4:38 PM EDT, March 23, 2013
It still felt like winter at Oriole Park on Saturday morning, but spring was in the air and baseball was already on the minds of the fans who showed up to shop for season tickets at the Orioles' first "Tag Day" since 2009.
No, it wasn't a special promotion that allowed fans to take the field and play a rousing game of touched-you-last.
It was an opportunity to walk around the ballpark and sit in the seats that are still available for purchase on a full- or partial-season basis. The event gets its name from the fact that the seats still for sale have cards attached to them that can be removed to reserve that location.
Most of the prime locations were already taken, according to Orioles officials, since the renewal rate after the Orioles' surprising 2012 season has been very high, but there were still plenty of good seats on the lower level and a steady stream of warmly dressed fans sizing them up.
"We see a noticeable increase in where we are,'' Orioles vice president of communications and marketing Greg Bader said. "I can't give you an exact number, but we definitely see an increase, and we're seeing a lot of new season ticket sales … new people and, in some cases, folks who maybe left three or four years ago who decided to come back. We're grateful to have their support back."
In some cases, it has been longer than that.
The Orioles spent 14 straight seasons (1998-2011) looking up at the .500 mark — sometimes a long way up — which put Oriole Park attendance into an almost perpetual state of decline. The team's fortunes took a dynamic turn in 2012, and that figured to be reflected in advance and season-ticket sales this year.
"Maybe eight or 10 years ago, we were involved in 13-game packages, but we haven't been doing it for awhile," said Skip Rogoski of White Marsh, who showed up with his wife, Linda, and were test-driving a couple of seats on the field level behind home plate. "We wanted to come out and see what's going on and maybe get a package this year."
There was a time, when Camden Yards was new, that the Orioles actually had to cap season-ticket sales to make sure that a steady flow of new fans and out-of-town visitors would get to sample the ballpark. The club may never have to ponder that again, with the Washington Nationals playing only a short drive away, but the long-awaited turnaround has sparked renewed interest in multigame packages.
"It's great because the season-ticket base really is where teams get the assurance that attendance is going to reach a certain level and, hopefully, we do a good enough job to bring them back year after year,'' Bader said. "So, we're seeing the renewal rate at all-time highs, and we're seeing new season-ticket holders at rates we haven't seen probably in the last 10 or 12 years."
When Keith Brackin of Cockeysville and Karen Hudson of Essex started dating, they both recognized that one of the big things they had in common was a longtime love of baseball and the Orioles. Apparently, they aren't afraid of commitment, because they showed up to buy two 29-game plans.
"It hasn't exactly been too exciting until last year,'' Brackin said. "We started dating, and she has ignited my fire to go back into it. I always was an avid fan."
Sorry, Keith, but Hudson said that it was Buck Showalter and the Orioles who actually relighted her fire.
"Oh man, it was amazing, because last year brought me back to the way it used to be,'' she said. "You grow up and you're used to The Oriole Way and you're used to them winning and having the tradition and all that. We haven't had that for 15 years. I can only hope that this season is going to be equally as great."
Debbie and Gary Morrell of York, Pa., already have very good seats on the first base side at Camden Yards, but they showed up anyway to push their granddaughter, Charlotte, around the ballpark in a stroller and check out what else was available.
"We just wanted to come down, hang out on the first day this season, and you never know what might have opened up to upgrade our seats,'' Gary Morrell said. "It was just in case, but we're quite happy with what we already have."
Andy and Jan Bandzwolek of Fallston showed up with their adult son, Steve, to pick out four 13-game plans.
"We come out to the games every once in awhile, and we've really enjoyed it,'' Andy said, "and the Orioles are playing well, and we're looking forward to a good year. They're having a good spring training so far."
Steve isn't actually part of the four-seat partnership, but he's also looking forward to seeing if the Orioles can build on last year's 93-win performance and maybe go a step or two deeper into the postseason.
"I've never been a season-ticket holder, but I do have to say that the last season you felt a different vibe in the entire stadium,'' he said. "Especially in August, and I was able to come to both playoff games here, and it was unbelievable."
The Rogoskis were wearing some Ravens gear to fend off the winter chill, but they didn't seem too concerned about the scheduling conflict that forced the NFL to send the defending Super Bowl champions on the road for their regular-season opener on Sept. 5.
"I feel bad that the Ravens can't play their opening game at home. … That's the shame of it,'' Linda Rogoski said. "But I can see where it wasn't just the Orioles. There were so many other teams involved. It was so complex on the Orioles' part. I don't know what they could have done.
"I'm more upset about all the Ravens players that left. That's what I'm upset about. Especially about Boldin. I'm not happy about that."
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