The cheap bastard's guide to Baltimore baseball

City Paper

My Depression-era parents never threw anything out. Dad would say, only half-joking, that he didn’t need to buy a new shirt because he already owned a shirt. I married into cheapness, too—my wife is so skilled at coupon clipping that she has gotten money back from grocery stores.

My passion for thriftiness is matched by my love for live baseball. But this isn’t the old days, when a few bucks would buy an evening’s entertainment, a program, and a meal. You used to be able to stroll into Memorial Stadium in the bottom of the sixth and watch the last few innings for free. Baseball in the post free-agency era is a big, expensive business. So what’s a tightwad to do?

When I chatted with ticket buyers at Camden Yards recently, attitudes about cost ranged from resignation to annoyance. Jim Schubert of Damascus started attending O’s games in the 1960s, when a ticket cost about $2. He now brings his family to the Yards six to 12 times a year. How much does he usually spend inside the park? “Too much,” he admits—though he tries to set a $100 limit and usually avoids the souvenir stands (his son recently plunked down $45 for a cap, however). Jodi Kielman of Federal Hill goes to a lot of games—69 during the regular season and all the playoff appearances last year—so she tries to limit her spending. She estimates she still lays out about $60 per game.

I’ve found that a visit to the ballpark doesn’t have to break the bank. For years, I took my family of five to see the Orioles for less than $100, everything included—and we didn’t settle for the upper deck, either. All it takes is a little creativity and some unorthodox thinking about how to “do” Camden Yards.

That said, there’s a difference between being a cheapskate and being poor, struggling to pay for staples like housing and food. For too many people in this city, paying for tickets to a baseball game is a non-starter, no matter how thrifty you are. For those of us lucky enough to be able to pay the price of admissions, these tips should help extend our dollars.

 

Getting There

Don’t drive. The Light Rail costs $1.60 each way and drops you off and picks you up a half-block from the Camden Street entrance. Light Rail rides to the game are inevitably impromptu pep rallies, filled with orange-and-black-clad fans. Rides home can be crowded and either euphoric or despondent, depending on the result, but still totally the way to go. Better yet, walk. Baltimore is a great walking city, and baseball season overlaps perfectly with a beautiful walking season. Besides, you’re going to be sitting for upwards of three hours; stretch those legs while you can.

As for driving, there are many choices for parking in the vicinity of Camden Yards, all of them shitty. The stadium lots fill up quickly and cost about $10; the garages north of the ballpark will set you back even more. Both options are hell when you’re trying to leave, with hundreds of cars squeezing through a single exit. If you must drive, try street parking. The spots around Lexington Market, just a 10-minute walk away, generally don’t fill up until a half hour before the game. You may have to feed a few quarters into the meter, but it beats the $15 garage down the block. Otherwise try Pigtown, where there’s a decent amount of free street parking.

 

Food

Bring your own food. This is Rule Numero Uno in the Cheap Bastard’s Guide to Camden Yards, and probably one of the hardest. For many fans, a hot dog and a bag of peanuts are simply essential. I understand this; as soon as I enter a stadium, I crave mystery meat on a bun, even though I’ve been a vegetarian for years. If you’re on a budget, though, remember that every time you don’t buy a hot dog, fries, and a large drink, you’re saving the price of a ticket (or two!) to your next game. Fortunately, the good folks at the Warehouse have made it easy on us thrifty types. Unlike at most major league parks, you can bring in almost any drink if it’s non-alcoholic, unopened, and in a plastic bottle—and pretty much any food at all, although you’re supposed to follow the MLB-wide regulations by only bringing in 16-by-16-by-8-inch containers. (The Nationals, by contrast, allow only one water bottle per person and food in single-serving bags.)

So, burritos, Subway, Chinese food—all good.My wife and I once picked up a pizza on the way to the game; no one stopped us, though a cop said, “I’ve never seen that before.” We pack stuff like carrots, chips, veggie sausages, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out “Ballpark food, DIY-style." Bringing in your own food, you may get some weird looks, but for the most part I think people are jealous.

 

Drinks, alcoholic

Just say no to expensive, crappy beer. If “Life is too short to drink bad beer,” why would you ever cough up $7.50 or more for a Bud Light? If you’re looking for quantity, my editors suggest a well-hidden, plastic flask (there are metal detectors this year). It’ll keep you nice and boozy for well over three hours for the cost of whatever crap you get to fill it with.

Everybody has their priorities, and the truly thrifty—or broke—would probably skip the drinking entirely. But count me among those for whom knocking back a cold brew while watching the game on a warm summer’s day is one of life’s pleasures. And if you’re going to pay for a ballpark beer, don’t make it a crappy one. Camden Yards offers plenty of quality suds, including local offerings from the likes of Heavy Seas and Flying Dog, for about a dollar more than the traditional pisswater.

If all else fails,another suggestion from the editors: Skip the drinks and get in the baseball spirit with some edibles (see next week’s Weed Issue).

 

Drinks, non-alcoholic

Ice is nice. Is anything more overpriced than a ballpark soda? You’re talking probably 10 cents’ worth of Coke for $6, a markup of several thousand percent. Don’t be a sucker. Fill a Tupperware with ice and grab some plastic cups. Stop off on your way downtown and get a six-pack of 17-ounce bottles of your favorite carbonated beverage for eight bucks. Now you’re set. And if your seats are out in the sun on a blazing Sunday afternoon in mid-July, you’ll want to save some of that icy water to stick under your cap or trickle down your friend’s back. Share it around and you’ll be the hero of your row.

Souvenirs

Skip the souvenirs. This should be an easy one for most cheapskates. Instead of buying a jersey, go to a free T-shirt night. Yeah, you could always drop $100 or more on the jersey of your favorite player, who’s probably headed for free agency at the end of the season anyway. Or you could let Peter Angelos and Co. buy you a T-shirt instead. I have a whole drawerful collected this way.

And while you’re at it, take advantage of other freebies. This year, in addition to five T-shirt nights, the cornucopia of goodies includes a baseball cap, a tote bag, a Hawaiian shirt, a pet leash, an Oriole Bird bobblehead, and a hoodie. For the sophisticated fan, there’s also something billed as “2014 AL East Champions Wall Art.” And you just know your front yard won’t be complete without that Buck Showalter garden gnome. Add in the special event nights, like fireworks and kids’ activities (more on that below), and altogether you have upward of 30 opportunities for a giveaway or free experience in 2015. Cheapskate heaven.

And if you’re a true cheap bastard like me, don’t be afraid to poke around under the seats after the game. It sounds a little sketchy, but trust me, it’s a gold mine down there—better than dumpster diving, and a lot less messy. You’ve got 30,000 people, many of them drunk, in a hurry to get home. This endeavor is especially rewarding on giveaway nights; if one in 10 fans leave their beach towel behind, that’s a lot of beach towels for someone to scoop up. Also, you know those oversize “souvenir” soda cups that you pay a dollar extra for? Half the time, people just toss them. I once collected a dozen in about five minutes. A quick trip through the dishwasher, and they’re good.

Tickets

Single game tickets start at $8 depending on the opponent, and unlike days of yore when you could get in mid-game for a discount, official tickets don’t go down in price. But scalpers do! If you’re willing to take a chance, hang out outside the stadium after the game starts and watch the prices drop by the inning. By the fourth inning, if they’ve got anything left, some sellers will let tickets go for next to nothing.

If you’ve got a little dough and you plan to attend at least a dozen games, consider season tickets. No, really! The 13-game Orioles partial season plan is an amazing deal, loaded with little-known benefits. You save a couple bucks off the cost of single-game tickets. Then, they throw in a host of extras such as free ballpark tours, first crack at post-season tickets, and an excellent chance at Opening Day seats. If you need to miss a game, you can exchange the tickets for almost any other game—and for just $1 extra, you can even do this after the fact for certain games.

If all this isn’t enough to delight your inner Scrooge, season plan holders get free admission to a bunch of nearby museums, including Sports Legends at Camden Yards and the Babe Ruth Birthplace. The catch, of course, is that big up-front payment, admittedly painful for any cheap bastard. Consider it a wise investment.

But if you’d like to stick to the cheapskate way, there’s Ollie’s Bargain Night every Tuesday home game, when all Upper Reserve tickets purchased in advance are just $10.

And for anyone who still has their old college ID and looks like they did in the picture on it, there are AT&T Student Nights, where you can get a Left Field Upper Reserve ticket for $7.

Parents can save even more than those unencumbered by offspring. For starters, check out the Junior Orioles Dugout Club, which offers deep discounts on 10 games to kids 14 and under, along with their family and friends, plus a grab bag of gifts. Granted, these may not be the best seats in the house, but there are no truly bad seats at Camden Yards. 

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