On a brutally cold Sunday morning, Charlie Bowers was hot.
The Ellicott City accountant stood on a concrete step in the right field grandstand. He glared at the soon-to-be playing field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. And he spoke of promises made and, he said, promises broken.
"I call it the 'Irsay-ization' of the Baltimore Orioles," Bowers said. "What they've done is to take the real fans for granted. I'm not happy about it."
There are few knives that cut as deeply as a comparison to Robert Irsay, who showed Baltimore fans what he thought of them by taking his team out of town in a moving van. But Bowers was mad. So were some, but not all, Orioles season-ticket holders milling around the new ballpark yesterday.
An estimated 200 to 300 fans showed up for the first in what the Orioles suggest will be a series of open houses for season-ticket subscribers. For many, it was their first opportunity to wander around the seating bowl since receiving their seat assignments from the Orioleslast week.
The team provided a light lunch, including hot dogs and cups of hot chocolate that helped to keep the ticket holders warm on the bone-chilling day. And Orioles front-office officials, including team president Larry Lucchino, were there to meet them and hear complaints.
They got what they came for. Although some fans seemed satisfied with their new locations, others said they were disappointed, and worse.
Nathan Goldberg, who bought his first Orioles season tickets when the Orioles moved back to Baltimore in 1954, said his six box seats at Memorial Stadium were so near home plate that sportscaster Tom Davis frequently used them to do his between-inning reports during televised games.
In the new park, Goldberg, who was told by the Orioles that he is among only 48 accounts that go back to the team's first season, was assigned seats at the far end of the third base dugout, in the 11th row.
He figures the Orioles owe him more.
"I am disillusioned completely, completely unhappy," said Goldberg, who lives in Pikesville. "If they can't take care of 48 people, there's something wrong with the system."
Goldberg said he didn't know why he hasn't been offered better seats. But he said he suspected the Orioles were pushing aside their regular customers to make room for ticket buyers with friends in high places, such as the owner's box.
"It looks to be like they're playing a little game. They're taking care of whoever they want to take care of," he said.
Stanley Davis, who has been buying his season tickets for 21 years, wondered about the same thing.
"I think what they did is take our choice seats and give them to someone else," said the printing-company executive from Baltimore.
Told that some ticket buyers had complained they might be losing out to customers with less seniority, Lucchino said: "There will always be those concerns in any sports facility where there is a limited number of tickets. There are certain seats that are held by the club. There are certain seats that go to fans who have been here forever. There are seats that go to other officials. It's not a perfect. . . formula."
Not everyone was unhappy. Some fans were more than satisfied with their new seats.
"I didn't know where my seats were going to be, but this is fine. I'm going to give them my money today," said Brian Wyaiger, a salesman from Owings Mills. Wyaiger has had upper-deck box seats for the past five years and is in a similar location in the new ballpark.
Goldberg wasn't giving up his fight for a better location. He and family members huddled yesterday with Lou Michaelson, the Orioles official in charge of season tickets. There is the possibility of an adjustment.
"They said they would try hard," Goldberg said after the meeting.
Bowers, a ticket subscriber since 1975, said he was moved six rows back and one half-section farther down the foul line from the first-base location he enjoyed at Memorial Stadium. He said he was writing the Orioles to remind them of their promises to take care of their regular customers first.
"They're not bad seats. But they're not in accordance with what we were promised." said Bowers.
Still, he wouldn't think about canceling.
"I'd be lying if I said I would. I like the game too much," he said.
Lucchino said the Orioles are willing to change seat locations when they've made mistakes, including cases in which they've inadvertently separated longtime seat mates.
"We think we should be able to make some adjustments and help some people," he said.
The Orioles announced yesterday that they've stopped selling terrace-box seats as season tickets. Earlier, they effectively sold out of lower-box seats. The team plans to hold back a limited number of seats in each price category to sell for individual games. Team officials declined to discuss how many season-ticket orders they have taken, but the number is believed to be in excess of 20,000, a sales record.