Hot souvenir? Get with the program Quick sellout prompts complaints from fans

April 07, 1992|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer Mark Hyman contributed to this article.

The biggest attractions at the opener at Oriole Park at Camden Yards were:

A. The new stadium.

B. The leader of the Free World.

C. The limited edition of the Opening Day program.

Answer: A and C. President Bush was booed.

But the programs? Who would have thought that the worst traffic problems yesterday would not be outside the ballpark but inside, where enormous lines of people waiting to scarf up programs nearly choked off movement along the concourse and Eutaw Street promenade?

Well before the game, however, the 50,000 programs were sold out, leaving fans far more disgruntled than if the Orioles had been shut out.

"It's been the complaint of the day," said Tim P. Rogers, who manned the Orioles Fan Assistance office at the ballpark. "We've been trying to explain to people about why the programs ran out and telling them that some people bought 20 to 30 apiece."

One young man who had stood in line 35 minutes was barely mollified even after he got his three programs. "It's the most inequitable system in the world," he said. "It's ridiculous. People in front can buy 20 or whatever and people in the back are left with squat."

A frenzied Ray Moran, novelty manager for ARA Services, the stadium's concessionaire, said he walked up and down some of the lines to tell people that programs were running out. "I explained to as many people as I could that the Orioles will address the issue. I am not a spokesman for the Orioles, but I'm confident they will. . . . They will produce more. There will be another edition, another run."

Joe Costa, an ARA vice president, said the demand for the programs was almost unquenchable. "If they were to reprint them," he said, "we'd ask for 250,000 programs and sell them throughout the entire season."

Even before the first pitch, the 108-page programs had appreciated in value. Fans were reselling them for three times their $3 face value. Once the game began, the price climbed much higher.

During the bottom of the fifth inning, Mike Thorn, a Howard County police officer, anxiously trolled the concourse looking for someone willing to sell him programs. "I ain't been in to see one play yet," Thorn said. He found one man offering a program. His price: $25 apiece. Thorn had to decline.

An hour after the game, a man in a red Porsche pulled up to two fans walking along Calvert Street a mile away from the stadium. Did they want to buy programs for $10 apiece? he asked, adding, "I've sold a bundle."

The programs weren't the only once-in-a-lifetime products for sale. There were first-day balls ($14.25), T-shirts ($20), sweat shirts ($30.48), hats ($14.25), tie pins ($5.72) and buttons ($1.90).

A number of those items also sold out.

"Naturally," said Jan Goldman, a Long Island lawyer who was carrying Opening Day pennants and pins and was still hoping for a hat. "There's only one Opening Day at a new park."

Goldman made his purchases at the Baseball Store in the B&O warehouse, which was shoulder-to-shoulder with fans from the time it opened at 9 a.m. It emptied only briefly as Opening Day ceremonies started. By the end of the first inning, the store was chock-full again.

"Man, they're going to rake in the dough today," one fan said as he took his cache up to the cashier.

Jay Boyle, general manager of ARA Services, said that during Friday's exhibition game, the company store did more business than any other single concession. "Today will be even better," he said. "There's all this pent-up demand for these items."

Even as fans streamed out the Baseball Store's exit with their new purchases, store clerks were carting more boxes of merchandise through another entrance.

"You think it's busy now," said salesman Isaac Saunders, his voice barely discernible above the din, "just wait until the game is over."

No doubt, some will have ended the day unable to get their hands on some piece of Opening Day memorabilia. For them, however, perhaps not all is lost. The Orioles have announced that tomorrow, they will sell commemorative "first night game ever" T-shirts. Supplies are limited.

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