Baseball bargains still there, if you look

BALTIMORE - The crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards was so sparse on a recent weeknight, its murmur so low, that you could hear clear across the field when a fan let out a disappointed wail at first pitch: "Where IS everybody?"

Yet Section 334, high above home plate, was humming - large groups of college-age kids, elderly couples, families with small children in Nick Markakis jerseys. And most of them had paid an almost quaint price for their seats: $8.

This is what baseball promotions look like during an economic meltdown: The one in Baltimore was called the Birdland Stimulus Package.

Despite all the talk about the platinum-card seats at Yankee Stadium, microbrews, martinis and dry-aged beef, the classic ballpark experience is still available for less cash than it takes to see a movie.

You just have to hunt for it.

"They say it costs, what, a hundred bucks, 150, to take your family to the game?" said David Adden, a self-employed graphic designer who snapped up Baltimore's $8 Tuesday night seats for himself and his 7-year-old son.

"But that's with the cotton candy and the jersey for your kid, all that. This is really all you need, this view."

There was plenty of howling about ticket prices in April when the Yankees opened their $1.5 billion palace, featuring top seats priced at $2,625.

"We're done talking about seats," Yankees president Randy Levine said - before the televised disaster of empty seats forced the club to cut front-row prices.

Baseball is desperate to keep fans coming out during the longest recession since World War II. So bargains are out there, especially if you're not choosy about which night of the week you head for the park and don't have your heart set on an infield box.

Seats in the Rockpile section at Coors Field in Denver and the Blue Heaven section at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles are $4. Pile four or more people in your car for Monday night Florida Marlins games and get a $25 ticket voucher in a go-green promotion. The Atlanta Braves put up 186 nosebleed seats three hours before game time for $1 a pop.

The Minnesota Twins, adding a twist of dark humor, have tied a Monday ticket price to the first digit of the Dow - the lower it goes, the less you pay.

And there are even ways to go for free. Baltimore is rewarding fans who stuff the ballot box by voting 25 times online for the All-Star team and designating the Orioles their favorite club with a coupon for a free seat to a game in the second half of the season.

Major League Baseball says more than half its 30 clubs are regularly offering seats for $5.50 or less. Still, the average price of a big-league ticket is $26.74, a 5 percent increase from last year.