O's to go distance to right their dimensional wrong

July 29, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

Those misleading dimensions on the outfield fences at the facility with two names, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, are going to be corrected. The mistake is far from a revelation since members of the Baltimore Orioles' pitching staff, "shell-shocked" or not, have disputed the distances. They simply aren't what they're reputed to be.

In the interest of accuracy and credibility, the numbers will be changed, either now or before the start of another season. Peter Angelos, majority owner of the Orioles, chief potentate, policy-maker and advocate of truthfulness in advertising, promises the matter is going to be addressed.

It's a move that will particularly please the pitchers, who doubt if the posted figures are accurate. They become annoyed when balls they have thrown sail out of the place for distances that are considerably suspect. Admittedly, not all ballparks list the proper dimensions but most of them do.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is on-the-mark in reporting its foul line footage, 333 to left and 318 to right, but center field and the so-called "power alleys" aren't as far as listed. Pitchers don't need instruments to assess distances. Their natural pitching instincts tell them.

When a batter makes contact, they have an instant read on how far the ball is going to travel. It goes with the business of throwing a baseball. That's why after Ben McDonald gave up a home run to Albert Belle in the process of accounting for his 12th victory of the season, he referred to it as "a Camden Yards home run."

The way balls are flying out of the place doesn't provide much inner comfort for pitchers. As it is now, they are being penalized for making good pitches that should be nothing more than fly ball outs -- certainly not home runs.

The park isn't so small the pitchers scrape their knuckles on the fences when reaching back for "something extra," but it's intimidating for them to know a ball doesn't need to be hit with the fat part of the bat to clear the bogus barriers in left-center, dead center and right-center.

Angelos, when asked to react about the erroneous dimensions and what's going to be done about the situation, answered, "We ought to make sure they are correct. That's what we must do. Definitely. If what we have is wrong then say so. Absolutely. I think the fans and the players on both teams deserve to know what the situation is, the same as they can look at the scoreboard and get an exact score."

The listed 364 feet to left-center, 410 to straightaway center and 373 to right-center either have been measured incorrectly or stick out as typographical errors. A walking review by this newspaper reporter, accompanied by Dr. Charles Steinberg, director of public relations, brought out the discrepancy. There was a difference of as much as 10 feet after they used a wheel-like device, the type used in construction jobs, to determine their own reading.

It's not exactly "Watergate," but the park has two other serious flaws that have revealed themselves. The dimensional aspects of the fences pale when compared to such problems as 3,200 seats that have to be replaced because they represent a pain in the neck for spectators. And then there is the escalator that had to be shut down after an injury-causing accident.

Meanwhile, one of the state's leading civil engineering and land surveying firms, Spellman, Larson & Associates Inc., with offices in Towson, have offered the Orioles what would be a pro bono service to "remove all doubts as to the exact distances involved." Joseph L. Larson, president, has written to the Orioles, in care of Dr. Steinberg, to extend a gracious proposal to the organization.

Larson emphasized what he has in mind would be nothing less than a "precise survey." The distances of the fences from home plate and the yardage on golf courses from tee-to-green make for an easy correlation. A golfer knows how far he can carry a 5-iron and reacts accordingly.

Pitchers, similarly, recognize the spaciousness, or lack thereof, where they work. When batted balls that seem to be nothing more than flyouts land on the other side of the fence, as "cheap" home runs, there's every reason for them to be unhappy with the condition.

It's Larson's belief that "since pitchers are in ballparks every day [and make a living trying to keep the ball in the park] it jumps up and hits them when they look at a fence, see the listed distance and are suspicious that the footage is off."

The bothersome thing for a pitcher is he can accept getting touched up for a reasonably legitimate home run, but he doesn't want it to be a gift from the architect who designed the place.

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