Faces Loaded

Fans aren't eating like birds in the Orioles' new all-you-can-eat seats

August 13, 2007|By KEVIN COWHERD

Take me out to the ballgame,

Take me out to the crowd.

Keep the food coming, and give me some space.

I'm just here to stuff my fat face.

Oh, yes, they'll definitely have to tinker with the lyrics to Jack Norworth's classic song if this keeps up.

It's a steamy August weeknight, and along with some 600 other fans, I'm gorging myself in the Orioles new All-You-Can-Eat Left Field Club seats, where, after the purchase of a $35 advance ticket ($40 on game days), we're chowing down on unlimited amounts of hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, peanuts, ice cream and soda.

Sure, go ahead and ask: Is this a desperate marketing ploy by a losing ball club hoping to slow the hemorrhaging of its fan base?

Maybe.

But who cares right now?

All five all-you-can-eat sections are packed with fans young and old, rich and poor, hefty and not-so-hefty, many of us packing it away like there's no tomorrow.

On our wrists, we proudly wear the symbol of our piggish fraternity: a blue paper bracelet emblazoned with a picture of a bathroom scale, its digital readout zooming dizzily north of 200 pounds.

(OK, we're kidding about the picture of the scale.)

On the green, manicured field below, some sort of baseball game appears to be taking place.

Is it the Orioles against the Mariners?

Is that stoic Steve Trachsel on the mound for the O's?

Whatever.

The Orioles opened their all-you-can-eat sections, with a total of 800 seats, last month, right after the All-Star break. It has been - you'll pardon the expression --- a big, fat success story.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were the first major-league team to use the all-you-can-eat gimmick. They did this to sell Dodger Stadium's "underappreciated" seats - in this case, 3,000 seats in right field where there might as well have been an outbreak of Ebola virus, so strongly did fans avoid them.

The gimmick worked. Now that fans can pig out for 35 bucks, the seats have reportedly been filled to 70 percent capacity. Not long after that, the Orioles, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals jumped on the "Strap-on-the-Feedbag" bandwagon.

Here, up in Section 288, with the smell of grilling franks and oil wafting through the air, you can almost feel the saturated fats turbo-charging your cholesterol level, and the game is a mere sideshow.

In fact, if the Orioles follow this up with all-you-can-drink seating, with unlimited amounts of Budweiser, Heineken and Miller Lite available, the game would probably disappear from our consciousness altogether.

Four rows in front of me, Matt Heinrichs, 31, a systems engineer from Relay, solemnly intones his key stats for that evening: three hot dogs inhaled, along with nachos, two ice creams and four sodas.

His friend, 29-year-old J.J. Linton of Baltimore, has put up similar numbers. Heinrichs' dad, John, is working on even more Ruthian totals: four hot dogs, nachos, two ice creams and four sodas.

I know, I know. Where do we find such men?

Not at the salad bar, that's for sure.

"Hey, it's the fifth inning, and I can barely get up the stairs," says John Heinrichs with a laugh.

Yes, and if we keep eating like this, we may all just explode when we stand for the seventh-inning stretch. Imagine that: five sections of fans, dispatched, just as, say, Miguel Tejada comes to bat.

Do the math

But, seriously, the numbers do suggest that if you're a big eater, the all-you-can-eat section can save you some, um, dough.

"We're always looking for a way to provide some sort of all-inclusive experience for our fans ... especially families on a budget," says Greg Bader, the team's spokesman.

Concession prices at Camden Yards can be scarily high. The average price of a hot dog is $4.50. Nachos cost $6. Peanuts and popcorn go for $3.50, soda for $3.25, ice cream for $2.50.

By that measure, John Heinrichs has gone through ... give me a sec, doing the math here ... $42 worth of food and drink by the fifth inning.

That, plus a club-level seat that normally costs $25, means he's making out on the deal.

Of course, as with everything in life, there are trade-offs.

For one thing, the O's all-you-can-eat seats are not the greatest seats, either. They're situated in a more Spartan area of the club level with no air conditioning.

Plus, they're so far out in left field, it looks as if you're watching the game from a Goodyear blimp floating somewhere over Canton.

On the other hand, they're only about 30 steps from the food counter. Who needs to see Brian Roberts slam a double to right field when you yourself can slam back two all-beef Esskay franks, two ice creams and two sodas without pulling a $20 bill out of your wallet?

There's also the matter of whether a baseball team should be encouraging the unlimited consumption of salty, fatty foods and sugary soft drinks in this age of rampant obesity.

But, hey, let's not be a downer here! Besides, not too many in this crowd seem hung up on health.

Over the limit

As the game goes on, the line at the food counter remains steady between innings.

A sign on the counter says: "Guests are limited to 2 of each item per visit. Thanks for your cooperation."

"From what we can tell, [the fans] are really abiding by that rule," says Kelly Sanford, an usher working in Section 282.

Well, maybe.

But in the seventh inning, as I stand in line for popcorn, I watch a young man in a black Def Leppard T-shirt grab five hot dogs, stack them one atop the other and race back to his seat.

It's a big-league move.

I'd tip my cap to him, except my fingers are too greasy.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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