Fans are on a roll with their Orioles

UP FRONT

Travel: Tour busses mean that serious fans can follow the O's almost anywhere. Just ask the Oriole Advocates.

March 30, 2000|By Greg Tasker | By Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

While Orioles fans with tickets to Monday's Opening Day game are planning their route to Camden Yards, Nick Mantzouris and his fiancee, Angela Reaves, are plotting road trips to see the Birds play in ballparks as far away as Arlington, Texas, and Cleveland. In fact, they began planning their trips long before the season opener.

For Mantzouris, Reaves and other avid Orioles fans, it's not enough to see the hometown team at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

"There's something unique about rooting for your own team outside of your own ballpark," says Mantzouris, an investigator with the U.S. Department of Defense and a long-time Orioles fan. "I like to see the Orioles play in other parks. It's just a love of baseball."

Mantzouris and Reaves, who is a personnel officer with the state of Maryland, are among the many Orioles fans who hit the road -- usually by bus, sometimes by plane or car -- to see Mike Mussina take the mound in Toronto or Brady Anderson take the field in Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland or New York.

The Laurel residents are members of the Orioles Advocates, a nonprofit community-outreach organization that charters buses to out-of-town games several times a season. Many other groups, from county recreation departments to teacher associations, also charter buses to away games.

Die-hard fans like Mantzouris and Reaves, bus operators and others will tell you, hit the road for all kinds of reasons: The love of baseball, the chance to visit old ballparks in Detroit and Boston, the opportunity to travel and sightsee, the camaraderie, and, in some cases, the chance to mingle with the players in hotels and restaurants.

"My personal sense is that the number of groups going to baseball games is on the rise," says Ginger Croce, director of marketing and membership for the Washington, D.C.-based American Bus Association, an organization that represents 900 bus and tour operators offering charter, tour and regular route service. "There are a lot of reasons to take a bus."

Such as? "You don't have to drive. You don't have to worry about traffic. And, if you want to, you can imbibe and do it safely," she says.

Organized bus trips to road games, such as the day and overnight excursions offered by Hunt Valley Motor Coach Inc., are a small part of the market. Even so, those companies report brisk business and happy customers.

"We fill up the bus every time we go," says Ed Royston, owner of Hunt Valley Motor Coach, which has organized trips to see the Orioles out of state for several years. "We generally go anywhere that you can get to within a day on a bus -- Detroit, Toronto, Boston, New York. A lot of people continue to come back year after year, especially to Yankee Stadium because it's a short trip."

Fans also are lured to New York because of the historical rivalry between the Orioles and the Yankees. "It's good to go in large numbers to Yankee Stadium," Royston says. He usually fills four or five buses for a New York trip. The buses comfortably seat 57 people.

Among Hunt Valley's planned excursions this spring and summer are a day trip to see the Yankees-Orioles on May 6, the Boston Red Sox June 27-29, and the Toronto Blue Jays July 20-23. Prices range from $69 per person for the day trip to $568-$596 for the extended excursions.

"It's good to have a bunch of people [at these games] from Baltimore to cheer when something good happens," says Royston, "Sometimes we're the only ones there in a group. Other fans are scattered. I think it helps [out the team] a little bit, to at least have a cheering section."

Upscale bus trips can be booked with A & C Luxury Lines Inc., which offers road trips in refurbished motor coaches with a bar, couches, recliners, card tables, videos and other amenities. The coaches seat no more than 12-15 people. This season's schedule includes a five-day trip to Toronto's Skydome to see the Orioles play the Blue Jays. The cost is $805 per person.

"We do a lot of road trips, but it depends on the Orioles' schedule," says Skip Casper, owner of the Howard County-based company. "We have to do our trips between May and the end of August. For whatever reasons, Orioles fans are fair-weather fans. Even if Orioles are in first place, we won't go to Boston to see them play after Sept. 1. The fans won't go."

The luxury buses attract a mix of people, everyone from grandchildren and grandparents to all ages in between. Younger customers -- those in their 20s and 30s -- tend to take the trips solely to see the Orioles play. Older generations want to see the old ballparks.

"It's amazing. The older guys know things like when Tiger Stadium opened, how much a hot dog was then," Casper says. "It's amazing what they know when it comes to trivia. Some of these guys have seen Babe Ruth play."

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