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How to See a Ballgame (Part I)
G'day, as we say in Canada, and welcome to the bumper crop of pixelly goodness we call Baseballhead, where this week we commend John Rocker for not punching that reporter, like we would have done.
Sadly, the current news seems to be either a regurgitation of past news (Rocker riles the media, nobody agrees on realignment) or just plain boring (there's another Cuban defector, and unfortunately, the draft was a yawner). So we've determined that the time is right to give you, the fan, the inside poop (or whatever synonym you may choose to deploy) on planning and executing a day at the ballpark. Clip 'n' save!
Today we'll discuss planning, ticketing and arriving at the game -- the biggest hassles by far and the items that set the tone for your baseball experience. If you mess up one of these steps, your date/wife/buddies/kids/cat will never let you live it down.
Begin as far from game day as you can. If you have set a date for your visit to the ballyard, grab them ducats with all speed. In fact, begin your planning in the winter when possible, before single game tickets become available, and mail in your request.
For some reason, most teams keep a special stash of decent seats for their mail-order customers, and the handling charges always beat TicketMaster (Known here in its headquarter city as "Scourge of the Earth"). Simply mail a check equal to the highest-priced tickets you'd want, and the kindly elderly ladies in the mail room (or so I imagine) will send you the best they've got along with a check for the difference.
Except for the White Sox, that is, who send the refund as a coupon that can only be redeemed at Comiskey. Wonder how much Reinsdorf makes each year off travelers who don't make it to the game...
If your game isn't that far off, however, your choices are more limited. However, don't let that stop you from avoiding TicketMaster at all cost. If you can pick up tickets from a team's own online ticketing service, or from the ballpark or official team shop, you'll save muy grande bucks and avoid a phone conversation with a guy who let you wait on hold until the Limp Bizkit song ended.
The closer to the game you purchase your tickets, the more you must plan. Know your ballpark. Just because you sat in section 124 last time doesn't necessarily mean that section 123 is next door. Know the good cheap seats and the bad expensive seats. Laugh at those who don't.
For example, Seattle's Safeco Field has $14 upper-deck "view reserved" seats that are approximately a quarter-mile farther from the field of play than the $5 bleachers. Other parks have such a low rise in the pricey fieldside boxes that if you sit anywhere but the front row, you're watching bald spots instead of the game.
In fact, some modern ballparks make it possible to purchase a cheap ticket, then view the game from a number of excellent standing areas, if that's your bag. You've watched the throngs in left field in Cleveland, and above the out-of-town scoreboard at Camden Yards. Join them, especially if it's warm. As always, however, be vigilant for shirtless fat guys.
The trickiest proposition is the day-of-game ticket. This is where your experience is made or broken on the homework you've done. Is the game close to sold out? If so, chances are you'll have to take one of those bad expensive seats -- all the cheapies go quick when crowds are big. Sure, there are $1 day-of-game tickets to be had at Turner Field, but did you factor in the five hours you'll spend in line for them?
Scalpers: Yea or Nay?
A great alternative to the day-of-game ticket at the park is the throng of entrepreneurs outside, dealing in previously-owned tickets. However, you must never, ever, approach a scalper without knowing three things:
- The location and price of every seat in the park
- What a legitimate ticket looks like (there may be more than one kind)
- The law
That third one is important, not only because it may get you arrested, but because it can get you a better deal. Really. Where scalping is defined only as "sale for more than face value," you'll find many of the black marketeers selling for face or below. All the parks on the West Coast, except Jack Murphy and possibly now Pac Bell Park, have had discount scalpers in droves. Beware of areas where resale is completely verboten, however, such as Anaheim (go figure). We cannot be held responsible for fines, jail, or tickets confiscated and later used by police because you did not know the local ordinances.
Notice that I haven't mentioned "ticket brokers." Notice that I will continue not to mention them.
>Parking: You Don't Have To
Okay. So you've got the best, most cost-effective seats you could find. Have you parked yet? No? Are you circling the park, waiting to fight with ten families in Ford Explorers for the last free on-street two-hour (but they'll never check) spot? If so, you've got a lot more patience, not to mention huevos, than I.
Studying the old in-and-out (so to speak) is just as important as knowing the seating chart. Consider all your ballpark options. Is the park in a residential neighborhood that loves to tow, like Wrigley Field? Is the only parking garage approximately the size of Pee-Wee's playhouse like Yankee Stadium, or is parking plentiful and cheap (not to mention necessary) like at Kauffman?
If possible (as in many urban parks) just say uh-uh to the car altogether. Take the train or the shuttle bus. Eat dinner at the waterfront in Baltimore, then walk to the Camden Yards. Eat at the Pitt Grill in Arlington, then walk to The Ballpark (no, honest. I've done this). Take BART to the Oakland Coliseum.
However, in some cities (like my native Seattle), it is possible to find safe, free on-street parking. To try and find parking fifteen minutes before the first pitch, however, is folly of the highest order, and will usually result in tension, then anger, then $20 to the attendant at the last remaining pay lot.
The Arrival: Game-day Strategy, or Abba's Worst Album?
Speaking of entrances, I love arriving for batting practice. Not only do I beat the crowds (especially here on the West coast), but it's a chance to have a cool one, relax, and watch some monster homers (even if they don't actually count). All parks open at least 1-1/2 hours before game time.
However, be wary of bobblehead days, cap days, bat nights, and any kids' giveaway involving Ken Griffey or Pokemon. Parents with children often begin laying siege for these items hours before gates open, and if you've ever had to wait in a long line with a large number of entire families, you know it isn't pleasant for anyone involved.
Hint: in these circumstances, arrive about a half-hour after the gates open. The initial line will have been assimilated into the park, and often there are still plenty of the goodies left. You may have to bribe a kid to get you the Pokemon card, though.
Next time, we'll discuss seating (or lack thereof) and snack strategies. In future columns, I'll verbally tar-and-feather the aging ex-fraternity brothers trying to re-create their youth by starting the Wave.
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See that guy over there, the one wearing a dirty old Brewers jersey with the sleeves cut off and who desperately needs a shave? Rest assured, that's not Michael Cox. We hear he knows who it is, though, so go ahead and ask at firstname.lastname@example.org.