Oriole Park's fluctuating capacity is a downside to rise in free passes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

There's no room to quibble over attendance, but a rash of empty club seats, a few "presumed" sellouts and an apparently high number of complimentary tickets have raised a question about the capacity of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The listed number, not counting standing room, is 48,041 -- but that figure will be approached only for postseason play or next year's All-Star Game, when there are no complimentary tickets. Official paid attendance will fluctuate, but most sellouts usually range about 1,500 to 2,000 below listed capacity.

Though they have announced four sellouts, the Orioles have yet to exceed 46,000, which probably will become their maximum paid attendance. The four sellouts have ranged from less than 42,000 (one of six Fantastic Fans promotion dates) to 45,701 (April 18).

However, on the 10-day homestand that concludes this afternoon, there have been several instances when the number of tickets reportedly available and the actual attendance have turned up sharp discrepancies.

Thursday night, for instance, only 3,000 tickets were said to be available 24 hours before game time, yet attendance fell below 40,000. For the weekend series against the Chicago White Sox, there were supposedly only 1,000 tickets available for each game, but Friday's crowd was 41,364.

"We've had some problems," said club spokesman Rick Vaughn, who pointed out that the Orioles' ticket office and the outlets are all plugged in to the same system. "It's been a combination of computer error and human error, which we hope we have resolved by the time the club returns home next week."

Part of the problem has been attributed to the difficulties in moving from Memorial Stadium and a higher than normal number of promotional tickets in conjunction with opening ceremonies at the new park.

But there is still some confusion among potential ticket buyers. Are the approximately 1,200 club seats that weren't sold as season tickets included in the number available for any given game? There have been reports of people being unable to buy from outlets, only to see on television a glaring gap of club seats in left field. Club-level seats on a season basis averaged out to $24.17 each and were sold on an individual game basis for $25, which is a lot to pay for something a little better than upper boxes (which are $10) plus the fringe benefit of personal service.

The Orioles have moved to alleviate the situation by offering those left-field club seats for $15, without some of the amenities. But apparently they have not all been programmed into the ticket computer. If the Orioles continue to play as they have, and with next year's All-Star Game on the horizon, it's possible many will become late season-ticket purchases.

But even with the confusion of moving from one stadium to another, it seems as though Oriole Park is falling below its capacity capability. Memorial Stadium's listed capacity was 53,371, and its largest regular-season crowd was 52,395.

It its final years, however, Memorial Stadium's capacity crowds exceeded 50,000 by hundreds, not thousands. So, the Orioles' freebie list has increased significantly in recent years. The attraction of the new park is an obvious reason, but it's hard to believe that Eli Jacobs has that many more connections in Washington than did Edward Bennett Williams, the previous owner.

The difference between listed capacity at Camden Yarks and the Orioles' biggest crowd is 2,340. There have been a few cold days in Cleveland when the Indians wished they had that many people in the stands.

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Tracking Cecil: Going into last night, Cecil Fielder not only trailed Brady Anderson in RBI (22-24), but he also hadn't hit a home run since April 22.

The Detroit Tigers slugger was hitting .097 (4-for-41) since then -- and was third on his team in home runs (seven). Rob Deer (nine) and ex-Oriole Mickey Tettleton (eight) -- whom we shall hear a lot of this week -- had more.

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The other Cecil: Meanwhile, in the other league, Cecil Espy continues on his pinch-hitting rampage. The 29-year-old switch-hitter wasn't even on the Pittsburgh Pirates' 40-man roster before spring training, but had 10 RBI in his first 27 at-bats.

Espy gets those at-bats mostly one at a time. He was 7-for-8 (.875), with eight RBI, as a pinch hitter. Jose Morales, another ex-Oriole, holds the record for hits by a pinch hitter, with 25 in 1976.

The highest average recorded by a pinch hitter was .486 by Ed Kranepool (17-for-35) in 1974. This isn't just a new fad for Espy -- he was hitting .341 (14-for-41) as a pinch hitter before this year. He's now 21-for-49 (.429) as a career pinch hitter.

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The trading Bell?: With shortstops falling in Chicago like rain in Seattle, the Orioles at least temporarily have abandoned their experiment of playing Juan Bell at second base for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.

Minor-league instructor and former Oriole Rich Dauer has been dispatched to Rochester to work with Ricky Gutierrez at second base. Bell has moved back to his original position to enhance his trade value or make him more appealing to one of the National League's expansion teams.

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The best of Sparky: When the Tigers were in Baltimore a few weeks ago, manager Sparky Anderson got brave and had Tettleton running on a 3-and-2 pitch to Deer. Anderson got high percentage results -- Deer struck out and Tettleton was out trying to steal.

Last week, Anderson tried the ploy again -- not once, but twice. The first time, Deer fouled off a pitch. The second time -- two outs. Sparky says he won't try it again.

"That's the worst play in the history of baseball," said Anderson. "It's just going to hang in the closet -- you won't see it again."

Sometimes, Sparky sounds like he wishes he could say the same about his team. "We're 13th in hitting and 14th in pitching," said Anderson. "That don't mix -- the cement doesn't get the mixture it's supposed to get. If you want to soar with the eagles, you can't be a pigeon."

When somebody suggested he was on a roll, Anderson replied: "The reason I'm on a roll is because I've just been pronounced legally nuts."

2& What would we do without this guy?

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It's nothing -- or nothing: The defending National League champion Atlanta Braves were 14-15 after 29 games. Half of their wins came when the opposition was shut out.

That means the Braves were 7-15 when the other team scored, which is kind of scary. Ron Gant and Terry Pendleton combined for 39 of the Braves' first 95 RBI (41 percent).

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Both sides now: Todd Worrell, the St. Louis Cardinals' recovering reliever, has pitched in 13 games this year. In 12 of them, he pitched 13 scoreless innings. In the other, he faced five batters -- and they all scored.

So, for 12 games Worrell's ERA was 0.00. For the other, his ERA was infinity. Overall, it works out to 3.46.

Tony in a Stew: Until now, Oakland manager Tony La Russa and Athletics pitcher Dave Stewart have had a wonderful relationship. Of course, until last year, Stewart always had been allowed to pitch nine innings whenever he desired.

But when La Russa pulled his longtime ace with a man on and one out in a game against Detroit last week, Stewart didn't take kindly to his action. His normal stare took on added meaning.

"I'm not out there to get Stew's approval -- if he doesn't understand or agree [with the move], that's his problem," said La Russa.

"I just sense I'm not as important as I used to be. Nobody's said anything; it's just something I sense," said Stewart.

"Who understands winning more than I do? Does he [La Russa] think he understands winning more than I do?" Stewart asked.

To which, La Russa replied: "Maybe my memory is failing me -- but who pitched Opening Day?"

4( Yep, you guessed it. It was Stewart.

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A two-sport impertinent question: As part of his charitable activities, the Orioles' Rick Sutcliffe donates his fees from equipment endorsements.

Has any Division I college president ever wondered how much his school's program could be enhanced if his basketball coach did the same thing?

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