Fielding follies for baseball crowds

UP FRONT

April 19, 2001|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When it comes to professional baseball, nothing will keep diehard fans away from their favorite ballpark. These faithful folks have their season tickets, their official team jersey, their giant foam rubber finger. And they're always ready to root, root, root for the home team.

Now the rest of us -- and we know who we are -- go to a game only when the home team is winning, and if it's a nice, sunny day, and if the opposing team's pitcher is a superstar like Boston's Pedro Martinez, and if the home team is giving away free floppy hats and setting off fireworks after the game.

We're the fickle, fair-weather fans that baseball teams try hard to attract every season. They want us in their bleachers, their field boxes, their upper-reserved seats, their standing-room-only section.

This year, the Baltimore Orioles and its three minor-league teams in Maryland -- the Bowie Baysox (AA), the Frederick Keys (A) and the Delmarva Shorebirds (A) -- are pitching a slew of new attractions to get us into their lineup: everything from cool giveaways and wacky promotions to cheap tickets and never-before-offered food at the concession stands.

The Baltimore Orioles, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore. 888-848-BIRD.

Following three straight losing seasons, it's no surprise that there are lots of new faces on the field this season, but there's much more to draw folks to Camden Yards. For one, the ballpark itself has undergone a few touches beyond the annual paint job.

During the off-season, the park added a U.S. Golf Association gravity-fed drainage system with a vacuum that has the capacity to drain 17 inches of water per hour from the field. That should bring a speedier end to rain delays.

In a more significant change, home plate was moved back 7 feet. That means fans are much closer to the action on the field, batters have to work harder to hit home runs, more foul balls will go into the stands, and sight lines have been improved for those sitting behind or near the foul poles.

Once you move home plate, of course, you have to move the foul lines and foul poles. They have rules about such things, you know.

The foul line measurement has increased from 318 feet to 320 feet in right field and from 333 to 337 feet in left field. Center field increased from 400 feet to 406 feet and left center field, the deepest part of the ballpark, has increased from 410 to 417 feet.

Fans of Memorial Stadium should be happy to know that the left-field foul pole from Memorial Stadium, used from 1954 to 1991, now joins Memorial Stadium's right-field pole, which has been at Camden Yards since it opened in 1991.

Some minor ballpark improvements include better directional signs, so you can find not only your seat faster, but also the nearest ATM or restroom.

And how about those giveaways? Everybody loves a good freebie, and Camden Yards will have plenty this year. Old standbys like the floppy hat and refrigerator magnet will be given away this year, along with new items such as Orioles beach towels, 12-pack soda coolers and license-plate holders.

This year also marks the return of the Orioles umbrella. Those of you who still carry the umbrella given away at Memorial Stadium -- now tattered, of course -- can finally get a replacement. Mark the date: May 15. And better get to the game early, because it's expected that the 25,000 umbrellas will go quickly. They're reserved for fans 21 and older, by the way.

If you're one of those people who just has to have the latest "hot" collectible, come to the park on July 31, when the Orioles are giving away bobble-head dolls of Brady Anderson. Cool!

Nine innings is a long time, so you're going to have to eat at the ballpark. And, of course, the stadium-concession folks want you to buy their food.

Moving beyond hot dogs and fries, the concession stands at Camden Yards now have veggie wraps, meatball subs and cheese-and-parsley-flavored sausage.

But, if it's dogs and fries you really want, you can now choose among New York, Southwest, Charm City or Chicago hot dogs, and Baltimore Bay, Arizona or California french fries. And there are more condiment stations this year, so you can quickly find a place to dress your snack in style.

If you're lucky enough to sit in one of the 75 private luxury suites, you can now feast on chicken Caesar sandwiches, Asian Thai pad salad and seafood martinis. (No booze in the latter. It's sort of like a shrimp cocktail.)

Bowie Baysox, Prince George's County Stadium, Bowie. 301-805-2233.

When there's no action on the field in Bowie, Baysox fans can look up. Up at the video display, that is. The display has been upgraded this year with better computers, better graphics and more cameras. Between innings, fans can see profiles of their favorite Baysox players on the screens. The players will talk about not only their life in baseball, but things like their favorite pizza topping or favorite rock band.

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