On the ticket line, way, WAY back The Fan: The quintessential postseason question -- are two in the stands worth warming the sidewalk with your tush? Or is there a better way?

September 08, 1997

The dreamy, selfless purist in The Fan would like the Orioles to sweep Seattle -- or whomever they face in the division series -- in three games. The pragmatic ticket holder in The Fan wants the series to go all five games.

With the Orioles cruising toward the end of the regular season, The Fan has busied herself with the only remaining tension of the pennant race: Getting tickets to the first round of the playoffs.

The Fan can't tell you what it was like to get in line on Wednesday for tickets that wouldn't go on sale until Saturday. In her quest for tickets, she saw no sunrises over the warehouse nor nightfalls amid the early-bird fans and mercenaries hired by scalpers to hold places in line for them. Nope, The Fan did a sophisticated cost-benefit analysis -- the cost of a long, uncomfortable wait vs. the benefits of better seats, the cost of her warm bed on a Saturday morning vs. the benefit of being there for the first postseason step on the trail to the World Series.

The upshot: The Fan got to the park a mere 15 minutes before tickets went on sale at 11 a.m. Saturday and became the 569th person in line. So this is the view not from the front of the line, where the stalwart and understandably grubby were rewarded for their days and nights of sidewalk slumming, but the view from the far end.

A line, of course, is only as good as the number of people behind you. This was not a good line, as only a dozen or so other people came after the procrastinating Fan. It's a laid-back, risk-taking crowd back there, fans with their fanaticism in check. Yeah, they'd like to get in, but they're not about to sleep on concrete for the privilege. Get real!

"This was my gamble," said Donald Vundhla, a banker one-up on The Fan with number 568.

The Fan, though, brought an extra weapon -- a borrowed cell phone. At the magic hour, when both the ticket booths and TicketMaster opened for business, The Fan let her fingers do the walking. She hit the TicketMaster number she'd previously stored and, surprise, got a busy signal. Over and over again, like several others within eyeshot, she hit end-recall-send, end-recall-send, end-recall-send. Busy, busy, busy.

But then, at 11: 47, a ring! While word in the line had it that Game 3 (the first to be played in Baltimore after two in the rival city) had already sold out but seats were still available for Games 4 and 5, TicketMaster only had tickets for the last game. Panicked, The Fan went for the maximum four, way down right field and way over in the far reaches of the upper reserve section.

The Fan and her linemates, still far from the ticket booths, chew on their grim prospects. Are TicketMaster and the Orioles ticket booths on the same computer system? Or did the Orioles only give the ticket agency a certain number to sell, keeping a larger chunk for the booths at the park? What if we laggards of the line only get Game 5 tickets and the series ends before that?

"Five games would be too exciting," Vundhla says with a shiver. "And it would be terrible to lose at home."

The Fan considers that, for maybe half a second, then decides she wants that fifth game that she has tickets for. She's getting a little cranky after two hours on her feet. The line reminds her of a plane ride -- the crying baby and the person with loud opinions are always right on top of her -- but without seats or those little bottles of booze.

The line stumbles forward, past dead pizza boxes, random parts of newspapers and the rest of the detritus of the all-nighters. Women in long, sequined dresses from a Camden Club event come out for a smoke and Afram festivalgoers wander by. It's gray and chilly, then it's drizzly, then it's sunny and then it's gray again. The tail of the line has gone from near Russell Street, past the breezeway, up through the Eutaw Street plaza and, around 1: 30, to the ticket booths themselves.

The Fan will take anything at this point, which is what she gets: Two singles for Game 4, same row, but different although adjacent sections, 258 and 260, terrace boxes. Two more tickets, next to each other for Game 5 in Section 386 way out in the left field upper boxes. All four much better than the TicketMaster tickets from 90 minutes ago.

After everyone in line has been through, there are tickets left so The Fan and some others hanging around go back to the booths to see what else they can get. In some kind of Stockholm syndrome, they're so crazed from the tortuous ordeal, they go back for more.

Some ticket employees go ahead and sell the remaining tickets; others disappear to ask supervisors if that's allowed. The Fan finally gets one more ticket, a single box seat for Game 4 in Section 12 down the right field line.

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