John Feeley, a 27-year-old Baltimore banker, often climbs into the stands at Memorial Stadium to watch the Orioles play at twilight. At some point, he uncorks the cooler he has brought with him and pours a beer or two for himself and his friends.
Feeley, who has been going to ball games since he was 5 years old, has been breaking the law. And beginning with the July 8 Minnesota Twins home game, Orioles officials will forcibly end a common and convenient practice in what they call "an effort to preserve the family atmosphere at Memorial Stadium."
In other words, if a Lenn Sakata error or a Yankee triple play drives you to drink, you're going to have to pay $2 to the vendor for the privilege of drowning your sorrows in one of his 12-ounce beers.
Oriole General Manager Hank Peters announced yesterday that the team will begin to enforce longstanding Baltimore park board regulations that prohibit bringing cans, bottles and alcoholic beverages into the stadium and will curtail the number of vendors operating in the stands after the seventh inning.
The new policy, he said, is aimed at "a small minority among our fans whose rowdy conduct and obscene language tend to spoil a day at the ballpark for those around them."
Feeley, who goes to about 15 games a year and follows Orioles broadcasts, agreed yesterday that the new regulations are needed.
"If you're going to get bombed, fine," said Feeley. "But don't expect to cohabit with 50,000 people for three hours and be blotto."
Bill Brown, 37, a contract administrator for the Prince George's County schools, commuted to Baltimore from Berwyn about once a week for baseball last year. He also thinks that the crackdown is a good idea.
"I was in the bleachers with my 6-year-old last week and there must have been four or five fights," Brown said. "People would bring in big coolers of beer and they were drunk by the second inning." City police and Orioles officials said, however, that there has been no increase in violence at the games and they are just trying to ensure that problems do not develop.
But another passionate fan, Baltimore attorney James Wooton, complained that the whole thing smells like a conspiracy-for-profit devised by stadium concessionaires who will now have a captive audience for their refreshment hawkers.
"I don't think it's a situation where they're trying to crack down on rowdiness," said Wooton, a frequent Bird-watcher. "I think the caterer is trying to increase sales."
Joe Costa, the general manager of ARA-Martins, the Memorial Stadium concessionnaire, said that the new policy is a response to troubles other stadiums have experienced, such as in Detroit, where sales of a watered-down brew have been completely banned after the seventh inning.
"It's one way of curtailing potential problems," Costa said.