-ticket holders in those locations in two years, according to Vince Dunbar, Orioles director of sales. Another 100 customers have moved from seats in the right-field corner, Dunbar said.

The gripes varied slightly, but Dunbar said unhappy fans often cited the difficulty they had getting a decent view of action in the batter's box or at the pitcher's mound. "There are different degrees of complaints," Dunbar said. "Some said it was difficult to see. Others said it was impossible."

Orioles officials said the new seats might not be the perfect solution to the sightline problem, and cautioned fans not to expect their situation to be perfect.

"I don't want to build this up to be a cure-all and end-all," Dunbar said. "But I do think it will be a significant improvement."

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