The beer was cold and came with a local pedigree. The freshly made pretzel was hot and salty. But the crab soup was not worth the 10-minute wait in line. Those were the high and low points of my annual eating excursion through Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
As was the case in previous years, I went to the ballpark armed with a thermometer and a stopwatch. So when I say the beer was cold, it means Blue Ridge Porter was 46 degrees.
That was almost the perfect temperature to bring out the chocolate flavors of this porter, one of the suds sold in the ballpark that are brewed by Maryland microbrewers.
This long-awaited marriage of local color and local suds is the work of Karl Schenk and Bernie Simasek, two guys who not only worked out a deal with the stadium concessionaire, ARA Leisure Services, but who also built the bar that now sits on the Eutaw Street courtyard beyond the right field foul pole.
The beers, selling for $4.25 to $4.75 a cup, are made by the Baltimore Brewing Co., Oliver Breweries Ltd., Sisson's Restaurant and Brewery, Oxford Brewing Company Ltd. -- all Baltimore-area brewers-- and by Wild Goose Brewery in Cambridge and the Frederick Brewing Company in Frederick.
Besides putting the thermometer in a cup of beer, I stuck it in a $3 Super Dog which I got from a hot dog warming device at the concession stand in left field near sections 78-83.
The dog registered an impressive 110 degrees. This was the hottest dog in three years of ballpark research. It was 8 degrees higher than the 102-degree dog I ate last year, and 28 degrees hotter than the tepid hot dog I got on opening day of the 1992 season.
The dogs might have been hotter, this year, but the soup line was slower. Right before game time, I hiked up to the Upper Deck Deli near sections 338-388 and got in line to buy some crab soup. It took 10 minutes and 50 seconds to get a bowl of soup. Last year it took 5 minutes; the year before 8 1/2 minutes.
When I arrived at what looked like the front of the line, I was told I had landed at the french fry and sandwich station. To place an order for crab soup, I had to squeeze past the congestion at the ZTC french fry station and travel further down the serving line. The line would have moved much faster if someone had put some signs up in the deli giving customers clues of where they were supposed to go to order different items.
The $2.75 bowl of crab soup was 184 degrees, much hotter than previous years, but it was crab-shy. I found only a few skinny shards of crab meat in my bowl. Deli managers need to put up signs on the serving line and more crab meat in the soup.
My favorite snack was the soft pretzel made before my very eyes at the Uncle Teddys stand, on the lower deck, down the right field line. The warm, salty pretzel was worth $2.25, but I refused to pay 50 cents extra for a serving of honey mustard.
I got in line for what has become a ritual shuffle down the Eutaw Street promenade as you move toward Boog Powell's barbecue stand. The journey took 11 minutes this year, within a minute or two of the wait in previous years. It is an amiable trip, with friends hollering greetings to one another.
The $6.25 pit beef sandwich was OK, helped along with some raw onions and a shot of Tabasco sauce. I took my sandwich and one of those Maryland beers and walked out onto the pavilion that overlooks the right field fence.
It was a bright, sunny day. The wind carried whiffs of sweet smoke from both Powell's pits and from the barbecued rib stand, which this year is called Bambino's.
I had my 46-degree, locally made beer and my pit beef sandwich. At any minute, a locally generated home run ball could come crashing down on me.
This was an atmosphere you couldn't get in a restaurant.
Who should happen by but Wild Bill Hagy, the cab driver who, in simpler times, used to lead Memorial Stadium throngs in the spelling of O-R-I-O-L-E-S.
Wild Bill looked good and mused about the time he taught a noncredit course in baseball at Johns Hopkins. He was still an Orioles fan, he said, but a less public one.
As for his favorite ballpark foods, Wild Bill said that he preferred beer and hot dogs.