Marbella: At Camden Yards, do wider seats mean fatter fans?

If you're a huge Oriole fan, Camden Yards is the place for you

  • Five areas, called club suites, have the feel of an urban loft, complete with kitchenettes, flat-screen TVs and lounge furniture.
Five areas, called club suites, have the feel of an urban loft,… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
April 02, 2011|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

Ah, baseball, that most perfect of pastimes. Played on a Euclidean field of diamonds and base paths; achieving a near Platonic ideal with its four balls, three strikes and nine innings, and — with its fine and often heartbreaking lines between home run and foul, safe at home or out at the plate — truly deserving of its renown as a game of inches.

And come the Orioles home opener on Monday, some fans will get about three more of them.

In addition to improving the team over the off-season, the club apparently also had their fans', um, backs: They've installed 18,000 new seats in the upper deck and club level, The Sun's Ed Gunts reported this week, that are about three inches wider than the old ones.

Just what do the Orioles think we've been doing — or, perhaps, eating — over the winter? When fans squeeze through the turnstiles this season, will they get their own theme song like the batters do, perhaps that old Sir Mix-a-Lot rap, "Baby Got Back?"

Of course, no team wants to be caught calling its fans fat. Camden Yards' landlord, the Maryland Stadium Authority, is nothing if not discreet on this delicate subject.

"There was a desire to increase fan comfort," Gary A. McGuigan, the authority's project executive, told me.

Asked about any related increase in fan size, McGuigan demurred, "I don't think that ever came up in the discussion."

But maybe the authority has acknowledged as much already. Its executive director, Michael J. Frenz, told Gunts that responding to what the fans want is just good business.

"You improve the bottom line," Frenz said, "by improving the customer experience."

My bottom line is just fine, thank you very much. Oh sure, I could use a little more room in my seat — just for my purse, you know, which is what's really been getting bigger. Yeah, that and my bag of pistachios, I'm guessing.

McGuigan said the new wider seats are part of a redesign of the stadium. Following a trend of smaller ballparks — not to mention its inability to sell out most games that don't also involve the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox — the team reduced the number of seats by more than 2,300, to fewer than 46,000.

Some of the seats in the sections that were slated for replacement were as narrow as 18 inches, McGuigan said.

"That's always been a tight fit," he said.

Now, the majority of seats will be at least 20 inches wide, he said, which is what they've been on the lower level. Given the configuration of the rows and aisles, though, a few of the narrower seats remain.

In a sense, the need for more room was inevitable, what with the increasing range and breadth of caloric offerings at the park. Camden Yards hopped on the glutton wagon several years ago, offering an all-you-can-eat option in one section of the club level: For $45 to $65 this season, you get a seat plus all the hot dogs, peanuts, nachos, salads — salads? — you can eat, and all the soda to wash it down.

It's not just Camden Yards, of course. A quick online search finds references to all sorts of super-sizing, both at the concessions and in the seating area, a trend best encapsulated by this headline on one blog post last year: "Fancy Burgers and Wider Seats Await at Minnesota Twins' New Target Field." (That fancy burger involves Angus beef stuffed with short rib meat and Gouda cheese, a worthy competitor to one of the new offerings at Oriole Park: the Birdland Dog, an Esskay topped by smoked pit beef, pepperoni hash, tomato jam and crispy fried onions.)

And it's not just baseball parks. NASCAR tracks, theaters, cars, trains and even amusement park rides — everything but airplanes, it seems — are widening their seats to accommodate, well, wider seats.

Maybe the O's can consider a new giveaway: T-shirts with a WIDE LOAD warning. Or maybe they can add an aerobics routine to the seventh inning stretch.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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