Game plan puts safety at forefront

At venues locally and around country, security is increased

Break is chance to reassess

Olympics, schools, horse racing, NASCAR all feeling the effects

September 16, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | By Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Most of America has gone back to work in the aftermath of Tuesday's horrific terrorist attack, but fans, athletes and organizers at all levels of sport still are struggling with the idea of going back to play.

Major League Baseball has announced it will resume its regular season in seven cities tomorrow night, but a lot of fans figure to be apprehensive about attending a high-profile sporting event less than a week after a wave of terrorism took such a huge human toll in New York, the Washington area and Pennsylvania.

"I can understand that, but I hope they won't be," said baseball commissioner Bud Selig. "We have taken all necessary steps. I don't have any trepidation about telling fans that the ballparks will be very safe. I just hope that we can be part of some happiness and diversion from this horrific tragedy."

Baseball is just the first major professional sport to reopen for business with a long list of new security precautions - which was made public Friday - but virtually every sporting entity has spent the past four days reviewing and enhancing security procedures to deal with the danger of further terrorist activity.

"If you look at their symbolic value, sporting events are certainly a prime target for terrorism," said Nick Catrantzos, director of operations for Control Risk Group, a McLean, Va., firm that advises companies on security and anti-terrorism issues.

Officials of the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA said they have spoken to the Bush administration about their security concerns. The White House told them it was encouraging a return to normalcy, implying approval for returning to play this weekend but not advising either way, officials said.

The Orioles play next in Toronto on Tuesday night, but return to Oriole Park for a weekend series that begins Friday. The Ravens, who were scheduled to play the Minnesota Vikings at PSINet Stadium on Monday night before the NFL postponed the Week 2 schedule, do not play again in Baltimore until Oct. 7.

When NFL play resumes next Sunday, the league could take unprecedented security steps, league and team officials said, including snipers placed inside some of the complexes and the use of bomb-sniffing dogs.

The Ravens will add 30 police officers to their usual detail of more than 50 at their remaining home games this season, said team owner Art Modell. "I think fans seeing a number of members of law enforcement is very comforting to them at this time," he said.

Kevin Byrne, vice president in charge of public relations for the Ravens, would not divulge further information about security for PSINet Stadium that has been discussed in the past week - citing team policy.

"The No. 1 driving force is, you have a responsibility to people who come to the game," Byrne said. "You have to take whatever precautions are necessary to make sure there are not unhealthy or unsafe circumstances. Rest assured, the safety of the fans is the highest priority."

Orioles officials also have used the extended break between games to review and enhance security.

"I don't know yet what the plan will be, per se," said Orioles vice chairman Joe Foss. "It is still under review. I'm sure there will be further discussion before anything is implemented. The schedule allows us that luxury."

While the Orioles and Ravens are working in conjunction with local law enforcement authorities to increase security, some fans still are expressing reservations about returning to their seats at Camden Yards.

"I think everybody is going to be on edge, looking over their shoulder," said Mark Espenshade, 36, a bartender at Pickles Pub, across the street from Oriole Park. "It will definitely be more somber. People will be much more aware of their surroundings [in a stadium]. People will be thinking about more than the game itself, at least for a little bit."

That didn't keep Doug Hooper, a 38-year-old postal worker from Fallston, from going to Oriole Park to purchase tickets on Friday.

"To me, there's going to be more camaraderie," Hooper said. "Most people are sticking together more now because of what's going on. I don't worry about security. Obviously, anything can happen at any time. Sure, I'll be noticing if a plane flies over [the stadium]. We're all thinking about it now. But if I'm going to think about [a disaster] all of the time, I might as well live somewhere else."

The Maryland Stadium Authority, which owns and operates the two-stadium Camden Yards complex, has also been examining security, according to Stadium Authority executive director Rick W. Slosson.

"There has been a lot of talk and meetings in recent days," Slosson said. "Obviously there will be a renewed emphasis on security.

He didn't want to get into specifics, other than to say fans entering the stadiums with bags or backpacks might find them undergoing more thorough searches. Metal detectors have been discussed for the buildings, but Slosson said he doesn't think that's a good solution.

"You don't want to turn it into a lockdown," he said.

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