Once upon a time, you could pack up the family and a cooler full of beer and head down to the park for a day of family fun on a Sunday afternoon. Up until about the 1980's, you could buy unreserved upper deck or bleacher seats for about $.50 a piece and see the likes of such greats as Brooks Robinson, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, etc. Life was so much simpler then, but I digress.
Nowadays tickets to major league baseball games range anywhere from $12 (for a nosebleed seat) all the way up to about $75 in some parks, to say nothing of the so called "club seats" and "skyboxes" that are integral to any shiny new ballpark with a corporate name. When you add to that $6.50 for domestic beer, $15-20 for parking, $4 for a game program, etc, it can quickly add up to over $100 for an afternoon at the park.
This instructable will detail how to maximize your fun at the ballpark without it costing you an arm and a leg. My own experiences are primarily related to Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, although most MLB franchises and stadiums are remarkably similar, with some exceptions.
Step 1: Get Cheap Tickets
Or go one better and get free tickets. I don't know any tried and true method for securing free tickets at will, unless you work for a company with a season plan, but when you're a fan of a team like the Orioles, throughout the season there are usually people you know wiling to give away tickets. If a team isn't winning much, many people you know will be willing to give away tickets which they acquired at work, rain check tickets, or advance tickets that interfere with their personal plans.
Failing that though, wait for your team to offer ticket promotions. Each MLB team runs several promotions every year. Here are a few that the O's have offered in recent years...
>>MASN $1 upper reserved tickets in September
They're so desperate to put asses in the seats, they're selling tickets for a buck, as long as you order them at least 24 hours in advance. I know that the Milwaukee Brewers (a team that actually wins) offered $1 tickets this season also, except that you had to wait until 30 minutes before game time to get them.
>>Junior Orioles Dugout Club
Many franchises offer special deals for families and kids, but you don't have to drag your kids down to the box office to get them. Go to your team's website and look for the packages (usually select games) for kids, then order those tickets for you and your friends. These usually amount to about a 50% discount.
>>Get in on a Group Outing
Many area (read: suburban) bars and organizations will sponsor bus trips to the ball park, buying a bloc of tickets, then selling them right at the bar. This is a great deal because the tickets are usually upstairs to start with, and by buying in bulk the bar will pass the savings on to you. they'll also bus you down there, which means you can skip the parking hassle and get shitfaced at the game.
Every Friday is student night, when you get an upper deck seat for $6. Show your student ID. if its expired, who cares? If you don't have one? Who cares? as long as you look like a student (or are getting your tickets online).
Like stubhub.com can be hit or miss. People on craigslist are usually willing to deal.
>>The Guys on the Street
Will sometimes give you prices like '2 for 25' on tickets that are $15 apiece face value. Most of them are pricks, thugs and ex cons though. you take your chances. They are more willing to deal after the first pitch is thrown, but they'll screw you on sold out games, so don't even try it.
>>Standing Room Only
There's a whole other step about sneaking into good seats, so go ahead and get the SRO's if they're available.
Step 2: Transportation
In the modern era, many stadiums are now located in dense, "downtown" urban areas. This has generally made public transportation much easier to access, but its made parking much more hazardous and expensive.
Of course if you live downtown you can always walk, which is free, but failing that you're going to need to get there.
If you live near a viable subway stop, God bless you. for the rest of us, the choices are pretty much limited to bus and light rail. In Baltimore the light rail runs right up next to the stadium, and connects to several points with free parking lots, many of which are not that far from downtown, so that's a good bet. Another advantage to light rail is that the fare inspectors are pretty lax. Most people I know have never seen one, and if you're going on a crowded train to or from a game, you have little to fear, since they don't like to work SRO cars. Even if they do catch you riding without a ticket, all they can do is put you off the train. They run extra trains around gametime anyway, and the odds of meeting 2 fare inspectors in a row on consecutive trains is slim to none.
Parking downtown is never easy, and around game time it can feel impossible, although there is free parking to be had. However, it won't pay to drive around crowded streets at 10 mph saying "is that a spot, is that a spot?" You need to know the terrain, and possibly show up early.
>>Areas Most cities divide up their denser neighborhoods into area 1, area 2, etc for parking purposes. Signs on the curb will say "2 hour parking except with area 5 permit". You're also likely to encounter signs of this nature which also state "no parking during stadium event". These areas are heavily watched, both by the meter maids, and the residents who hold their spaces dear, so you can't park here (unless you know someone with a driveway) and you're going to have to walk a little. One course of action is to drive to the edge of an area, and start looking for spaces there. If you can find an area that is unregulated, so much the better.
>>Meters Parking meters are usually a pain in the ass, but during a ballgame, they can be your friend. On Sunday, most meters are free to park all day; something to keep in mind if you're going to a Sunday game. Most meters are less strict on Saturday as well. On any day of the week though, a meter will only be in operation until a given point in time. Usually that point is 5pm, 7pm, 9pm, or midnight. Meters also vary in how many hours they will allow you to park at a time. If you can find a meter that only operates until 7, and you park there at 5:45, all you have to do is plunk in $1.25 and you're golden.
>>Special zones throughout any city there are a variety of special zones, with their own special signs to regulate them. Loading zones are a good example. Most loading zones in Baltimore are regulated from 8 am to 6 pm, which is perfect time to go to a 7:05 game. What will get you towed one minute is perfectly legal the next, so be exacting in where you park. Some other special zones are passenger zones, permit zones, and even personal parking spots of judges and city councilmen and other officials, who don't use those spots after business hours. A bus stop or a fire hydrant are not special zones!!! Never park in front of one of those, you will be towed!
>>Private Property Not often, but sometimes, you might find a store, restaurant or shopping center with space in its lot. It will be a bit of a walk, and you do it at your own risk, but parking here definitely beats shelling out $20 for a garage (which are usually also a few blocks' walk.
Step 3: Souvenirs
Of course, the easiest way to score a free souvenir is to show up on a giveaway day. All ballparks will give out swag ranging from stuff that's pretty cool and useful (t shirt Tuesday, bobblehead night) to stuff that's total crap and clogs landfills (seat cushions, commemorative plates).
Failing that, the best way to avoid going home empty handed is to show up early enough to watch batting practice from the centerfield seats (you won't need a CF ticket for this). there will be some baseball nerds out there with you (grown men with gloves on, kids in full uniform) but in general there are enough balls hit over that fence to go around if you really want one.
Another way to make a free score is to be sure to comb the aisles after the game is over. People, and especially kids past their bedtimes) forget stuff all the time. There can be some good stuff down there among the peanut shells and empty beer bottles. One thing you might be likely to find down there is the game program, which can be interesting if you're planning on coming back in the near future, or seeing all the games in a series.
Also, if you're interested in getting more info on the game, it pays to do your homework before you go to the park. Its easy to find starting lineups and rosters and probable pitchers online, and there are also several places where you can print out your own scorecard. A scorecard is almost as much fun as watching the game while you're half in the bag, and cheaper too. And who knows, the game you score might wind up being a no-hitter, or in some other way significant.
One more thing to keep in mind is that if you (or your kids) really want to buy a souvenir, they are always cheaper outside the park, and are sometimes even less after the game is over. The same cap that is $40 inside the stadium might only be $15 after the game outside.
Step 4: Food and Drink
Across this great nation, the quality of ballpark food varies widely. One thing its all got in common though is that its extremely overpriced.
You won't see baseball fans getting as creative as football fans, cooking steaks in the parking lot and hosting chili cook-offs, but you do get a wide latitude in what you can bring into a ballpark. Each stadium has its own rules, which can typically be found online, but the rules (like 'no hard-sided coolers') typically cover how food is packed, not what you can bring.
One of the easiest ways to go though, is to hit a sub shop on the way to the park. cold cuts and the like will hold pretty well until the middle of the game, and splitting a footlong sub and a bag of chips is usually very economical.
Whatever you buy though, make sure you buy it outside the park. at any stadium there will be a range of vendors selling peanuts, soda, etc right outside the gate for only a buck or two. Or if you even want to save that buck, you can sometimes find a big ass barrel of peanuts in a nearby bar and dip out of that. Lone Star steakhouse is famous for this.
While you're at that bar, be sure to pick yourself up a pint (or more) of your favorite hooch. That's one advantage that we have over the football fans, they're less circumspect at the gate. The ticket takers will check bags, but if you have a hidden pocket or, you know, a belt, you can pretty much get in with anything you like.
Also, one of my favorite programs at oriole park is the designated driver pledge. All you have to do is claim to be the designated driver and they'll give you coupons for free sodas, which is a pretty nice benefit. One thing to also keep in mind is that you can bring your own cups and soda, and most ball parks will give you ice.
Also, anyone who knows anything about bar etiquette knows that if you buy someone a beer, he's obliged to buy one back. The same goes at a ballgame, and if there are 4 of you and 2 (rich, old) guys sitting next to you (and you all support the same team), you can go ahead and buy them 2 beers, and wait for your 4 beers to come rolling in 2 innings later.
Step 5: Good Seats
So you got in on the cheap, parked for free, scored a souvenir, and even have a satchel full of food, but you're stuck up in the Bob Uecker seats getting a nosebleed, getting your hair messed up by passing helicopters. This will never do. Look at all those empty seats down there behind third base... why can't I fill one of those?
But there's a right way to do it and a wrong way. Of course, sneaking into a $50 seat is much easier in a small market, with a losing team that only sells 12,000 tickets per game, but these techniques are pretty universal. Just don't try them at sold out games.
>>Top of the fourth inning This is usually the time when everyone is settled in, people have stopped showing up, and every seat that is going to be filled is. Its also usually the point in the game when the ushers breathe a little easier and quit trying to show people where their seats are. That's not to say you can't sneak into a great seat before the 4th, only that its much easier after. You will at least want to wait until the first pitch has occurred though.
Design flaws Design flaws can be exploited to your advantage. at Camden yards for instance, there is free access to the lower deck via the right field scoreboard. This saves you from walking through a tunnel and dealing with an usher.
Beat the usher If you're sneaking into the box seats, the first thing to do is to pick out your seat, which should be close enough to other people to blend into the crowd, but far enough from anyone that everyone has sufficient 'elbow room'. Don't be too picky about which section you'd like to get into, but instead play the ushers. Look for 2 ushers bullshitting with each other, or for a section in which the ushers are busy showing others to their seats. That's the time to seize your seats.
Know your section make sure you know which section you're sneaking into. Know the row and seat number too. If there is any confusion, and usher might ask you. If you can spit out the correct section number by rote, they usually will not ask to see your ticket. This is also helpful if you need to go to the bathroom and have to get back to the same seat.
Hold your ticket One trick that can be used to beat an usher is to hold your ticket and look at it and then the row number, and then back and forth, as if you were trying to locate the seat that is on the ticket. Your seat may be way upstairs, but you look like you've found your exact place.
Get through the tunnel If there's no design flaw to exploit, this is the most difficult part of sneaking into a good seat. There's a ton of great seats on the lower deck, and you're right there on the lower concourse, and all that's between you and them is a 20 foot tunnel, but there's an usher at the end of it. fortunately, he can't catch everybody. here's a few more tricks to get by him:
>>The cell phone fake out Cell phones are ubiquitous nowadays, and both ushers and other fans are less likely to question you or bother with you if you're on the phone. Of course, you don't actually have to be on the phone, just look like it. This also give you an automatic out, in that if you're going past the usher and he stops you, you can get slightly indignant at his interrupting the conversation, keep talking ("I told her not to do that! Where are you now?") and simultaneously do an about face and go back to the concourse and try the next tunnel.
Wait for the cheer Everyone else is looking at the field, and you're making a b-line for that empty seat. beautiful.
>>Know someone This little gambit can be used together with, or separate from the cell phone fake out, and like the cell phone fake out, you don't actually have to know someone sitting in that section, just wave at someone as if you did. It also doesn't hurt so say hello and how are you to whoever is sitting closest to the seats you sneak into. By all means, you should be nice and respectful to these people throughout the entire game, after all, they paid a lot of money for their seats.
>>Follow on someone's heels There are 2 ways to get by an usher with this trick when you're going through the tunnel from the concourse to the seating area. The first is to blend in with the people in front of you (who have already been seated) The other way is to be right behind someone just arriving. The usher will seat the first party through the tunnel, and you can walk at your leisure to find a seat.
Finally, it always helps to act as if you belong, so it doesn't hurt to carry in a beer or some food when you're getting through the tunnel, if you're buying it on the inside. Another little tactic I like is when I already have the seats secured, but need to go to the bathroom, I'll even say hello to the usher on the way out, and maybe make a comment about last nights game or a player who's hot or cold at the moment. then when you come back through there's no sneaking back into the seat you just tried to get into, you just stroll by and wave.
This might seem like a bit of a hassle, but its all pretty easy, and its very rewarding to find some really choice seats early, only to see a bunch of schmucks sneak down next to you in the bottom of the 5th.
Step 6: Enjoy!
These steps should be all you need to have a great time at the game, and make your baseball budget go a lot further.
If any of you other fans out there have tips or experiences you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them, so feel free to comment.