Everybody wants what they can't get: Orioles tickets

April 10, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

Just when I thought I had life pretty much figured out -- well, everything but quarks and the need for a Pink Floyd comeback -- somebody was on the phone asking about Camden Yards.

"What's the deal?" said the guy, obviously irate and just as obviously an out-of-towner. "I called the other day for Orioles tickets in August. August. You know, like after July. When everybody is supposed to be at the beach. When it's so humid at night that even George F. Will sweats.

"And guess what. There were no tickets left. None. Zip. Nada. What's wrong with you people? Don't you have anything else to do with your lives?"

I didn't know what to say. I mumbled something about us having this giant community baseball jones. Ba-by, ooh ooh weee.

Then I asked myself: What is the deal?

Are we really so pathetic that baseball is the only thing on our minds? You know, there are many other matters that should require our attention. World affairs. Health-care reform. The whole Madonna-Dave thing. Whatever happened to Zager and Evans.

But, no.

We basically spend our summers doing one of two things. Going to games. And trying to get tickets to go to games.

Ticket availability update: It's easier to get a ticket to see Barbra, who hasn't toured since the Truman administration, than it is to see the Milwaukee Brewers.

You know how hard it is to get into Camden Yards? On Opening Day, Bill Clinton, apparently shut out, had to go to Cleveland, where, according to a White House spokesman, he was not looking to invest in any vacation property.

Yes, Cleveland. They've built a new stadium there, officially called Son of Camden Yards. It looks exactly like our stadium. They've even built their own Bromo Seltzer tower. And the left-fielder was asked to let his sideburns grow.

Every baseball team wants what we've got, which is mass hysteria. Before the season began, the Orioles had already sold 3.25 million tickets. In other words, the season was nearly 90 percent sold before owner Pete Angelos bounced his first pitch to the plate.

This does not happen in baseball. This happens if you're Andrew Lloyd Webber.

This is not a baseball franchise. It's "Phantom of the Opera" with the chorus shod in cleats.

Why the hysteria?

Why here? Why now?

The only thing I know for sure is that it's only peripherally connected to baseball. Face it, whatever the poets say about the pastoral game and its symmetrical Elysian fields, the game is not exactly exciting.

A typical at-bat: Ball one, batter steps out. Ball two, batter steps out. Strike one, looking, batter steps out. Strike two, looking, batter steps out. Fan drifts into beer-induced sleep.

I know why fans go to games. It's for the leisurely pace. It's for sport as picnic. It's for the mellifluous stylings of Jon Miller on the radio after you leave in the seventh inning of a tied game.

But that doesn't explain the hysteria. Baseball is the anti-hysteria game. The national TV ratings are dying. In fact, the rumor is that, come October, they're going to get Tonya Harding to whack Barry Bonds' knee and see if that helps.

Baseball is the game at which the "fan," after finally getting his hands on one of those must-have tickets, spends three innings in line at Boog's barbecue.

It isn't the game. And it isn't even the fact that baseball is the only game we have left. It has been the only game in town for 10 years. The sellouts didn't begin until there was a new stadium.

OK, the stadium is beautiful. Everyone had to see it. People visited the place as if it were a shrine. Maybe it is. The pope is coming this summer.

But you'd think that after a while, after three years, the thrill would be gone.

Something else happened. Once tickets got scarce, the laws of economics took over. Here's the law: When you have a product in which demand outstrips supply, all hell breaks loose.

Now, people line up in December to buy tickets for games in August as if you can plan your life eight months in advance or know if it might rain that night or if your kid's hamster might die.

People are afraid they're going to miss something, whatever that something might be.

The idea that you can't go to a game makes you want to go to a game. And that's where we are, faced with another law: Everybody wants tickets; somebody else has 'em.

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