With seats, O's padding more than their pockets


The Orioles may have raised prices for the top tickets at Camden Yards, but at least their best customers will be more comfortable this season.

The Maryland Stadium Authority this week began tearing out the 6,650 field box seats in sections 16 through 58 so they can be replaced with padded seats that have higher backs.

The 1 1/4 inches of foam padding may better cushion fans' posteriors, since their wallets will be thinner. Last week, the Orioles notified season-ticket holders that field box seats between the bases will cost $45, up from $35.

The back of each new seat measures 18 3/4 inches, which is 3 inches higher than previously.

"We've got the best ballpark in the world here, and we don't want to do anything unless we're very comfortable that it's going to make it better," said Roger Hayden, the Orioles' director of ballpark operations. "There's actually a conference room right around the corner from my office where we've got all the seats we've looked at."

In July, representatives of the Orioles and the stadium authority took trips to stadiums in Cincinnati, San Francisco, St. Louis and Anaheim, Calif., to get ideas on how to improve Camden Yards.

"We're just getting online with what's happening around the league," Hayden said.

The stadium authority is spending $750,000 for the new seats, which are being made by the American Seating Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich. Including removal and installation, each seat will cost an average of $116.54. Removal of the old seats began Monday, and the job is expected to be completed by Opening Night, April 4.

"Hopefully several days before," Hayden said.

The money being spent is the first from the $10 million awarded to the Orioles in their contentious "parity" dispute with the state. In July 2001, a panel of arbitrators ordered the state to pay for stadium improvements to Camden Yards - and gave the Orioles the naming rights to the stadium - based on the clause in the team's lease that guarantees treatment comparable to that given the Ravens.

It is the first time that entire sections of seating have been replaced since Camden Yards opened in 1992. Hayden said refurbishing other sections hasn't been discussed and the only plan for the seats being removed is for repairs elsewhere in the stadium.

Jeff Metzger, whose Columbia-based company has three full-season tickets in section 48, responded with humor when told of the padded seats.

"They better be comfortable, because with the increase, I'll no longer be able to afford massage therapy," said Metzger, publisher of the trade publication Food World.

The field box seats have not yet been priced for sale individually. The cost will be decided in March, when season-ticket holders begin to return the small number of those seats that become available. Matt Dryer, the Orioles' senior director of advertising and promotions, said the team might bundle those seats with premium parking and access to the Camden Club and sell them as packages.

Individual game tickets go on sale tomorrow at 10 a.m. at FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center, by phone at 888-848-2473 and online at www.theorioles.com.

Tickets for FanFest, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., are $10 for adults, and $5 for children 12 and under and those older than 55.

The event will include interactive games; question-and-answer sessions with coaches, players, front office officials and members of the media; kids clinics; museum exhibits; photo opportunities with former and current Orioles; memorabilia vendors; and tours of the Orioles' clubhouse.

The Orioles also will hold tryouts for national anthem singers on the field at Camden Yards from noon to 3 p.m.

Many Orioles players and coaches, past and present, are expected to attend.

NOTE: When the commissioner's office finalized plans yesterday for the Florida Marlins and Houston Astros to play exhibition games in Mexico City on March 13-14, it affected several Orioles spring training games.

The Orioles' game against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., on March 14 was canceled. The Orioles will play the Mets at Port St. Lucie on March 14 and host the Minnesota Twins the following day, when they had been scheduled to host the Mets. New York instead will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in Vero Beach.

The Red Sox will host an Orioles split squad in Fort Myers on March 14.

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