Bill Floyd was first in line at the Orioles box office early yesterday morning, but the A-1 position didn't do him much good.
Floyd had hoped to purchase four tickets to each of about a half-dozen weekend dates at the new stadium. Instead, he walked away with just one set. He'll be using them on the next available Sunday at the ballpark: Sept. 13.
"With the new ballpark, that's just the way it is," said Floyd, who accepted the chronic ticket shortage with a sense of humor. "We never bought tickets in advance for Memorial Stadium. If the weather was good, we'd go. If it wasn't, we didn't. You can't do that anymore."
Cora Barnes was less understanding. She wanted four tickets so she could treat her son and other family members to Sunday night's Orioles-Yankees matchup. It's a Father's Day gift she apparently won't be giving.
"I'm surprised and I'm irritated," she said after being turned down. "I would never expect them to be sold out so far in advance. It can't be."
Which Orioles games are sellouts and, more important, which aren't?
It's a straightforward question for which there don't seem to be any straightforward answers.
Orioles officials won't discuss the issue in detail. They say they can't offer reliable numbers because their inventory fluctuates every day as season-ticket holders turn in seats they can't use and leaders of large groups send in their returns.
But the message is less ambiguous at the stadium box office, where customers often run through six or seven dates before they can find two or four tickets in the same location.
Those who lined up yesterday were told that the picture for weekend games is particularly bleak. Four remaining weekend dates in June are gone, as are four in July and four in August. The next Saturday game for which fans now can buy adjoining seats is Sept. 12, a Saturday evening contest against the Milwaukee Brewers. Even then, the best tickets available are $10 upper-box seats tucked into the left-field corner. The next Sunday date with side-by-side seats left is Sept. 13.
For fans who prefer watching to socializing, scattered single seats are available for many of the weekend games.
Vince Dunbar, Orioles vice president for sales, acknowledged that ticket supplies on the weekends are especially thin. But he urged customers who can't get the tickets they want to wait several days and try again.
"We'd like them to periodically check at the box office. Occasionally, we get some returns," he said.
In addition to group returns and season-ticket exchanges, the box office also receives tickets held by the team for use by various officials. Those tickets, many in prime locations, often are released for sale on the day of the game, usually by early afternoon.
Some Orioles fans, including one at the ticket window yesterday, are wondering why the team and the Maryland Stadium Authority limited seating in the new park to 48,041 seats, about 4,000 fewer seats than at Memorial Stadium. But stadium authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad said he has "absolutely no second thoughts" about the planning for the new ballpark.
Belgrad said consultants had warned the stadium authority to expect attendance to rise 20 percent in the ballpark's first year, but predicted it would fall back eventually.
"The Orioles are experiencing the same kind of growth that was anticipated, but we don't expect that to continue indefinitely," he said.
As tickets disappear, the Orioles are cruising toward some truly amazing attendance numbers. After 29 dates at the new ballpark, the Orioles have 16 sellouts and an average attendance of 43,782. That's an average of 11,000 fans more than the team drew last year at Memorial Stadium.