Ballpark sky boxes have rich tradition


Maybe you remember the famous exchange between Fitzgerald and Hemingway on the subject of the wealthy class. Here's the updated version.

Fitzgerald: The rich are different from us.

Hemingway: Yes, they have more sky boxes.

My ticket (actually a guest pass) said Suite 11. During the last homestand, a rich person invited me to a Camden Yards sky box. Why? Could it be because I had begged like a dog for an invitation in a previous column?

In any case, I waltzed over to the elevator -- the exclusive elevator, where they, shall we say, separate the wheat from the chaff. Being your basic chaff person, I was eyed suspiciously by the elevator operator until I flashed him the invite.

Sure, I was a little self-conscious, but I didn't want to let on. I took a deep breath, stepped off the elevator and acted like I owned the place. (That's easy. To act like you own the Orioles, the first thing you do is to try to get the rent payment delayed.)

I was greeted by a concierge, sitting behind a big desk that looks like it belongs in the kind of hotel lobby you saw in "Pretty Woman." You don't usually see a concierge at a ballpark. You see ushers. They take you to your seat and take a swipe at wiping off the beer stains. This is different.

The concierge will order flowers for you. Or a limo. Or theater tickets. They have perfume if you've run out. And nail polish -- a must item at the ballyard.

"We also offer Band-Aids," said Ann Lange, the extremely friendly concierge who was ushering me around.

4 "Are there a lot of fights up here?" I wondered.

She gave me one of those looks and then, smiling, gave me a story:

"One night, it starts to rain, and there's this man in a sailor hat who looks pretty upset. He asks me if I've got the number for the marina at the Inner Harbor. Because he left the hatches open on his sailboat. I got him the number, and he got everything straightened out."

That's a great service, because how many times have you gone to the ballpark and forgotten to close your hatches? Usually, I forget even to bring my boat. Actually, I've forgotten even to buy one.

We saw some other sights. There was the Diamond Club buffet, which goes for $19.95, but the menu includes stuffed roast pork loin, fruit de mer (which is what happens to your fruit if you don't close your hatches) and potatoes dauphinoise.

L "People buy hot dogs and sauerkraut, too," Lange assured me.

They did. They stood in lines that were maybe three deep. It took you exactly 44 minutes, 16 seconds less time to get a hot dog on the club level, which is open to sky-box people and club-level people, than it takes to get a sandwich at Boog's Barbecue out on Eutaw Street.

Finally, I got to the sky box, owned by a man named Burton Bank, who owns some kind of business. The box is great -- it should be since sky boxes cost between $55,000 and $95,000 a year. You've got an inside part of the box with a bar and a TV and a VCR (you have to bring your own movies) and an ice maker and a table and chairs and a menu that says, if you want to order six crab cakes, it'll run you $54. They keep the liquor cabinet stocked at whatever level you've ordered (a bottle of Chivas is $34), and they also bring pretzels (I didn't get the price, but they don't come free).

The inside is air-conditioned. The outside is, well, the outside. There are 14 seats in front of the box, which was even with first base. This is one of the few times you can sit at the ballpark and say you've literally got a nice seat. It's leather. Let's just say Ricardo Montalban would enjoy the seat.

The sky-box people were watching the game pretty much like everyone else (if you don't include the private monitor). They even did the wave. There are actually many better views in the ballpark, but, from these seats, you can retreat to the box for a beer. You can use the private bathroom with the Ogden Nash poem on the wall. You also can call your broker on your private phone.

Bank was extremely hospitable. He had his golf pro up there (so he can get earlier tee times). There were people who might have been part-owners of the box. There were friends and relatives. It was a typical night at the ballyard.

"I love to go to games, but I hate to sit in one place for three hours," Bank said. "This was perfect for me."

It would be perfect for me, too, except for that one little glitch that might have occurred to you.

It must have occurred to Bank. When I asked him how much a sandwich cost that someone in the box was eating, he said, laughing, "If you've got to ask, you don't belong up here."

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