Group- ticket ' draft'decides who's on first Or, how to put several fans in every seat

March 06, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

The Rev. Berkley Ford showed up at the parish hall in uniform -- an Orioles uniform.

He figured wearing his Fantasy Camp 1991 uniform was only appropriate: He and dozens of other fans gathered in Elkridge recently to divvy up their group-owned Orioles season tickets.

Unable to afford a full season alone, thousands of fans each year share ticket plans, joining forces to purchase subscriptions -- 81-game, 29-game and 13-game plans are sold -- from the Orioles, then subdividing the tickets among themselves.

There are no rules to the unofficial distribution of season tickets. Some simply take the choice games themselves and give the leftovers to their "subcontractors." Others hold a ticket draft, not unlike the player drafts conducted in professional sports, though more lighthearted.

The Rev. Michael Russell, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Elkridge, oversees a large group of clergymen, parishioners and friends who have purchased eight lower box seats "way out in left field" in a full-season, 81-game plan. That means some 648 seats have to be distributed equitably over the life of the season.

"My people are far too curmudgeonly to let me do it myself," said Mr. Russell, whose ticket draft is held at his parish hall each year. Shareholders from the Eastern Shore to Calvert County to Perry Hall -- many with family members in tow -- attend.

Draft Night 1992 got under way Monday evening with a picnic supper of typical baseball fare -- hot dogs, hot pretzels, popcorn, Crackerjacks, beer and soda. Meanwhile, Mr. Russell explained the rules of the draft:

"Each shareholder picks a number out of the bag. The number determines your order in the draft. When your number comes up, you go up to the board [a huge schedule of Orioles home games] and pick any eight seats.

"Next round, you'll pick eight more. On the third round you'll pick four. . . . I already took four of the Opening Day tickets as payment for my hard work," he said to joking boos from the crowd. "There are four left. . . . Got it?"

Mr. Ford, the minister in Oriole attire, got it, all right.

His wife Marian picked No. 1 out of the bag and the rector from Middleham & St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lusby walked up to the board and signed up for the four remaining seats on Opening Day.

"It must be the uniform," said Mr. Russell.

Mr. Ford's other first-round pick? Four seats at the first Yankee game of the year.

"We love to boo the Yankees," he explained.

The Orioles estimate that close to 25,000 seats in Oriole Park at Camden Yards (which seats 48,000) will be occupied by season ticket holders this year. While subscriptions -- which range from $104 to $1,053 a seat -- cost no less than purchasing comparable seats individually, many fans believe they have a better chance at getting choice seat locations with season tickets.

And there are other perks -- like having the same seat at every game, guaranteed parking on the stadium lot (for a $5 charge) and, if the O's pull off a miracle of sorts, first chance at tickets for post-season play.

The exercise of dividing up the home schedule is sort of like spring training for the fans, said Jerry Wachtel, who organizes another ticket draft. And it can be quite a workout.

An engineering psychologist from Federal Hill, Mr. Wachtel said a rather complicated division of labor functions in his group, which has traditionally included seven couples who share six lower boxseats in a 29-game plan.

Mr. Wachtel sets up a draft night in late March at a local restaurant, preferably one that accommodates noise and fan-type folderol.

He also writes the four-page, "tongue-in-cheek, of course" instruction manual on how to take part in the draft.

Rockville member Tony Mendiola develops a computer program to determine how many rounds of selection there will be in the draft and who will participate in each round. That alone takes five or six hours, said Mr. Wachtel.

And "another person has responsibility for bringing the deck of cards" used to determine who goes first in each round, he said.

This year's ticket distribution has been further complicated by a membership that's grown to 26 couples, the purchase of an additional 81-game plan, and seat assignments in Oriole Park that turned out to be in two different locations with two different ,, ticket prices. "The computer program will be much more complicated this year, but the general draft night will be about the same," says Mr. Wachtel.

Not all fans make a social occasion out of ticket-sharing. Stuart Levine, for instance, takes his responsibility quite seriously.

Come late March, Mr. Levine can be found hunkered down over the Orioles schedule and the wish lists of the syndicate members as he tries to sort out in a fair and equitable fashion who'll be attending which games.

"I do the no-conflicts first," said the Towson attorney. "Then I work on preferences for weekday or weekend, day or night games, favorite teams." He even takes into account religious holidays and summer vacations.

Typically, each shareholder gets two seats to eight different games. The one leftover game -- Opening Day -- goes to Mr. Levine. After all, he does all the work.

"You do have to be somewhat mathematically inclined, said Mr. Levine, who conceded that all the figuring can get pretty weighty.

In fact, there are surprisingly few conflicts among time-sharers.

"One guy in our group doesn't even care," said Mr. Levine. "He'll take any seats you give him. But I keep a running log from year to year and try to compensate if someone gets a bad break."

"We've had few disputes," said Mr. Wachtel. "Of course, there are certain teams and games that everybody wants, like the Yankees and the Red Sox.

"And games with the Seattle Mariners in August are always the last to go."

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