COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

Ballpark technology

The poured concrete forms and steel structures growing out of the ground at the end of 10th Avenue are morphing into one of the country's finest baseball stadiums. Situated in a perfect location in a perfect city, it is destined to be a spectacular baseball venue. Technology is being utilized throughout the park to make the experience even more enjoyable.

A year from now on opening day, we will enter the park through electronic turnstiles with automated ticket readers that read a barcode on each ticket. This allows the Padres to gather information to improve operations while speeding up the entry process. The tickets are verified, and replacement or lost tickets can be immediately issued.

From your seating area you will see three major display boards -- a huge scoreboard, a gigantic video display and a ribbon display wrapping around most of the park, all of which are computer controlled. The scoreboard is an array of incandescent lights that provides black and white information and graphics, much like what is used in Qualcomm Stadium today.

The video board is a giant 50 feet by 30 feet. HDTV (high-definition TV), made up of tiny red, green and blue LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are spaced about an inch apart. It is capable of full-motion video.

The ribbon board, wrapping around the front of the upper concourse, is a 488-foot continuous color LED display, also capable of displaying full video. It is used for advertising, announcements and additional scoreboards, and is programmable in 20-foot increments.

The state of the art sound system has 100,000 watts of power and 95 amplifiers in each of several towers and provides advanced sound compensation technology that is designed to prevent reverberations. Speakers are located throughout the park, even the restrooms.

Behind home plate are the sections reserved for the press and scouts. Each seat is equipped with full voice and data access using a 100 MB Ethernet connection. Suites and offices are similarly equipped with a total of 2,000 cable jacks for voice and data spread throughout the park.

Like other ballparks, Petco Park has the mandated standard 11 camera positions used for normal baseball broadcasting. In addition, it has 24 other locations where a camera can be plugged in. These positions can be used, for example, for special events and pre-game shows.

A video recording system digitizes and stores each play of each game. Before coming to bat or during practice, players and coaches may use this system to review previous plays.

The Padres' very sophisticated distributed TV system controls each of the 600 TVs, turning them on and off, and displaying any channel on any specific set. There is a full TV production facility, including studios and interview rooms. The facility is used to produce video replays, interviews and programs. It's like having its own cable network within the park. Additionally, there is a Cox Cable feed and a satellite feed for accessing off-air channels.

Housed deep within the stadium, a central computer system controls "the back of the house" building management system, including temperature, lighting, sound, displays, communication, fire protection and life safety systems and even the plumbing. The system measures, monitors and controls thousands of valves, thermostats, detectors, cameras and other devices located throughout the ballpark's interior spaces. The computer also controls the 13 elevators and nine escalators to change usage patterns based on the game status. The integration of all of these systems into one computer is quite unusual and one of the most advanced of all ballparks.

The computers continually monitor the status of hundreds of fire sensors of all types throughout the ballpark. In the event of fire detection, a fire command center at the entrance to the stadium is activated for the arriving firemen, providing them with a printout of the location of the alarm and a full graphic display of the ballpark showing details of the emergency.

One of the most advanced but less glamorous areas is the Storm Water Diversion System that comes into play after the game. Like other facilities, Petco Park has two sewer systems, a storm system and a sanitary system. The storm system is designed to drain rainwater into the bay. In most parks, including Qualcomm, the storm system also drains off such items as peanut shells and sunflower seeds during the wash down of the park. All this debris would eventually find its way into the bay. The sanitary system at Petco will be used to divert this debris, thereby preventing it from entering into the bay.

So on this last opening day at Qualcomm, we can dream about a year from now when we will be entering the ballpark of the future, a mix of technology and aesthetics, worthy of a city that appreciates both. Play ball!


Baker is San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000 for successfully bringing to market Think Outside's folding keyboard for the Palm and other PDAs. He also has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents. He can be reached at phil.baker@sddt.com.

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