End os the season of our discontent

Orioles: Some fault the team. For others, it's the weather. But all agree that interest in the O's is lower this year and that it's affecting business.

September 03, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

You know it's been a slow summer at Camden Yards when nearly two months of baseball remain and sports fans are talking about the Ravens more than the Orioles at Pickles Pub, the most loyal of O's bars .

Yesterday's Orioles game against the Indians in Cleveland wasn't even showing at the pub, just a stone's throw from the stadium, until a reporter asked about it.

The area around the downtown stadium has bustled with activity every summer since it opened eight years ago. But this season, foot traffic and consumer confidence around Camden Yards waned as the team fell out of the pennant race early, then replaced several of its stars with younger, lesser-known players. Even the Ironman, Cal Ripken Jr., missed half the season with injuries before he returned to the lineup Friday night.

Last Wednesday, Oriole Park hosted the smallest crowd for a regularly scheduled game since it opened in 1992. Capacity is 48,876, but 31,383 fans showed that night.

"Normally on game days, you can't move in here," said Pickles bartender Tina Jacobi, 27. "Now you can. It's sad because Camden Yards is a place everybody used to go."

She estimates beer sales dropped 10 percent in the past month. "People were very disheartened," Jacobi said. "Luckily, we have football season coming, and the Ravens look good."

Two blocks down the street in Ridgelys Delight, the owner of the Strike Three bar was watching the game - alone - until about 3 p.m., when a customer wandered in for a drink.

"We keep the game on in case somebody comes in," said Bill Barnes, 72, who has owned Strike Three for 10 years.

Business was only a little bit better at Boomerang Pub in Federal Hill. A handful of customers sat at the bar, eating Australian food and watching the game.

"We've definitely noticed the lack of patrons this year," co-owner Mark Haddad said.

At the Mobil gasoline station across from the stadium, part-owner John Hill blamed the weather for keeping fans away. More than 14 inches of rain fell this summer, with July bringing no more than two consecutive dry days.

Hill rents 30 parking spaces next to his station for $20 each on game days. Though patrons pay him for parking at the beginning of the season, about a third of them stopped showing up as the season progressed.

"It was never like that before," he said.

Even the McDonald's on Washington Boulevard in Pigtown noticed the drop-off. When the retro ballpark opened to rave reviews, McDonald's remodeled part of the restaurant as a shrine to the Orioles, with pictures of players and the stadium, as well as a neon baseball bat and glove on the ceiling.

"We used to get a lot of people in here," said manager Michelle Bonaparte, 45, "Not this year."

Souvenir stores also felt the pinch.

Mike Durham, owner of The Sport Shop at Harborplace and Towson Town Center, said sales of Orioles gear are down 10 to 15 percent this year. He said people are still buying O's gear, and the most popular item is still a $10 replica cap.

"Your local person who goes to 20 games is not buying as much," he said. "But tourists are."

Jim Mitchell, who lives in an apartment above Pickles, said in addition to people not buying Orioles paraphernalia in droves, many are not paying to go to the games.

"You see people are out front giving tickets away," he said. "It's not a scalper's market out there."

Then he corrected himself: "Excuse me - they like to be called ticket brokers."

Because Mitchell parks his car on the street, he resorts to illegally leaving it on a concrete median during game days. He has a bouncer at the bar move it when a legal space becomes available, a service he exchanges for free use of his bathroom.

"If we were close to the playoffs, I'd double-park my car with joy," he said. "But now I just want the season to be over."

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