The main sign for Oriole Park at Camden Yards won't be hoisted into place for another six weeks, but already its new design has received a rave review from the state's No. 1 baseball fan -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Frank Traynor, Schaefer's press secretary, said yesterday that the governor is "very, very pleased" with the sign.
"He's very satisfied and hopes the fans will like it," Traynor said.
The new design, created by David A. Ashton, a Baltimore graphic designer, will display the ballpark's name clearly and simply -- just the way the governor wanted it.
It will be composed of three lines and two letter sizes. "Oriole Park" and "Camden Yards" will appear in 3 1/2 -foot letters. Between them will be a word insisted upon by the governor -- "at," spelled out in 15-inch script characters.
These are not your standard waist-high letters. All 22 pieces -- 21 letters and "at" -- are being created from stainless steel by Tom Moore, a blacksmith who is pounding, welding and polishing them in his three-man shop just over the Maryland line in Glen Rock, Pa. The cost of the letters, including erecting them on a truss above the main entrance, is $50,500.
This is not the first design for the sign, which will hang above the ballpark's main entrance.
Three months ago, the stadium authority briefly considered a design that would have displayed "Oriole Park" in 6-foot neon letters, relegated "Camden Yards" to 3 1/2 -foot characters and omitted the "at."
The design, which was rejected by the stadium authority, wasn't a big hit with Schaefer, either. He'd favored "Camden Yards" as the name for the new ballpark before agreeing to incorporate his choice and the favorite name of Orioles owner Eli S. Jacobs. After reading about the proposed design, Schaefer informed stadium authority officials that both names should be given equal billing on the main sign -- and that "at" be restored.
The new design does that. It also has the look of a traditional ballpark sign, will fit in the space set aside for the name and is af
fordable -- all requirements of the ballpark's planners.
The biggest victory may be that the letters are stainless steel, Orioles and stadium authority officials said.
At first, the officials were not sure they could find a craftsman who would undertake the job. Then, they were concerned that they would not be able to fit the cost of the stainless steel letters into their sign budget.
One option considered was making the letters of a Styrofoam-like substance that would have been repainted after several years -- a possibility the Orioles chafed at, according to team vice president Janet Marie Smith.
"From an aesthetic point of view, we never perceived [the foam letters] as a viable alternative," said Smith, the team's chief liaison to the ballpark project. "We felt very strongly about using real materials on those letters."
Stadium authority executive director Bruce Hoffman said stainless steel also made sense because it does not rust, chip or peel -- unlike other materials considered for the letters.
The metal letters also were a preference because they may evoke memories of Memorial Stadium, which has stainless steel letters pinned above its main entrance.
"It's symbolic of those letters, which we think is important," Hoffman said.
Still, stainless steel only became a viable option when the ballpark planners found Moore, whose blacksmith shop is set amid farms, on a gravel road, across the street from grazing cattle.
Ashton, the sign designer, knew of Moore and approached him about the job. Moore agreed to consider it and made a sample stainless steel "I" that impressed Orioles and stadium authority officials. Since he was awarded the job last month, his shop has worked only on the letters. Last week, Moore said, he logged 70 hours.
As of Monday, Moore had completed bending and welding seven letters. Although his agreement with the stadium authority gives him until March 9 to finish the work, Moore said he expects to be completed by the end of February.
He said he has thought about what might happen if the letters were not finished by Opening Day. But Moore, a 46-year-old former high school industrial arts teacher, said he doesn't like to think long.
"If we don't get it done, there are going to be a lot of people down there who won't understand," he said. "They'll want to chain me to that sign bracket 100 feet in the air and let the crows pick my eyeballs out."