My 12-year-old son and I sat in section 358 and watched the Orioles pound the Washington Nationals 8-3 along with two dozen other Orioles Hangouters on Saturday. It was a beautiful Baltimore afternoon highlighted by the rare offensive outburst by the Birds and the absence of locusts, volcanoes, and earthquakes on a day predicted by some religious zealot as the day the world would come to an end.
The only black mark on an otherwise flawless trip to the ballpark had nothing to do with what took place on the field. I mean, the O's finally came through for hard-luck starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, newly-promoted prospects Brandon Snyder and Nolan Reimold both had nice days at the plate (Snyder went 2-for-4 with a run scored while Reimold hit a two-run homerun to put the O's ahead early), and Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Vladimir Guerrero, and Matt Wieters all had multi-hit games. So from this fan and the other 33,000 fans in attendance, there wasn't much to complain about between the lines.
The only unpleasantry of the afternoon involved my almost 20-minute wait at an upper deck concession stand to get an order of Boardwalk Fries, a small Coca Cola, and a Bud Light draft. 20 minutes. I missed almost two full innings while I waited for a team of 8 people to fumble and stumble their way through orders for beer, soda, Italian sausage, and a handful of other apparently complicated items to serve. The experience went beyond mind-numbing and bordered on painful. As I crept closer and closer to the counter, listening to the patrons in front of me have to repeat their orders three and sometimes four times grated on my nerves. When I finally had the 'pleasure' of placing my order, the learning curve still hadn't been straightened out. I said, "Boardwalk Fries, small Coke, and two Bud Lights (I decided to grab two rather than consider reliving the experience)" three times, and it's not because I don't enunciate well or because my voice is soft (anyone who's had the good fortune to sit with me at the ballpark can attest to that). It was abundantly clear that the young man taking and filling my order was simply overwhelmed and his co-workers appeared to be equally befuddled. Put simply, it was glaringly obvious to anyone paying attention that no one had a clearly-defined role. The crew in concession stand 308 looked more like billiard balls during the initial break than the well-oiled machine they should be emulating now that they've had almost two months to hone their craft.
While the new lower deck food choices are nice (Polock Johnny's and the Baltimore Chop House to name a few), they don't make up for the frustrating experience of acquiring said concessions. Saturday's experience was just the worst of the six or seven below-average trips to a concession stand I've made so far this season. None have been without some issue, whether it was slow service, having to repeat myself several times, or shelling out premium beer prices ($7.50) for the novelty of drinking a Natty Boh draft at the ballpark, a mistake I won't make again and one I'll be sure of which to warn my fellow Natty Boh fans. (I predict the Natty Boh lounge won't last more than a season or two unless Delaware North Companies Sportservice make the cup bigger or drop the price.)
To keep things in perspective and to be fair, we all enter the ballpark (whether it's Oriole Park or any other professional sports venue) with appropriate expecations when it comes to food and drink...expect to overpay for average food in comparison to what you can get outside. The Orioles are one of the few teams in professional sports who allow fans to bring food and soft drinks in plastic bottles from outside and into the stadium, something they deserve to be commended for. To those of us, though, willing to partake in ballpark fare once inside, the current state of affairs is condemnable.
The change from ARAMark to Sportservice was pitched as a refreshing upgrade by the Orioles when it was announced. I'll admit, despite my previous gripe, it was pretty cool to drink a Natty Boh on tap while eating a Polock Johnny's with The Works at the ballpark. The novelty in that experience was worth the price and the wait for me.
Yesterday's experience...the 20-minute wait, having to repeat myself, watching disorganization and mismanagement at it's worst...it almost made me wonder if the end of the world was upon us and I was stuck in purgatory. Fortunately, though, the O's won and the world keeps on spinning, and I lived to blog about it.
-Scott Hoffman, Executive Editor
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Scott Hoffman is a happily married father of two and eternal student of the game of baseball. He's the Executive Editor here at the Orioles Hangout and also pens the blog "Scottie's $.02" where he tries to keep his finger on the pulse of the most passionate Orioles fans. In addition to his baseball habit, Scott's also a huge fan of mixed martial arts and eating up asphalt on his Harley Davidson.