During baseball season I spend a fair amount of time thinking up work-related excuses to attend a game. For several years now, I have marked the start of the season by carrying a digital watch and an instant-read thermometer to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I use the devices to record how long I wait in line at concessions stands and how hot or cold my food is when I get it, and then I write about my findings.
This year I added a new wrinkle. I also timed how long $20 lasted me as I bought ballpark eats and drinks. The smart-aleck answer is the money was gone by the third inning. That is the truth. But the whole truth is that I started eating and drinking an hour and a half before the game started. If I held off until the game began, my stash would have probably lasted until the seventh inning.
According to the stopwatch, the $20 withstood almost two hours of eating and drinking. In that period I consumed a $3.75 Italian sausage, a $4.75 Maryland-brewed beer, a $2.75 bowl of crab soup and a $8.75 plate of tangy barbecued ribs.
The temperature of all these items was in the ballpark of where it should be. The hot food was reasonably warm, the beer was cold. The only temperature that was far out of alignment was my own. Like most of this spring, the first day of the baseball season was colder than normal, and this affected the statistics. For example, the temperature of the crab soup, 142 degrees, was no record setter. By my rate of soup sipping, three minutes for the entire bowl was a personal best. I chugged the bowl.
At 1: 34 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time), I took my place in line at an Italian sausage stand on the Eutaw Street walkway near the right field foul pole. Business was as brisk as the weather. By 1: 37 p.m. I had my sausage, with peppers and onions, in my hand and I had my thermometer in the sausage. The thermometer registered 100 degrees, down 10 degrees from the big hot dogs I had purchased at the park in previous years. While it wasn't sizzling, the sausage had good flavor. Be sure to get onions and peppers. I polished the sausage off in 10 minutes, flat.
To slake my thirst I rode the escalator up to the newest stand selling Maryland micro-brewed beers. The stand, on the top deck of the ballpark behind home plate, near sections 338-342, offered a great view of the traffic jam near the ballpark. At 1: 59 p.m. I was at the stand, ordering a Brimstone Honey Red. By 2 p.m. I was sipping the 36-degree beer. This was a record low temperature for ballpark beer, 4 degrees lower than any suds I have measured in the five years of sticking a thermometer in ballpark beer.
Everything was cold on this day. The honey beer was a tad too sweet for my taste but that didn't keep me from draining the cup. I joined a few other fans who were sipping Maryland brewed beers and were enjoying the smug sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing a traffic jam that you aren't stuck in.
We saw the motorcade of President Bill Clinton sweep into the park. It was impressive. One fellow said he hadn't seen that many shiny black cars since the funeral of his rich uncle. Another sipper said the Chevy Suburban vans in the motorcade would look much cooler if they had "skirts" covering their rear wheels. That is what happens when you drink beer at 2 o'clock on a weekday afternoon. You become an expert, even on fashion.
I wandered the ballpark in search of warmth. At 2: 45 p.m. I found myself standing near a concession stand under the left-field seats. The wind was blowing. The shade was shading. My teeth were about to chatter. There was no one in line. Then a bowl of a crab soup came to my rescue.
As the game began I moved to where the sun was shining, on a pavilion beyond the right-field fence. This is my favorite spot in the ballpark. It is virtually always sunny. It offers a terrific view of the field. And it smells so good.
Two barbecue operations, Boog's and Bambino's, are right next door, tempting passers-by with their sweet smoke. I succumbed to the ribs, which came with corn bread and coleslaw. While I prefer a vinegar-based sauce penetrating my pork ribs, the honey and orange sauce used on these ribs was tasty stuff. They were gone in less than 15 minutes.
I was going to take the temperature of the ribs, when my own temperature suddenly rose. I was kissed hello by a glamorous, local TV anchorwoman who was also "working" at the ballpark.
Eating ribs, watching baseball, getting bussed by a beauty -- life, I thought, couldn't get much better. But then I heard about the occasional beer-tastings being held this season before some games played by the minor-league Frederick Keys. This Thursday night, for example, the ballpark restaurant is offering a sampling of five Blue Ridge brews, some ballpark cuisine and a ticket to the Keys-Kingston Indians contest for $35 per adult. Reservations are required. I am working on a scheme to get me there. Maybe the old thermometer ruse will work.
Pub Date: 5/12/96