Power lunch, Orioles-style: Owners tour new ballpark


Bill Giles could have spent a quiet lunch hour. A sandwich at the hotel. Return a few phone calls. Click on the TV to catch a few exhilarating minutes of the Weather Channel.

But yesterday, he chose something else. Before noon, Giles, president of the Philadelphia Phillies, boarded a trolley for a short ride from the Harbor Court Hotel to the site of the new baseball ballpark at Camden Yards. He put on a hard hat. For roughly the next two hours, he climbed steps with no handrails, walked through clouds of construction dust and attempted to avoid large mud puddles.

Giles was not alone. A few dozen major-league executives risked sizable dry-cleaning bills yesterday as they visited the future home ballpark of the Baltimore Orioles. The tour was an added attraction for many of the executives who are in town this week for a quarterly meeting of team owners.

They toured every level of the ballpark. They peered into dugouts and the Orioles' cavernous clubhouse. They spent a lot of time studying the 72 private boxes, the priciest of which will bring the Orioles annual rent of $95,000.

Many of the executives found at least one feature to rave about.

"The great thing is the shape," Giles said. "[Outfield dimensions] not being symmetrical, that should make it very interesting."

Frank Cashen, New York Mets executive vice president and a Baltimore native, liked the traditional, brick-and-mortar design.

"We had a slogan in New York a few years ago -- 'Baseball as it Ought to Be.' This stadium sort of embodies that," said Cashen, formerly the Orioles general manager.

The design is only one innovative feature about the ballpark. Another is an upscale club level with about 4,500 seats.

To buy a season ticket on the club level at the new ballpark, customers must pay for their seats and then pay an additional $500-per-seat fee to join a private stadium club, effectively lifting the total cost per game to more than $24.

With that additional money, the Orioles potentially will have a financial edge over some teams. But none of the executives interviewed yesterday expressed concern about that.

"Honey, we haven't raised ticket prices in five years, and I don't want to now," said Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. "It doesn't interest me to raise prices." She said the highest-priced luxury box at Riverfront Stadium is $25,000.

Looking around the roughly 47,500-seat ballpark, Cashen said he saw plenty of seats for the average baseball fan, though. "The upper-deck seats look great," he said. "As long as you preserve those seats for the working guy, I think you've fulfilled your mission."

The tour was not all walk and talk. Halfway through the expedition, the executives were treated to a catered lunch prepared by ARA-Martin's, the caterers at Memorial Stadium and, next year, at the new ballpark.

In a season when attendance should go through the roof, the Orioles have gotten one more scheduling break. They'll play the lowly Cleveland Indians on Opening Day, a fortunate situation because it almost certainly ensures that a game that otherwise would be poorly attended will be a sellout.

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