New seats don't sit well with some behind plate

Stadium: Two rows of corporate seats are not a welcome sight to season-ticket holders just behind them.

April 05, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

For the first time since Camden Yards opened in 1992, Jody Vona needed help finding his season seats, and he wasn't happy about it. Vona's third-row seat behind home plate is now in the fifth row.

"I think it's a bum deal," said Vona, 57, of Frederick, whose family has held Orioles season tickets for 50 years. "We used to be front row at old Memorial Stadium, then they moved us to the third row when they moved here. And now they move us back again."

During the offseason, the Orioles moved the backstop closer to the plate and built a brick wall at its base separating fans from the field. They added two rows of seats, 72 in all, between the dugouts for corporate use.

For the Orioles, it means they can reward their corporate partners with the best seats in the park. For the players, it means foul territory behind home plate is about 7 feet tighter. And for the fans, it means what used to be a front-row season-ticket seat is now third row.

The Orioles said they had contacted their season-ticket holders about the change before last night's game, but Vona said he didn't know about it until showing up with his father and brother.

"This was, pure and simple, about demand more than anything else," T.J. Brightman, the Orioles vice president of corporate sales and sponsorships, told The Sun three weeks ago. "Due to our growing corporate partner base, we thought it was kind of necessary to provide some really new forms of exclusive access for our sponsors."

The new seats are set lower, so the sightline for the former front-row seats is the same as it had been. For some fans, being a few rows back was still like losing a sacred privilege.

"I'm a little shocked they put seats in front of us and they raised our seat prices 10 bucks," said David Hurley of Ellicott City, sitting with his wife, Jennifer, and neighbor Rich Tokosh. "But we get cushioned seats and cup holders, so I guess it's a wash."

"I'm just happy they gave us cup holders this year," said Jennifer Hurley, adding, however, that the holders were not level and spilled part of her beer.

"I just feel like they are slowly taking the game away from the average fan. I don't think it's right," said Eric Eckstein of Bel Air, sitting in a third-row seat watching batting practice. "But I've got to admit, these are still pretty good seats."

Patricia Pace of Edgemere worried that the new seats would be empty for many games.

"These corporate people don't always show up for the games, so that might look bad on television," Pace said.

The Orioles said they came up with the idea of adding the seats last July after visiting ballparks in Cincinnati, San Francisco, St. Louis and Anaheim, Calif., looking for ideas for improving Camden Yards.

"Once again, it reminds of why I'm not playing major league baseball," said Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, sitting in the second row in Section 34. Franchot, who brought his daughter, said he called a friend with the Orioles to get his seats, which he added he paid for. "When you're this close, you can see every pitch clearly and see just how hard it is to hit the ball. Even the grass looks different from up here."

Vona, who was bemoaning his seats now in the fifth row, said he was celebrating a family milestone. His father, Joe Vona, 90, also of Frederick, seated next to Jody, was attending his 50th consecutive Orioles Opening Day game.

"I don't like them moving my seat, but I'm still a devoted fan," said a laughing Joe Vona. "I'm 90 years old, and I want to see a few more of these games."

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