For Blind Fans, Baseball Ticketing and Seating Information Should be Improved
For most any baseball fan who is familiar with their home ballpark, getting a seat is a simple process. You already know where the better seats are, you know what your preference is as it relates to being by the home dugout, by the visiting bullpen, or being in a section that is protected from the rain or from the blazing afternoon sunshine. When you go to a ballpark you are not familiar with, one of the first things you do if you are picky about things like this, is to look at the seating maps and decide if you want to have similar seats as you get in your home park, or if you need to move to another location to meet your objectives, like being by the visiting bullpen or being protected from the elements.
For blind fans, while the visual aspect of where to sit is not a factor if they are not at the game with sited friends, there are factors that are still considered when choosing seats. If I’m getting tickets for me and other friends who are sited, then I do care where in the ballpark I sit for their benefit. If I am taking someone to a game who maybe is not as familiar with baseball, it helps to know where we are in the ballpark as it relates to the field itself. Once years ago, I took a friend to an Astros game at Minute Maid Park, but being that it was her first baseball game and only my third time to attend a game in the Astros new home on that early May night in 2002, I did not truly know where we were in relation to the field, which did not help me in trying to answer a couple of her questions. I knew what section we were in because of the confirmation on my ticket order I had placed online, but I could not truly say that I knew where it was within that ballpark.
Even when I go to games by myself, there are things to consider in terms of the game experience. For example, I’d rather sit near the front row on the third or fourth level if I’m behind home plate or on the baseline inside first or third base, because unlike the lower level outfield seats, you are physically closer to home plate and can hear how the ball comes off the bat or how it hits the glove of the catcher. So as I have started purchasing tickets for my 30 ballpark, 30 day tour, I have found that knowing just where you are in each park is somewhat of a challenge.
For starters, no two ballparks number their sections in the same way. I have had to be resourceful in finding web sites that detail how the sections are arranged in each ballpark, so I at least have a rough idea as to where in the ballpark the sections are, behind the plate, on the infield baseline, down toward the right and left field corners, or behind the outfield fence. Some ballparks start with section 100 down in the right field corner and the numbers go up as you move around to the left field corner, wouldn’t logic say section 101 or section 1 is behind home plate? Dodger Stadium does this and the section numbers go up the further down each line you go, even numbers on one side, odd on the other side, like street address numbers. Other ballparks start the numbering on the Left field corner and move the opposite direction.
What is more confusing is how ballparks name their seating sections. Lower boxes in some ballparks are on the first level, others like Baltimore have them on the second level. Field boxes in some stadiums I have discovered are truly right at field level, others are placed further back behind the premium seating. Club seating, second level in some ballparks, others like U.S. Cellular have them on the third level. Then there are terms like loge, mezzanine, upper box, view box, terrace, and more. These terms mean different things in different ballparks, some closer to the infield than others, some at levels that are higher up in one ballpark then they would be in the next one.
For the blind fan, trying to truly know where you are in the ballpark is as I am discovering, a major undertaking of extraordinary effort. I would recommend two things to the ball clubs as it relates to this subject. First, by each ticketing choice, have a quick note of some sort that says where the seat is, infield, first or third base line and saying if it is an infield or outfield section. If the section is both infield and outfield, then on the following page that shows what seat you were offered, have a notation that says the seat is on the infield, in the outfield, Etc. Second, the clubs should have a page that details each seating category, where it is, and which sections are in that area. It should say which sections are behind the plate, which one’s go up the first and third base lines to the corner bases, Etc. By doing this, fans like me who are blind, truly have a feel for where in the ballpark their seats are and if they might want to look for seats in another section. It might also be a good idea to give us the ability to click on each section number within a seating category to see what the best seat is that is available.
Finally, a word about the ticket purchasing process as it relates to the security check or user authentication as it is also known. Sited users see a visual text code which they must enter to verify that they are a legit ticket purchaser. This method does not work for the blind, because screen readers cannot read graphic based images with no character based text. To counter this, audio versions of similar challenges are now used, where the user must enter the words and or numbers spoken on an audio track, with some degree of gargled background noise that can be problematic. There are other methods that would be as effective which have been utilized by other web-based services. Perhaps the ticketing systems could move to some sort of basic knowledge question that any user should know. Such questions would require either the answer to a basic math problem, or a question about something that is well known, such as naming the capitol of a major state like California or Texas, naming the nation that borders the United States on the north or south, things that would require user input that foils computerized robots, while making the process for all users a bit less frustrating.
While some of these technical issues are outside the control of the ball clubs, others like those outlined here are simple steps that the 30 ball clubs should take. The process would greatly improve the ticket purchasing experience for the blind, allowing all fans to truly have an idea of just where they are choosing to sit in any ballpark, from Fenway Park to dodger Stadium, from Safeco Field to the new Marlins park in Miami.
For fans who want to follow my 30 ballpark, 30 day adventure, you may like the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BlindBaseballTraveler30ParksIn30Days where quick planning and game experience postings will be filed. More in-depth features will be posted to this blog.