Everybody at the game isn't a yuppie

April 28, 1994|By Bill Tanton

There's nothing quite like the feeling of walking to a ballpark along with the crowd on a warm, sunny day for an afternoon game.

I was reminded of that on my way to the Orioles' most recent home game Tuesday at Camden Yards.

Walking over the Hamburg Street bridge in South Baltimore and then during the long trek through the parking lots, the feeling was there once again.

There were people wearing orange-and-black Orioles caps and shirts. There were small kids eager to get to the concession stands.

Everyone was smiling, happy, excited -- and walking faster than they would be coming back four hours later.

Rather than an April midday at spiffy Camden Yards, this looked like a midsummer day at old Memorial Stadium.

With so many youngsters in the crowd, it was hard to believe this was a school day. The attendance was 47,565, a Camden Yards record.

Just before 11 a.m., there were hundreds of people in line -- maybe 1,000 -- waiting for the gates to open. Dressed in shorts and T-shirts, they looked exactly like crowds on 33rd Street used to.

Then it dawned on me:

Where were all the yuppies? Where was the wine-and-cheese set? Where were the people who would be sipping Chardonnay?

Let's ask those two men over there, both in their mid-30s, both dressed casually for a hot day at the game.

One, Rob Jones, had his two kids with him, Sarah, 10, and Daniel, 8. The other, Vince Toni, was carrying a plastic bag that said Dundalk Community College Book Store. Both men work nights for CSX Transfer, formerly the Baltimore & Ohio.

Surely these guys weren't wine-and-cheesers. Chardonnay? No way.

These were Baltimore people. Just plain, solid, regular ol' Bawlmer guys.

Interestingly, they, too, were wondering about the makeup of Orioles crowds. They wondered why, since Camden Yards opened in '92, the media has concentrated on the fancy-schmancy types.

"They're just regular people here," said Rob Jones with a shrug, "the same as we had at the stadium."

Jones has a 29-game Orioles ticket plan. His seats are in the lower left-field stands. All the talk about yuppies puzzles him.

Vince Toni is another story. Like Rob Jones, Vince grew up in Dundalk. He now lives off Belair Road in an area called Cedmont. This was his first trip to Camden Yards.

"I'm amazed at the people here," said Toni, 36, who will get his undergraduate degree from the University of Baltimore next month.

"All I read about is this wine-and-cheese stuff. The other day I read about two guys coming to a game wearing suits standing up the whole game with their backs to the field.

"I was expecting to find a bunch of snobs here. These people today look like any other baseball crowd to me."

I asked the Jones children, who come to games with their dad frequently, how they would describe the crowds. The 10-year-old, Sarah, answered.

"Drunks," she said.

Well, that could be anywhere.

In the press box during the game, I talked about all this with Bob Brown, longtime Orioles public relations director who now edits the Orioles Gazette.

"Oh, we have people in the club level who have wine and cheese," Brown said, "but at Memorial Stadium we didn't have ... 5/8 ... 5/8 TC club level. Back there even the owner, Jerry Hoffberger, sat in the stands, right behind the Orioles dugout.

"But the majority of people in the stands now are exactly like the people we had at the stadium."

The club level in the mezzanine stretches from the right-field foul pole to just beyond the left-field foul pole. Waiters are available. So are lounges and private dining rooms.

Also at the club level are 72 luxury suites, each with 10 to 14 seats. The suites are leased on a yearly basis for between $55,000 and $95,000.

Now we're talking corporate. Now we're talking Chardonnay. Now we're talking suits.

"Except for the club level," said Ernie Accorsi, who joined the Orioles front office this year but attended hundreds of games on 33rd Street, "the same people are here.

"If we have blue-collar people here today they must always be here. Blue-collar people are at work at noon on Tuesdays."

The thing is, some people have an idea that all there are at Camden Yards are yuppies and suits, at least enough of them that an ordinary person might feel uncomfortable.

After the game, I checked with Vince Toni.

"I didn't think I was going to have too much fun because of what I'd read and heard," he said, "but I enjoyed it.

"I only saw one guy in a suit. And he took his coat off in the second inning."

No matter what you've heard, suits are rare at Camden Yards. What they have there, for the most part, are just regular old baseball fans.

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