Sold-out games. Sold-out homestands. Maybe soon, a sold-out season. It's enough to drive an Orioles fan to drink, preferably from an official souvenir ballpark cup.
But just when the ticket situation at Camden Yards seemed desperate, here comes some comforting news: There are still lots of great seats on sale for Orioles games.
The only problem is that the team doesn't have them. The best inventories appear to be in the hands of a small group of local ticket brokers who are selling them at prices you'd expect to pay for a night at a hotel.
Looking to buy two tickets to Sunday's Orioles-Yankees game? It's a virtual sellout, the team says. But Top Centre Tickets says it has a few lower box seats with a great view of first base.
Purchased from the Orioles, the prime seats are $13 apiece. Top Centre's amazing-but-true price: $85.
Seeking something slightly cheaper? No problem. Top Centre, located in Washington, says it has tickets for Orioles games through the rest of the season, at prices to fit the budget of nearly every investment banker.
A woman who answered the firm's toll-free number yesterday offered an extensive price list, with tickets as low as $35 for midweek games next month to $85 for the best seats to games against the Orioles' most attractive opponents, including the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics.
Top Centre is not alone in the business of reselling Orioles tickets. Most days, about a half-dozen agencies advertise seats for sale in the classified ad section of The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers. They don't appear to be violating any laws because Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in the state that prohibits ticket scalping -- and none seems to be operating inside the city limits.
The Orioles say they don't like the practice, but they are powerless to stop it.
"We certainly don't condone it, and we definitely discourage it," said team spokesman Rick Vaughn. "But other than policing our own area -- the ballpark grounds -- there's really not a whole lot we can do about it."
On game days, Mr. Vaughn said, uniformed police and plainclothes men patrol the stadium hoping to catch ticket scalpers. The Orioles are particularly careful about allowing their limited supply of standing-room tickets to fall into scalpers' hands. Sale of those tickets is restricted to the day of the game, and police watch carefully to make sure they aren't resold at a profit.
"We do what we can to thwart it on-site. We think we've made it virtually impossible," Mr. Vaughn said.
By accident, the Orioles appear to be making life tougher for the ticket brokers, too. As the team's ticket supplies have dwindled, ticket resellers have had to hustle faster than ever to keep their own inventories stocked.
"It used to be you could buy out of the box office, but you can't anymore. There's nothing left," said a ticket broker who operates in Catonsville and identified himself only as Peter.
He said tickets he resells come from several sources. After buying from the box office, the most fertile market is from season-ticket holders who want to sell some of their seats at a profit.
Those tickets go into the broker's inventory, where they are fetching some of the highest prices ever for an Orioles game. Even tickets for the last game at Memorial Stadium -- which sold for $45 to $65 -- didn't touch some of the prices scalpers are getting this year for a premium seat at Camden Yards.