No longer babe, Oriole Park begins to show age Improved amenities, touch-ups designed to keep stadium sharp

March 30, 1997|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Fans coming to Oriole Park this year will notice a new radar gun measuring the velocity of pitches, turkey sandwiches at Boog's mostly beef barbecue stand, and the inevitable wear and tear of a facility that turns five years old this week.

"The stadium is built out of concrete and steel. Concrete cracks and steel rusts," said Maryland Stadium Authority director of facilities management Sherman B. Kerbel, who oversees the $7 million-a-year operation and maintenance of the park.

If the first few seasons were devoted to fixing design problems, such as getting the angles right on seats along the outfield corners, recent ones have focused more on keeping the place looking new, Kerbel said. And that's a challenge that grows with age.

"It's not a spring chicken, but it's not an old hen either," he said.

Patrons who flocked into the lower deck concourses during rain delays are familiar with the big puddle that formed under the right-field escalators. The problem has been solved: 1,000 square feet of concrete was torn out and replaced at the proper angle.

Some expansion joints have expanded, requiring concrete patching. One of the biggest was under the flag court between the bleachers and the right-field corner. Workers had to tear up the tile and fix the joint there to stop water from trickling down into the groundskeeper's area. There was only time to do half the court this year; the rest will be completed after the season ends.

On the elite club level, some of the mahogany woodwork has been refinished or replaced to eliminate scratches. Someone also figured out that the wood trim on the door of the mini-fridges in the sky boxes was getting scratched by the adjacent ice-maker doors. Workers went through in the off-season and reversed the hinges in all 72 luxury boxes so they both open the same way.

There also will be new banners throughout the ballpark, celebrating the city's 200th anniversary. Outside, new landscaping will bring a touch of color when the flowers bloom.

"We weren't too proud of our landscaping last year," Kerbel said.

Among the enhancements added for fans this year is a radar gun that will measure the speed of each pitch and flash it onto screens on the facade of the upper deck in both left and right field. It also will designate the type of pitch.

New billboards, which replace the stationary ones over the bullpens, will rotate every inning or so. This allows the team to sell ads to up to three sponsors for each board, promising each exposure throughout a game and the possibility of television exposure as cameras flash to the bullpen or follow home run balls.

Such rotating signs have become a staple of NBA arenas and are finding their way into baseball. Some parks even install them behind the batter, assuring prominent television exposure. But the Orioles won't do that, said Walt Gutowski, the club's director of business affairs.

Ticket takers, ushers and other team employees will be decked out in new uniforms this year. The new look is decidedly old, in keeping with the historic feel of Oriole Park's architecture. Workers will have black vests, Gatsby caps, bow ties and Gay-'90s style "sleeve garters," all evocative of the last turn of the century.

"We just wanted to give it a different look," Gutowski said. "We're trying get more continuity to the uniforms of all the employees."

At the stadium's acclaimed concession stands and food courts will be a few new menu items: cream-based and red-broth Maryland crab soup, Buffalo wings, upgraded nachos and premium sausages, said Bernhard Kloppenburg, vice president of Aramark, the stadium concessionaire.

"We're finding that people are looking for their niche items," Kloppenburg said.

Boog's Barbecue, that bastion of beef eaters, will offer turkey sandwiches for the first time; Bambino's Ribs will have pork and barbecued chicken dishes. The microbrew stands and offerings have been enlarged and will include out-of-state boutique beers.

The club level will have a new line of frozen drinks, including margaritas. And to the beer and soda vendors roaming the stands will be added vendors offering bottled water.

Fans at Tuesday's game will also see new logos on the on-deck circles. The one next to the visitors' dugout will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier. The on-deck circle next to the Orioles' dugout will feature a logo honoring Baltimore's bicentennial.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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