Lite beer goes the distance at Camden Yards

HAPPY EATER

July 07, 1993|By ROB KASPER

As the All-Stars gather next week in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, on hand will be baseball's best hitters, its fastest pitchers and its swiftest base runners. To that list of superlatives I add one more, baseball's longest beer.

The draft beer that comes out of the tap at concession stand No. 111 just short of the left field foul line on the lower deck is pumped about 350 feet, the longest draft beer in baseball.

The Miller Lite, one of five brands of draft beer sold in the park, moves in a cooled plastic line from kegs sitting behind home plate deep in the basement of Camden Yards.

It shoots along the third base line, stopping just short of the foul pole. When you add the beer's horizontal movement, with the amount of distance it has to climb from the basement to the first level, you get a total of about 350 feet. No beer served at any major-league ballpark can top this. That is what James E. Kessler, who helped install the line at Camden Yards and who keeps track of beer-pushing statistics, told me. Kessler is a manufacturers' representative for Perlick Corp. of Milwaukee, a company that sells beer delivery systems around the United States.

Miller Lite, Miller Genuine Draft, Budweiser, Bud Light and Coors Light have been traveling around the ballpark's pipes for two seasons, keeping their cool 36- to 38-degree temperature. Pushed by pressurized carbon dioxide, they have run "clear" with few appearances of a "bubble tract," the telltale sign of foamy beer when it comes out of the spigot.

In preparation for the All-Star Game, I recently examined the beer plumbing of Camden Yards. While the big push down the left field line was the main attraction, there were other highlights. Another piece of the system, for instance, propels draft beer some 160 feet to a first base-line concession stand. On the upper deck the draft beer takes a short, straight shot from the big coolers or "beer boxes" in the back of the concession stands to the spigots or "beer towers" in the front of concession stands. And, on the Skybox level, the draft beer falls from the heavens, gliding down pipelines connected to kegs on the level above.

Impressed as I was by the draft beer system's power and gizmos, I was still curious about one point: Why build it? After talking with the moguls of ARA Leisure Services, the park's concessionaire, I came up with three answers.

First, you build it to guard against running out of draft beer.

A concession stand cannot run dry because its piping is hooked up to basement rooms filled with hundreds of full kegs. Down there, when a keg runs dry, an already hooked up "buddy" keg kicks in. Moreover, these big refrigerated keg rooms are tended by a team of "beer men," eight guys with lots of muscles. The muscles are needed to lug the kegs, which weigh as much as 180 pounds, said Jimmy Bell, supervisor of the group. When a concession stand operator needs more beer, he radios a beer man in the basement. The beer man unhooks the empty keg and hoists a full keg into place, sending the beer streaming to a concession stand.

The second reason you install beer plumbing is to eliminate keg-running, the practice of maneuvering a cart loaded with kegs through a ballpark full of people. In the new system, cold kegs enter and leave on refrigerated trucks that drive into the park's basement.

And the third reason you install a beer plumbing system is it gives you a chance to have some fun. The beer storage coolers at the ballpark, for instance, have been named after some of the guys who work there. The longest beer, for example, starts its vTC push in a cooler named "Father O'Toole's." (There is an O'Toole who works there, Joe, but he is not a cleric.) ARA's Jay Boyle, who has a cooler named after him, "Boyle's Pub," said pitcher Rick Sutcliffe signed his first Oriole contract in the cooler named "Kee." At the time of signing, Boyle added, the space wasn't a beer cooler, it was "about the only room that had four walls."

One of the drawbacks to such a beer plumbing system is that at the end of each home stand, the long lines have to be cleaned. The other morning in preparation for the All-Star Game homestand, William Munroe cleaned out the Coors and Miller lines, and Charles Cieslak and Bill Gray cleaned out the Bud Light and Budweiser lines.

All the beer sitting in a line was drained off and thrown away. I figured to get baseball's longest beer line ready to perform, some 10 gallons of beer has to be tossed. Which proves, I guess, in beer lines as in the rest of life, greatness has it price.

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