It was the day of the stealth scalpers.
They moved in early, stayed as close to invisible as possible and -- wham -- hit their targets hard, charging up to $250 a ticket. And by 1:30 p.m., more than 90 minutes before game time, most of them were long gone, leaving hundreds of would-be customers calling out in desperation for any available seat.
"There is a shortage of scalpers," said Larry Klein, 29, of Northern Virginia, as he stood on a sidewalk asking passers-by for tickets. "Compared to Memorial Stadium openers, this is ridiculous. There used to be tons of scalpers there."
But neither the shortage nor the stealth was enough to keep city police undercover officers from tracking down three scalping suspects, who ended up spending all nine innings at the Southern District police lockup.
One of them, William John Young, 26, of Arlington, Va., was arrested after an undercover officer allegedly saw him attempt to sell two $4 bleacher seats for $250 apiece, only a half-hour before the first pitch.
Also charged with scalping in earlier arrests were Joseph Donahue, 30, of Glen Burnie, who allegedly offered $8 tickets for $100 apiece, and William Bacon, 26, of Kensington, who allegedly was asking $20 each for $18 seats.
In addition to the scalping, police said one man without a ticket was halted when he attempted to scale the 10-foot-high fence to get into the stadium area.
The scalpers' huge asking prices apparently didn't go without takers.
"There were some [scalpers] earlier asking a hundred to 200 per ticket, and they were getting it," said Ron Ford of Perry Hall. "But I haven't seen any for about an hour now."
That kind of news was comforting to Al Cecchinella, a Red Sox season ticket holder who drove down from Boston to see the debut of the new ballpark after paying $250 to a legal scalper -- a ticket broker -- last week.
That must be some seat, huh, Al?
"It's not," he said, laughing. "It's a $4.75 seat."
Many would-be buyers toted handmade "I need tickets" signs of every size, shape and color. Some just held a pair of fingers in the air, signaling that they needed two seats.
Others tried more novel approaches.
Jimmy Weekley, a city commissioner from Key West, Fla., shouted an offer of a free weekend for two in Key West to anyone who could come up with tickets for him and his friend, Mark Finegan. Of course, there was a catch or two. "You fly yourself down and stay at my house," Weekley said.
About an hour before game time, with scalpers seemingly as scarce as ever, a prospective buyer pointed to a nearby man sipping a beer and wearing sunglasses, and said that he had just offered to sell two tickets for $150 each. But when a reporter approached to ask about tickets, he waved off the inquiry, pleading ignorance. "No," he said, quickly looking from side to side. "I don't have any tickets."
A sellout indeed
The announced attendance for yesterday's regular-season opener at Oriole Park at Camden Yards was 44,568, but that doesn't mean there were any tickets still available. The game really was a sellout and virtually all of the 48,041 available seats were filled. Under American League rules, only paid attendance is announced. The number was less than capacity because of the large number of complimentary tickets given to Opening Week sponsors and others involved in the completion of the park. There also were two sections used for an auxiliary press box.