Skybox gives governor a chance to grandstand State woos, rewards with seats for Orioles

September 21, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Whether Gov. Parris N. Glendening has vision is a matter of opinion. But there's no doubt that he has a great view.

The Governor's Box at Camden Yards sits on the exclusive club level of Oriole Park, just a little to the first-base side of home plate, with a panorama of the city skyline. Its sightlines ensure that occupants will miss little of the action on the field -- unless they're distracted by the television, the phone or a suite attendant bringing a glass of chardonnay.

For some, an invitation to watch a game there is a much-appreciated ego stroke. A generous campaign contributor who has not been there laments, "I wish to hell I had." Others couldn't care less. A Republican legislator invited by the Democratic governor doesn't think much of the pricey skybox territory. "Nobody watches the ballgame," he says.

Still others consider the box an unseemly perk and say the state should divest itself of it.

Technically the Governor's Box is the state's box -- provided free by the Orioles as part of the deal that built the stadium. But like his predecessor, Glendening enjoys virtually unlimited discretion over how it is used.

The governor doesn't actually use the box all that often -- only a few times this year, he says. Glendening, an avid baseball fan, often prefers to sit with his son, Raymond, in the box seats, closer to the action and far from the relentless schmoozing upstairs.

Rather, Glendening uses the Governor's Box in much the same manner that a corporate chief executive would use the company suite. He cultivates business prospects, builds alliances, rewards employees for good work, promotes his causes and sometimes entertains friends. Much of this activity undoubtedly builds goodwill for Maryland, but critics suspect Glendening is more interested in the political benefits it can bring.

Better situated

The stadium's 72 skyboxes -- most of which are owned by large corporations -- are stretched along the club level at Camden Yards, where regular seat tickets are $25 apiece.

The Governor's Box, No. 26, is no more luxurious than the others -- just better situated than most. It has a small table, six chairs, two sofas, a wet bar and a private bathroom.

State employees who use the box generally have to pay for their own food and drinks, though sometimes the state will put out a spread when it is entertaining visitors. People who know the skybox scene say the food is better at nearby corporate boxes.

So how does one wangle an invitation to view a ballgame from this plum perch?

Probably the easiest way is to be a top executive of a company or organization that is weighing whether to bring jobs to Maryland.

When the state's film office was courting the producers of the film "Absolute Power" to do some shooting in Baltimore, officials invited the production manager, location manager, production designer and assistant director to an April game.

Director Clint Eastwood didn't show, but the state nailed down the deal, said Michael Styer, director of the Maryland Film Commission. "Absolute Power" did its Baltimore shooting in late May and early June.

"Everyone in Hollywood loves the park," Styer said of Camden Yards.

But you don't have to be an out-of-state dignitary to be invited. The Department of Business and Economic Development frequently uses the box as a place where state officials can chat informally with Maryland business leaders. That's how the box will be used this weekend for the Orioles' final homestand, said Judi Scioli, the governor's press secretary. She added that the governor might might drop by, but wasn't sure if he would as of yesterday.

If the private sector is not your milieu, you can still rate an invitation by working in a field such as education or law enforcement. College presidents and sheriffs have both had their nights in the box this year.

Another good way to get invited is to work for the state. For most games, the governor's office farms out its skybox tickets to a department or agency. Some high-ranking officials are frequent visitors, but the administration's written policy encourages agencies to ensure that the box isn't used just by high muck-a-mucks.

At one game last year, a visitor to the box might have met Joan Walthall, a publications specialist in the comptroller's office. "I had never been to a professional ballgame before, and I was very flattered to get the invitation," said the 18-year veteran civil servant.

Legislative guests

Another path to the box winds through the General Assembly. Being a Glendening-friendly Democrat helps, but moderate Republicans such as Sen. Vernon F. Boozer of Baltimore County have also received invitations.

It wasn't the best seat in the house for him.

"It's like a great big party up there," said Boozer. "Everybody goes from suite to suite. Nobody watches the ballgame."

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