No baseball, no problem

October 17, 1994|By Robin Miller

ONCE I WAS a baseball addict -- addicted to the easy money that the sport brought me. I became dependent on baseball for my living during the summer and early fall. I had to because the cab business is usually slow during that time.

Every time a game was scheduled, I knew I could go to any downtown hotel and, within seconds, be on my way to Camden Yards with a safe, high-tipping fare in my taxi's back seat. I knew that anytime after the seventh inning I could head for the ballpark and immediately grab a fare. I scheduled my work hours around Orioles home games.

I panicked when I heard the baseball players were going to strike: Without baseball, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up my cab payments, let alone earn enough money for rent and food. I was earning between $50 and $100 from each Orioles game, which was my entire nightly profit after expenses during most of the summer.

The first night of the baseball strike, a Friday, I was almost shaking as I climbed in my cab and headed downtown. I needed money badly and was afraid that I wouldn't earn any. "What am I going to do?" I asked myself. "What will I do if I don't earn enough for expenses?"

I took in almost $200 that night, which made it my best night in the cab since June 1.

As the strike progressed I noticed that I was actually making more money without baseball's crowds than I had earned from them. Camden Yards and the businesses near it were dead, of course, but the rest of the town seemed to have as many people in it as usual, if not a few more. The trend kept up. I was completely recovered from my baseball addiction by the first of September.

The fact that there are no playoffs and no World Series has not kept tourists home or turned Baltimoreans into recluses. Fells Point has been even more jammed than usual on weekend nights. Little Italy is so full of people that it is almost impossible to drive through its narrow streets. Obrycki's Crab House, at Pratt Street and Broadway, is calling more cabs than ever. Other popular spots have been just as mobbed.

The Inner Harbor no longer sees the throngs that baseball brings in one fell swoop, but it appears to be as busy as it was when most in the crowds wore Orioles hats and/or T-shirts. Moreover, the crowds now seem to be spending more than the baseball crowds did. Maybe the money that would have been spent on baseball fare now goes to other pursuits.

With the strike on, Baltimore still is a major-league town when it comes to entertainment. We have museums and the National Aquarium. We have nightclubs that range from romantic to raucous, and home-grown music offerings for every taste, from the symphony orchestra and fine jazz people to budding rock and hip-hop groups.

Baltimore is probably losing a little tourist business from the baseball strike, but we may be gaining some long-term good from it, too. Instead of jumping in the cab at the hotel and saying, "We want to go to Little Italy and we'll need a cab to the game after we eat," tourists are starting to ask where they can find little, off-beat restaurants and attractions they wouldn't seek out if they were fixated on baseball.

I take the tourists to restaurants in Mount Vernon, dance joints in Fells Point, jazz clubs and other places. Almost invariably, when I pick them up at the end of their evenings out, they say something like, "We didn't know Baltimore had so much to offer. Robin Miller writes from Baltimore.

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