The fans who play for position are sitting pretty Opening Day WHO'S ON FIRST

April 04, 1994|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

In other cities, it's where you sit at the symphony that matters. Or whether you can get a table for four on a Saturday night at Le This or Le That Hot Restaurant.

In Baltimore, it's where you sit at Camden Yards, especially today, on Opening Day.

Will you be in the right place at the right time? Will you be able to tell the less fortunate office slaves tomorrow that George Will leaned over to discuss the intricacies of Cal's batting stance with you? That you bumped into Barry Levinson as he rushed in after the third inning (those flights from El Lay are always running late, don't you know)? Or that you handed Tom Clancy his change from the peanut vendor?

And, oh yes, there was also a baseball game going on somewhere in the vicinity.

This year, Opening Day, always a see-and-be-seen proposition anyway, arriveswith the team under new ownership and, thus, a new dynamic at the ballpark. The celebrity-spotting quotient jumped with the ownership change, with such recognizable faces as Mr. Levinson, Mr. Clancy, tennis star Pam Shriver and sportscaster Jim McKay part of the 20-member investor group. Assuring them of somewhere to sit in the nearly always sold-out Camden Yards, as well as satisfying hundreds of long-time season ticket-holders unhappy with their current seats, meant a winter of delicately juggling the seating charts.

And you thought all the jockeying for position took place on the field.

"I continue to be amazed at the passion for this ball club, and how that passion is reflected in where people want to sit at the ballpark and where they want to park," says the even-tempered Joe Foss, vice chairman of business and finance, who has the unenviable task of channeling all that free-form passion into actual seat assignments. "But Baltimore people are also into fairness, and we tried to develop a seating arrangement that was fair."

Mr. Foss stresses that no regular Joes were pushed out of their seats to accommodate the new owners, their family and their burgeoning number of friends (if you want to instantly increase your popularity, try buying a piece of the Orioles). Rather, the team reallocated seats held by the three former Orioles owners or the club itself, which reserves a number of seats for special guests, he says. And some new owners already had season tickets or live out of town and weren't expected to attend games frequently, he says.

Former majority owner Eli Jacobs gave up his seats, while co-owner Larry Lucchino kept some of his, Mr. Foss says. The third owner, former Peace Corps director and Kennedy family member Sargent Shriver, moved back a couple of rows, Mr. Foss says, from his former first-row perch by the Orioles dugout.

Everyone, of course, wants to sit around the Orioles dugout on the first base side, although all the lower box seats that curve from first to third are coveted.

"It's a status thing," talk-show host "Stan The Fan" Charles says of Baltimore's seat-assignment angst. "But it is also easier to enjoy a baseball game from a good seat."

Mr. Charles will spend today in his same old seat of about 14 years, right behind home plate. But others will be in slightly different surroundings: About 950 season ticket-holders succeeded in getting their 3,800 seats reassigned this year, either rectifying old complaints or simply upgrading to better locations.

Mr. Foss says the new owners wanted to resolve complaints from some long-time season ticket-holders that they'd been shifted -- or, less politely, shafted -- from prime locations to Siberia when the team moved from Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards in 1992. Some claimed that they were being punished for past wranglings with then-owner Eli Jacobs.

Let's talk about it, Stephen L. Miles: The attorney of TV-commercial fame for years sat in the fourth row behind the dugout in Memorial Stadium, then found himself way back in right field in the new park.

"It was war. I had pleadings drafted. There's no amount of money I wouldn't have spent to fight these people," Mr. Miles recalls. He thinks he was on an "enemies list" with the previous owners because he'd expressed interest in buying the team.

"George Will got my seats," Mr. Miles claims, seeing the erudite columnist at Camden Yards in seats comparable to the ones he enjoyed in Memorial Stadium. (Mr. Will, a 12-year season ticket holder, laughs and says he laid claim on those seats even before the concrete was set; he had similar seats near the third-base dugout at Memorial Stadium, then moved with the team to the first-base side at the new park.)

After raising a stink, Mr. Miles settled his dispute with the former owners and was given seats in the 10th row behind the dugout. The new management called Mr. Miles this winter as part of its attempt to resolve old seating complaints, but he says he decided not to "get greedy" and seek a further upgrade. He's just happy that majority owner Peter Angelos is trying to allocate the best seats more fairly.

'There is a God'

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