At the ballpark, waiting in line turns out to be part of the game


THE SUN WAS shining. A light breeze was blowing. The baseball season had started. There was a line leading to a beer stand in the second deck of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Fresh, locally made brews were being sold on draft there at $4.75 a cup. If you had to be stuck in a line, this was probably the best kind of line to be stuck in.

I wasn't just waiting in line for a beer, I was conducting research. Armed with a stopwatch and an instant-read thermometer, I was measuring how long I waited in line at concession stands, and how hot or cold the food and drinks were. In the ideal ballpark, the beer is cold, the hot dog hot, and the lines at the concession stand short.

This beer line was long and slow-moving. By time I placed my order for a cup of DeGroen's Marzen, the keg of that beer had run dry. My backup beer, a chocolate-tasting, Blue Ridge Porter made by Frederick Brewing Co., was an agreeable 40 degrees, and satisfying. But I had spent 14 minutes and 33 seconds waiting in line.

This was a personal worst, the longest wait in line I had recorded in the five years I have been taking a stopwatch and a thermometer to the concession stands in Camden Yards. Moreover, unlike many other concession stands in the ballpark, this one behind home plate near Sections 342-344 did not have a television mounted within easy-viewing distance. That meant I could hear the crowd shout as the Kansas City Royals mounted a scoring threat, but I couldn't see a televised version of the action.

Earlier in the day I had visited another site of the microbrew

operation, the stand on the Eutaw Street promenade. I stood in line there for nine minutes, nine seconds to get a crisp Clipper City India Pale Ale. These waits were well above the usual two minutes or less that I experienced in previous years when I bought microbrews at Camden Yards.

More brew fans

It seemed to me that the slower pace this season at the microbrew stands was caused by both an increase in the number of fans of locally made beers and a change in beer tenders. This season, Old Line Microbrews has replaced Maryland Microbrew, which introduced craft beers in the ballpark three years ago and gradually expanded its Camden Yards operation from one to three stands.

It was the new crew's first experience with a big crowd, said Robert Adolfson, general manager of Aramark, the ballpark concessionaire, when I told him of the long wait I had dTC experienced. "They are a good operator," he said. "They are just new to the ballpark."

Like any new vendor, he added, as the season wears on, Old Line will become more adept at anticipating the size of the crowd, the size of their work force and how much beer they have to keep cold.

Adolfson also confirmed my suspicion that more fans were drinking craft beers. Opening Day sales at the microbrew stands were up 10 percent to 15 percent this year over sales from the first day of last season, he said.

Later in the Opening Day game, things got better. For instance, when I found myself in another long line -- a nine-minute, 34-second wait to buy a handmade, pleasingly hot (108 degrees) Uncle Teddy's Pretzel costing $2.50 -- I was able to spot television sets mounted on the walls across from the pretzel-making operation. I could watch the game as I waited.

While this year's wait for beer was much longer than in the past, some other lines I visited seemed to have picked up speed.

Boog's line

For instance, the line for sandwiches at Boog Powell's stand in the Eutaw Street promenade is usually the slowest-moving line in the park. But this year, an hour before game time, I got from the end of the line, behind the center-field scoreboard, to my $6.50 sandwich, with horseradish and onions, in seven minutes and 17 seconds. This represented an improvement over the 10- and 12-minute times I had managed in most previous years.

My personal best for moving through Boog's line, however, stands at three minutes and 15 seconds, a record I turned in back in 1993 and have subsequently failed to come close to.

This year Boog's line was moved along by a facilitator, an employee of the stand, who -- with Solomon-like wisdom -- split the huddled masses into two queues, one for customers seeking a chance to schmooze with Boog, the former Oriole first baseman, and the other for folks seeking sandwiches. Schmoozers moved into a slow line; sandwich seekers got in the express line.

Finally, my wait in the hot-dog line was average, about three minutes. But this year's dog set a record temperature. It registered a sizzling 156 degrees on my thermometer. The previous hot-dog high was 110 degrees, recorded in 1995 and 1994. This $4 frankfurter was plucked from a slotted grill at the Grille Works Express on the Eutaw Street promenade, in the right-field corner. This spot, according to my data, has the hottest dogs in the ballpark.

So in summary, the hot dog was hot and the salty pretzel was warm. The beer was cold and flavorful, but lines to get it were too slow.

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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