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O's video screen dispute may soon be in full view

The Baltimore Sun

The 15-year-old video board at Camden Yards soon may be unable to present a full picture because of the malfunction of irreplaceable parts, say Maryland Stadium Authority officials, who are embroiled in a dispute with the Orioles over how to replace the screen.

The stadium authority and the Orioles plan to use the Sony JumboTron for tonight's game against the Washington Nationals, but it's possible that one rectangular segment could be blank.

"It may work, but we're getting to the point where it's critical and we're worried about it on a daily basis," said Alison Asti, executive director of the stadium authority.

Authority officials say they used their last "distribution box" - the part responsible for spreading an image in segments across the 23-by-31-foot board - Sunday morning and another box blew during testing yesterday. Technicians restored that box to a functioning state and hope the board will work.

"The Orioles and the MSA are working diligently to address any and all issues related to the video board's functioning now and for the future," said lawyer Alan Rifkin, who has represented the team in negotiations over the screen.

It's unclear, however, what the stadium authority and club will do if a segment of the board fails permanently. They might try to rent a replacement, Asti said. Or they might carry on with an incomplete JumboTron image.

"I think we could use it with a rectangle missing," Asti said. "It just wouldn't look as nice."

Both sides emphasized that they're working together.

"We're working closely with the Orioles to try and find a solution for the fans," said Frederick W. Puddester, the authority's chairman-elect. "My main focus is on making sure we resolve the issue and get it behind us. We really want to work with the Orioles to get the best screen possible for the fans."

But the fate of the video board has been a point of conflict for months.

Authority officials had warned of a possible failure when the Orioles obtained a court order in December to prevent the agency from buying a $1.5 million Mitsubishi DiamondVision screen. The club said the stadium authority was rushing to purchase a substandard product.

The Orioles want a larger, high-definition screen and want the stadium authority to pay for it. The authority says the club can have the board of its dreams but needs to foot part of the bill.

The issue is headed for arbitration hearings, expected to commence in late summer or early fall.

Sony no longer repairs the distribution boxes, and authority officials say extras are no longer available, even on the resale market. They went through seven spares the previous season and have used the last two, obtained from Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., this year.

The $2.6 million JumboTron was cutting-edge when it was installed for the opening of Oriole Park in 1992. But the board is considered out of date compared with the SmartVision screen at M&T; Bank Stadium and other larger, sharper screens that have gone into stadiums in recent years. The club has been asking for a new board for seven years, and has discussed the issue with the authority since last year.

Video malfunctions aren't unprecedented in baseball.

In 1994, for example, Anaheim Stadium's new video scoreboard failed to work for its first five innings. "An unknown glitch kept the board from showing anything but a purplish hue with perhaps a dozen black rectangles scattered about on the screen until the sixth," the Los Angeles Times reported.

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