Fresh off the plane from Detroit yesterday, Riechl Mayne and his buddies came straight to the furnace that is Camden Yards in July and quickly encountered All-Star capitalism:
$650 for an All-Star ticket, a scalper on Camden Street says.
"Hah!" Mr. Mayne says.
Prediction: At game time, tickets will go for $80. This from Mr. Mayne and his buddies, the All-Star voices of experience.
These guys know. Mr. Mayne and Ken Kolb, Lonny Dziegelewski, Louis Kafati and Paul Gluchowski do this every year. They show up ticketless in the All-Star city. And they always get in.
"This is our vacation right here," Mr. Kolb says. "The wives and girlfriends, they're in Vegas right now."
Last year, the guys were in San Diego, where they got tickets at game time for $60 each. Before that, it was Cincinnati, Toronto, Chicago and Anaheim. They're already talking about next year in Pittsburgh.
Their jaunt has become a hallowed tradition. It's recreation: A weekend exploring a new town with the guys. It's shopping: The All-Star T-shirts and pins and caps. It's sport: A game of chicken with ticket-scalpers, who on the streets of Baltimore are offering tourists a chance to see history for $300 and more a ticket.
So few tickets. Such high price tags. But it can't ruin their fun. Baltimore, Mr. Gluchowski declares after two hours in the city, is "awesome."
A sixth friend will arrive today. Meanwhile, seven women, Mr. Gluchowski says, are arriving in Las Vegas.
Seven women? Six men?
K? "Make up any story you want to explain it," Mr. Mayne says.
We are here at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the ballpark hailed around the country for its elegance.
In All-Star Week, we have embellished that elegance. A pair of two-story inflatable Diet Coke cans, tethered with guy wires, flank a giant plastic foam sculpture of the Oriole Bird outside Camden Station.
Above, a Budweiser blimp drifts through the haze. Below, the pavement is radiating heat only Dante could describe.
And still, the tourists are arriving, stopping to gaze through the wrought-iron fence at the green oasis of Oriole Park.
The game has been sold out for months, but the fans keep calling. Reggie Saunders, an Orioles public affairs assistant, says that between 5 p.m. Thursday, when he went home, and 9 a.m. Friday, when he returned, his voice mail recorded 110 messages.
They're calling from New Jersey, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Ohio, carefully leaving their names and addresses on the answering machine. The only information he has left to send are All-Star Week brochures -- and the fans want those.
"People are collecting different things," Mr. Saunders says.
At 2 p.m., he checks his voice mail. Fifty-five new messages.
With the big game just days away, what's on the mind of All-Star shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.?
What else? Milk.
Yesterday, at the exclusive Camden Club atop the warehouse, he introduced his own brand, Cal's Choice. It's a low-fat (2 percent), calcium-fortified version, produced by area dairies and marketed by Cal's Choice Marketing Inc. of Owings Mills.
The marketer says it is the nation's first totally fresh, low-fat, calcium-fortified milk product.
All Mr. Ripken's profits from royalties on the milk will go to the Cal and Kelly Ripken Jr. Foundation, which benefits a variety of community causes.
PD "Everyone knows I'm a strong advocate of milk," Mr. Ripken said.
In an official souvenir tent just outside the Camden Street stadium entrance, Jerry Ford and his assistant are wiping their faces with wet towels and selling official All-Star mementos to the sweating masses.
There are pencils for 50 cents. There are model All-Star tractor-trailers for $20. There are 14 different T-shirts. There are limited edition lapel pin sets and posters and baseballs.
In All-Star Week, Mr. Ford says, everyone so far has been nice.
"They tell me, 'You got a great stadium here.' Like it's mine," Mr. Ford says.
, "I tell them, 'Thank you.' "