Stadium name game goes extra innings, extra years


How long does it take to name a stadium?

Counting the time needed to uncap a ball point pen, to jot down the names of the six most frequently mentioned possibilities, to clear your throat of uncertainty and to announce the winner . . . maybe eight seconds?

The Maryland Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Orioles are experts on this topic. Ask, and they'll volunteer that the job takes slightly longer than that. More than a few hours. In their experience, more than a few years.

Three years ago, officials of the baseball team and the stadium authority shook hands over a 15-year lease agreement that triggered construction of a state-financed downtown ballpark. In that time, half a stadium has been built and vital decisions have been made. Did you know the Orioles and the state have picked the color scheme for the main concourse (featuring Camden Green)? In a daring move, they also have agreed to attach cup holders to about 5,000 luxury seats.

Nine months before the projected opening on April 6, 1992, however, Orioles fans wait for perhaps the most important decision. The name. There is no name. The downtown ballpark that will be the home of the Orioles next season is still known not-so-simply as "the downtown ballpark that will be the home of the Orioles next season."

Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad says there are logical reasons the decision has been deferred until now, including this one: There has been too much else to do.

"This project is draining everyone's energy. There are so many decisions that have to be made under severe time constraints. There was no need to divert our energies to what might build into a controversial subject," Belgrad said.

Janet Marie Smith, Orioles vice president for planning and development, likened the choosing of the name to "picking curtains for your house."

"When you're trying to get the foundation in, you don't worry about shopping for the finishing touches," she said.

But there are growing indications that the Orioles and the Stadium Authority are about to make an announcement. Last month, they met to discuss the issue for the first time. Recently, stadium authority executive director Bruce Hoffman said the name game must end quickly for the ballpark to have its name in lights Opening Day.

Eight months to make a "C," as in leading contender, Camden Yards? Or "O" as in dark-horse contender "Oriole Park?" The process of designing, ordering and creating the special letters for the ballpark signs easily could take that long, Hoffman said.

"We'll try not to just write in big block letters, 'John Doe Stadium.' Somehow it will be tied in to the graphics of the stadium," he said. "Whatever we do will be unique and different."

For the most part, the rules that govern picking the name for the ballpark are that there are no rules. The ballpark lease contains only two sentences that apply to the selection of a name. One specifies that the name be "selected jointly" by the stadium authority and the Orioles. The other prevents the stadium authority from engaging in any effort to sell or commercialize the name. Barring a change in the lease, that means there is no possibility, for instance, of McCormick's Paprika Park.

More likely, the name will incorporate a reference to the $105.4 million, publicly financed ballpark's only tenant, its location in a former railroad yard or say something about the region. The list of suggested names is longer than Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak. In addition to Camden Yards and Oriole Park, the most-mentioned possibilities are Babe Ruth Stadium, in honor of the power hitter who lived in the neighborhood where the ballpark is located, and Memorial Stadium.

Belgrad said emphasis will be placed on "selecting a name that expresses the connection between the ballpark and the city."

Smith says picking the name is "critically important" to the Orioles because team officials want it to reflect the traditional image of the new ballpark.

If such statements sound deliberately vague, you are hearing well. With few exceptions, both sides have been careful to avoid publicly throwing support behind any ballpark name, a strategy that has been used particularly adeptly by the most powerful players in the naming game -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Orioles principal owner Eli S. Jacobs.

Jacobs has declined to comment about any aspect of the naming of the ballpark.

Schaefer had only slightly more to contribute, saying: "Trying to choose a name is the most difficult thing in the world.

"People tell me it should be named after Babe Ruth. People tell me it should be 'Camden Yards.' People say it should be Memorial Stadium for all the veterans of all the wars. People say, 'What about Mr. Williams [former Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams]? He's the one who started it all.' You have all these different groups. How they're going to eventually name the stadium, I have no idea."

Whatever the name, it almost certainly will be one the governor either has hand-picked or endorsed.

"I would hate for them to try to name it without consulting me," he said.

Schaefer has taken one, unwavering public position -- against naming the ballpark for himself. He offers a laundry list of reasons this is foolish, including this one: He says no one supports the idea.

"Who thinks that? My uncle? My Aunt Bessie?" he said. "I don't want to get into that. No one has even proposed it."

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