Sox fans willingly make road trip

Oriole Park cheaper option than Fenway

July 28, 2004|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

Fenway Park is only 30 minutes from the home of Boston Red Sox fan Steve McDowell, but when he decides to go see his home team play, here is what he sometimes does:

Makes airline reservations, books a hotel room, drives an hour to Providence, R.I., hops on a plane to Baltimore, takes a shuttle to a hotel in the Inner Harbor, checks in, walks to Camden Yards and buys tickets.

The trek is not motivated solely by his love for the Red Sox (though that is intense), nor by an overwhelming fondness for Baltimore (though he likes it a lot). It's basic economics, a matter of supply and demand: Getting tickets at Fenway - baseball's smallest stadium - is often nearly impossible and very expensive. So, along the lines of Muhammad and the mountain, McDowell comes to Baltimore.

"It's difficult to get tickets at Fenway," McDowell, wearing a green Red Sox jersey (special St. Patrick's Day edition), explained, smoking a cigarette between innings as he leaned against an upper deck railing. "Most games are sold out, and if you go through a ticket agency, they can cost $300 or $400." Unlicensed agents, i.e. scalpers, often charge even more, he added.

Judging from the red caps and shirts in Monday night's crowd of 42,113 at Camden Yards, McDowell was far from alone. Red Sox fans, though they may not have outnumbered Orioles fans, out-rooted them to such an extent - granted, they had much more to cheer about in what was ultimately a 12-to-5 victory - one wondered who the home team really was.

Red Sox fans - mostly transplanted ones - have traditionally been well represented at Camden Yards, but Orioles officials suspect larger numbers have started making the trip from Boston in recent years, as ticket prices for Red Sox games at Fenway have continued to climb and sellouts have become more common.

While Red Sox fans are also known for attending Yankee games in large numbers, that phenomenon is more emotional than economic - the result of the heated rivalry between the two teams.

Though he hadn't done the math, McDowell said that by coming 400 miles to see the Red Sox play at Camden Yards, he might have actually saved money - even figuring in airfare for him and his wife. They took advantage of $50 each-way fares on Southwest Airlines, used their connections in the hotel business to find a bargain rate at an Inner Harbor hotel, and bought two $15 tickets. Fenway Park, criticized by some fans as becoming increasing elitist, has the highest ticket prices in the nation - more than twice the major league average - including its $110 seats atop the "Green Monster," the stadium's left field wall.

Prices like those play a major part in McDowell's coming to Baltimore - either flying or driving, about a seven-hour trip. He has been coming to Red Sox games in Baltimore for four years.

`A great city'

"We always have a great time when we come here," said McDowell, 37, of Concord, Mass., who planned to stay for at least two and possibly all three games of the series. "It's a great city."

The oldest ballpark in the nation, Fenway regularly churns out gate receipts that are among the highest in Major League Baseball - a reflection of both the team's popularity and high ticket prices.

Bleacher seats are $20. The outfield grandstand is $27. Seats in the infield grandstand, right field roof and right field box jump to $44. Loge and roof box seats cost $70, and field box seats are $75.

Orioles tickets, by comparison, start at $8 and max out at $45.

Orioles tickets have one other advantage over Red Sox tickets - they're available.

In Boston, season tickets are sold out, as are most individual game tickets, except for a limited number that go on sale on game day. For those, fans line up five hours in advance. Buying tickets to games at Fenway through brokers is a costly alternative. For the coming Orioles in Boston series, one agency, Buyselltix.com, lists prices running from $45 to $269. And scalpers outside the stadium are said to gouge more deeply.

As a result, Judy McMahon, a Boston resident, goes to Red Sox games "only when I can afford it. The last time we went, the guy wanted $100 for a ticket." On Monday night, for $15, she saw the Red Sox with her sister-in-law, Jean Stabile, of Fredericksburg, Va., whom she was visiting.

Richard Buckley, a carpenter from Cape Cod, brought his three sons to Baltimore to see the Red Sox, taking advantage of a free hotel night coupon his sister had given him as a gift.

"With the free hotel night, it actually comes out less [than a game at Fenway Park]. The tickets are way cheaper. We paid $12; up there would be three times that much - if we were lucky. It's hard to get them up there."

"This is awesome," added Buckley, 43. "I love this park, and we're sitting way at the top."

Most Red Sox fans interviewed here this week said that Camden Yards was a more pleasant place to see a game. At Fenway, the aisles are narrow and difficult to navigate, many of the seats have obstructed views, and parking and concessions are more expensive.

"When I go to Fenway, it costs $30 to park," said Jack Guinan, a wine importer from Boston, who drove down with his wife and two children for two games. "The last time we went, I took the kids and easily spent $200. I just heard an advertisement here for four tickets for $44. That doesn't happen in Boston.

Larger ballpark

"I love Fenway," Guinan said. "It's great, and steeped in tradition and all that." But if Boston ever decided to demolish it and build a larger ballpark - an idea that has been proposed but never approved - "I'd be the first guy to push the plunger."

Until then, Red Sox fans like Guinan will likely continue to see Baltimore as their home away from home.

"It's cheaper for us to come down here for three days," Guinan said, "and with the Democratic National Convention going on up there, it was a great time to get out of town."

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