Five areas, called club suites, have the feel of an urban loft,… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
When Oriole Park opens Monday for its 20th season at Camden Yards, fans will have more ways than ever to watch the action on the field.
Five areas, called club suites, have the feel of an urban loft, complete with kitchenettes, flat-screen TVs and lounge furniture. An outdoor concourse overlooking right field has a sports bar atmosphere. Certain sections down the left-field line now offer "drink rail seating," while others have bistro-style tables shaped like home plate and swiveling chairs.
These are some of the new seating options created as part of an offseason overhaul that cost approximately $20 million and resulted in some of the biggest changes to the stadium since it opened in 1992.
Two decades after sparking a national trend to build old-fashioned — but modern — ballparks in American cities, the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority have taken part in another Major League trend: modifying the ballpark to add seating options designed to appeal to the way people watch baseball in the 21st century.
It's all part of an effort to get fans out of their home entertainment centers, with their big-screen TVs, and into the stands. The new, more casual environment reflects the way sports fans watch ballgames in 2011 but does not alter what made Oriole Park so appealing in the first place.
With the renovations, the number of seats has been reduced by more than 2,300, to nearly 46,000. About 18,000 seats in the upper deck and club level were widened to 21 or 22 inches, up from 18 or 19 inches.
Fans also will see remodeled concession stands, new bars and restaurants, a refurbished Home Plate Plaza lobby entrance, and new graphics and displays that showcase the team's history.
When Oriole Park opened in 1992, "there were basically two ways to watch a game: seats or suites. There was nothing in between," said Janet Marie Smith, vice president of planning and development for the Orioles.
In recent years, she continued, "the trend has been toward creating a wider variety of ticket options and making it more casual and easy to move around."
The new seating arrangements are intended to give fans more of a chance to interact with each other during a game, just as they would in a restaurant or at home — all without changing the look or dimensions of the seating bowl, Smith said. "We wanted to keep the postcard view, but have it behave differently."
Between the changes to the concession areas, the wider seats and the new seating options, just about every visitor to the ballpark is going to notice something new this year, said Michael J. Frenz, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority.
"This is about improving the fan experience," Frenz said of the renovations. "I think people are going to say, 'Wow.' I think it's going to add to the excitement that people are feeling about the team's performance" during the preseason.
Responding to what fans want is good business for the team and its landlord, Frenz said.
"You improve the bottom line by improving the customer experience, and that's what they are endeavoring to do," he said of the Orioles.
The renovations also included replacement of rails that obstructed views from seats in the first few rows of the upper deck and club levels. The replacement rails don't obscure sightlines.
Funds for the work came from a mix of private and public sources. The stadium authority paid for about $10 million of improvements, including the wider seats and new rails. The Orioles and its new concessions and retail operator, Delaware North Sportservice, are collaborating on a separate, $11 million project to redesign the food and beverage stands for the first time since the ballpark opened.