Before the Orioles game last Friday evening, four men socialized at a popular bar on South Calvert Street.
By 7 o'clock, a half-hour before game time, they began to walk to Camden Yards.
"Who's got the tickets?" one of them asked.
"We'll get 'em on the way over there," said the man who had organized the outing.
Get 'em on the way over? Who was he kidding?
The Orioles sell out every night. Where was this guy going to come up with four tickets?
In a matter of minutes, they found out.
Across Pratt Street they walked, then south on Sharp and then west on Camden to the ballpark. Along the way, they were besieged by scalpers.
"I've never seen anything like it," one of the men said. "It was like being in a marketplace somewhere in the Middle East with street vendors climbing all over you.
"These guys were pretty sophisticated. The ones who had the best tickets held up seating charts of the ballpark. They'd point to a specific location and say, 'Got four good ones right here, section so-and-so.' "
The organizer was not without sophistication himself. He knew better than to grab the first offer, even though the first pitch was only 15 minutes off.
He looked at one scalper's tickets and said, "No, we can do better than this." He turned down two others before making a deal with a fourth.
The seller asked $30 per ticket. The buyer got him down to $20 each. The face value of each ticket was $12.
Both buyer and seller decided this was the best deal they could make with the game only minutes away. The organizer handed the scalper $80.
This, to be sure, was no big deal. This was routine. This is the way this man and no doubt many others buy their tickets.
"You never have to worry about getting shut out," he said. "These scalpers are out there before every game. So we paid a few bucks more than face value. So what? I don't want to go to the expense or the bother of buying season tickets -- not that you could get good ones, anyway.
"I don't want to go to 81 games. I go four, five, six times a year. I go if it's a nice night, if a good team is playing that night. You give a guy a few extra bucks and it's done. No problem."
Ah, but there is a problem.
According to the Baltimore City code, Article 19, Section 198, Ordinance 1574, from 1958-1959, scalping tickets is against the law.
The penalty is not very severe. The fine is not less than $5 nor more than $500. Each ticket is considered to be a separate offense.
Scalping is defined as selling a ticket for more than face value. If sold at face value or less, there is no violation of the law.
Ticket scalping may seem like small potatoes, but it's wrong.
For one thing, it's against the law. For another, the average person can't buy decent Orioles tickets. They're sold out. Only a few hundred standing-room tickets are sold on game day.
Another thing: How do all these tickets fall into the hands of scalpers?
And where are the police when the scalping is done so flagrantly? Clearly the scalpers have no fear of being apprehended.
Joseph J. DiBlasi thinks it's wrong, too.
DiBlasi is a veteran city councilman from the 6th District, in which Oriole Park is situated. He has introduced two bills -- Nos. 819 and 833 -- that would make the penalty for ticket scalping tougher.
A hearing on the bills was held yesterday at City Hall. DiBlasi is the chairman of a standing City Council committee called the Professional and Municipal Sports Committee.
Bill No. 819 would double the maximum penalty for scalping to $1,000. No. 833 would prohibit the re-sale of tickets on public rights of way (streets) within one mile of Oriole Park.
"The Orioles owner, Peter Angelos [a former Baltimore City councilman], asked for these bills," DiBlasi said before the hearing. "The Orioles don't want their fans hassled. Having a man like Pete own the team is the best of all possible worlds. If there's a problem, he knows how to deal with it. He understands the process."
Not everyone is against ticket scalping. One man who testified asked what he was supposed to do with tickets he was stuck with.
Said DiBlasi: "You do what people have always done. You sell them at face value, you give 'em away or you eat 'em."
Gil Griggs, who once was identified as a super fan of the NFL's Baltimore Colts, spoke in defense of scalping. Said he: "What's the big deal? It's capitalism. It's the American way."
Lou Kousouris, special assistant to Angelos, said: "We believe if a ticket is worth a certain price it should not be sold for more than that."
Roy Sommerhof, chief of stadium operations at Camden Yards, said some fans feel intimidated when approached by scalpers as they leave their parked cars. Kousouris said the Orioles are paying $700 to $1,000 a night for additional private security solely to police scalping.
Scalpers have many tricks, Sommerhof said. Some will buy a $4 ticket and, with a pen, put a "1" in front of the "4" and sell it for $14. Some buy tickets for fictitious groups.
Many citizens want police chasing drug dealers and murderers, not ticket scalpers.
The City Council will vote on the bills Monday night.