When Oriole Park at Camden Yards first opened, one of its more striking features was the constant flow of smoke from that green tent in the outfield. Games shown on ESPN would always include a shot of Eutaw Street next to the B&O warehouse, full of patrons waiting in line to shake Boog Powell’s hand and partake of some pit beef.
Boog’s Barbecue is usually featured on a top ten list of signature ballpark food items, and it’s frequently mentioned as a “can’t miss” part of visiting Camden Yards. People stand in line and meet the big fella, and then order a smoked beef or turkey sandwich covered with BBQ sauce and served with beans and cole slaw.
The culinary revolution at ballparks owes a lot to Boog Powell. After Camden Yards opened, for the first time, there was a popular food item at a ballpark besides the ubiquitous dog. Whether or not Boog’s Barbecue would have been a hit without the friendly local star shaking hands and signing autographs is hard to say, Boog’s place added an especially nice touch to an already spectacular ballpark.
The big power-hitting first baseman was a perfect choice to head a food stand at Baltimore’s new ballpark. He is not a Hall of Famer, and somehow one can’t imagine Cal Ripken or Brooks Robinson meeting fans every night. But he was certainly a great ballplayer, and every Orioles fan who was there in the late 60s and 70s knows who he is. Such stands featuring local stars are commonplace today especially in newer ballparks, but in 1992 this was a very unusual and interesting idea.
Since the success of Boog’s, the local baseball heroes who weren’t quite national superstars have places of their own, like Greg Luzinski in Philadelphia, Luis Tiant in Boston, Gorman Thomas in Milwaukee and Manny Sanguillen in Pittsburgh. It’s not that the Hall of Famers wouldn’t represent the team or the city as well, but these guys make the local fans feel like the team didn’t forget the lesser known names that were just as important to a team’s greatest moments.
The lines for Boog’s aren’t as long as they once were. In the 90s when Oriole Park was a very hot commodity and had a winning team on the field, the place sold out or nearly sold out every night, and plenty of folks waited in line for Boog’s autograph, even during the game. Today, while Camden Yards is still highly regarded, many Orioles fans have grown disgusted enough with 13 straight losing seasons and on especially slow nights, the once familiar smoke no longer wafts out from the green tent shortly after the game starts.
But Boog is still there, shaking hands and taking photos, and there’s now a Boog’s on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland–advertised as the “Best Beef on The Beach – No Bull!”, a sly dig at Bull’s BBQ in Philly, perhaps?
Whatever, as long as he’s still at the Yard.
In researching different ballparks, I’ve found that many of them these days, particularly the ones that host mediocre teams, offer “all you can eat” seats. Some of them, like Baltimore’s Camden Yards or Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, make this option available every night, while others, like Toronto’s Rogers Centre, make them available on certain nights of the week.
Sports Illustrated, in their new role as social critic, has taken issue with this, questioning whether it’s a good idea to be encouraging people to gorge on ballpark food in a nation with an obesity problem. (Included in their article is a link to the top ten minor league ballpark foods. Click on the link and the first thing you see is a huge photo of a four-pound burger smothered in chili, cheese and chips. I am not making this up.)
Baseball owners can’t win. They’re constantly criticized for the prices of everything, by the same people who criticize them for not spending money on top players. Now they’re giving fans too much food!
Still, with that said, I don’t recommend the all-you-can-eat sections, for different reasons. I sympathize with the health aspect of it, although I believe people are responsible for their own selves and if they keep this sort of thing in moderation they should be fine.
First off, count on all-you-can-eat seats being the worst in the park. In Baltimore, they’re the left field club seats; in Toronto and Atlanta they’re deep in the outfield; in Pittsburgh they’re in right field. In Baltimore and Pittsburgh particularly, these seats preclude a great view that makes the place special. Part of the reason this deal is offered is precisely because teams can’t sell these seats, especially to watch a bad team.
Second, it isn’t all that much of a bargain. Say you pay $17 extra for an all-you-can-eat seat (in Toronto, a 200-level outfield seat costs $22, on all-you-can-eat nights it’s $39). You’re essentially paying $17 for a low-level buffet of hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, and popcorn. Would you pay that much at a Golden Corral for such a limited menu? I wouldn’t pay that much at a Golden Corral period, but that’s not the point. Buffets in restaurants rarely feature anything gourmet-level; this is doubly true at the ballgame.
Third, none of the ballpark all-you-can-eat sections include local favorites that are featured in ballparks these days. Almost all ballparks feature a popular local delicacy, and if you don’t mind spending the money you’d be remiss to miss out on some of the civic pride of a town. It’s ultimately cheaper (see my second point), and it’s part of the ballgame experience. You should have a Primanti Bros. sandwich at PNC Park, or Boog’s Barbecue in Camden Yards, or a Georgia hot dog from the “Frankly My Dear” stand at Turner Field. Don’t waste $17 on the low-end unexciting grub because you get more of it.
This isn’t to say I don’t think people shouldn’t ever take advantage of the deal. If you don’t have time for dinner before the game, and you don’t care where you sit, you can have a couple of dogs, peanuts, some popcorn and a soda without worrying about how much extra it costs. It’s fine if you’ve been to the ballpark before and are just going to the game.
But SI’s social concern notwithstanding, it’s Dr. Ballgame’s opinion that you’re shorting yourself of the best possible ballpark experience with the all you can eat seats. And even health reasons aside, it really isn’t worth it.
Stick with me; there’s other ways to save money on food at the game.
Next Tuesday, I will be going somewhere I haven’t been to in almost nine years–I will be attending a baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
I won’t go into detail, but when Cal Ripken Jr. retired, it kind of ended things for me as an Orioles fan. Once Cal was gone, it was as if the last link to their great past was severed. I guess I picked a good time to bail out, since the team has been painfully bad for years. I don’t know if I could have handled a 30-3 drubbing at home. They’re still my team, but I will need some encouragement to start going to games regularly again. Like Cal becoming the GM.
All of that said I do really miss Camden Yards. It is still my favorite place on earth to see a baseball game. Oriole Park is still the standard even as 19 beautiful new ballparks have sprung up since. It is somehow both reverent to its predecessors and at the same time completely original.
But I digress. For the 2010 season, the Orioles are giving away a free ticket to fans for their birthday months, and my wife (who, God bless her, was kind enough to be born in April as well), my sister (born in March) and I will be taking advantage of the opportunity to see a free ballgame.
Go to the Orioles’ website, specifically the birthday section, enter a bunch of personal information in order to receive approximately 10,000 promotional e-mails per month from the Birds, and they send will you an e-mail voucher. You can then take this voucher to the ticket office on game day for a free upper reserved ticket. What’s a better birthday gift than a ballgame?
The Atlanta Braves offered this promotion last season, but I couldn’t find anything saying it was being offered this year, so I assume it isn’t unless they’re keeping it a secret (I could e-mail them and find out I suppose, but I’m not going to Atlanta anytime soon). Given that the Braves are likely to be competitive this season, they’re probably expecting not to have to give tickets away just to get people in the park to buy souvenirs and hot dogs. The Orioles, having had 12 straight losing seasons, suffer no such quandary. No other team that I know of is offering this, but I haven’t checked them all, and chances are if a team is bad, they might.
The best part is I can take a bunch of pictures for my Oriole Park chapter that is more or less complete, check out whether all of the tips in it are valid, and get a free Matt Wieters T-shirt for showing up on a “T-shirt Tuesday”, all without spending a dime except for gas and parking. The only green I’m likely to part with inside the place is at Noah’s Pretzels, where I can buy the celiac-afflicted love of my life a gluten-free soft pretzel.
The Orioles could stand to cut a fan some slack after they charged me to watch Matt Riley get his lunch from the Yankees back in 1999. There should have been a refund for O’s fans that night. Heaven knows the Orioles made a bunch of money, and not all of it deserved, from this fan. I should be in their Hall of Fame as a benefactor.
Nevertheless, I’ll take this, and it’s a pretty cool thing for the Birds to do.
Free birthday ticket from the O’s here: www.orioles.com/birthdays