Beer system goes high-tech at new ballpark


It's April 1992. You've come to the new ballpark to see, well, the new ballpark. You're tingly inside, the preferred location for tingles.

But, hey, you're thirsty, too. You wonder, in this $105.4 million ballpark into which millions of baseball fans with dry mouths will stroll, is there a place to get a draught beer? Not surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Beer will be for sale at many of the 32 refreshment stands planned for the new ballpark. For the most part, the procedure will be the same as at Memorial Stadium: Plunk down your money, pick up your cup.

But there will be a few subtle differences, including this one: Most of the Budweiser will be in the basement.

Before the Baltimore Orioles are besieged with requests for underground season tickets, understand that you'll still be able to buy your favorite brand at all levels of the new ballparks. The change only is in how it will be delivered to the various food and drink stands.

At Memorial Stadium, the method is fairly simple, if labor intensive. Before each game, a burly person visits all the stands where beer is sold, dropping off a keg or two or three. Servers then attach the supply to a tap and begin filling souvenir collector's cups.

At the new ballpark, technology, and about 6,500 feet of tubing, has changed that. Instead of being delivered to each stand, beer kegs will be stored underground in two huge refrigerators. When a guy sitting on the third-base side gets a hankering for a brew, he'll search out the stand nearby. He'll order. His beer will be pumped through up to 225 feet of tubing, much of it embedded in cement floors or suspended from ceilings and walls. In some cases, the drinks will have traveled farther to the stand than the drinkers.

The high-tech system isn't expected to affect the flavor or temperature of ballpark beer, according to Joe Costa, regional general manager for ARA Leisure Services Inc., one of the caterers at the old and soon-to-be ballparks. It should cut down drastically on emergency deliveries to various refreshment stands.

"It'll help us better supply beer to the building," Costa said. "And it means our people will be running around with fewer kegs in the concourse."

The downtown ballpark is not the first to be equipped with a tubular beer system. Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and The Superdome in New Orleans are among ballparks that use it. The system in Baltimore is one of the most extensive, however, in the number of stands it serves and all the tubing that is being used. For now, 18 of 22 stands on the main concourse of the ballpark will be fed by kegs stored in the basement refrigerators. The remaining four are beyond the beer system's 225-foot pumping capacity. Concession stands on the upper deck will have their own beer supplies and also will pump beer down to the mezzanine level.

For now, nine stands have been connected to the tubes. Next week, workers expect to begin assembling the main refrigerators, which aren't to be mistaken for your average side-by-side kitchen model. For one thing, there's no butter dish. It is also larger -- 36 feet long and 10 feet high. Work on the beer system should be completed by February.

While the beer coolers are being assembled, workers have begun to install some of the ballpark's roughly 47,000 seats. So far, about 8,000 of the standards (the hardware that holds the actual seat) have been screwed into place. All the seats are expected to be installed by Thanksgiving.

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