Friday, April 10, 2009

Cash king at opener

Jeff Gilbert

Gilbert is the sports editor for The Roanoke Times

Recent columns

Maybe it was the nice sunny day.

Maybe it really is because the Red Sox are in town. Dollar beer night sure didn't hurt.

Whatever the reasons were that induced all those people to buy tickets, opening night in Salem on Thursday sure was the night to arrive early if you were interested in seeing the first pitch.

Lots of fans arrived early, but the line for tickets didn't disappear until 7:50 p.m. Fortunately for those stuck in line, the first pitch didn't come until 7:22 because of pregame ceremonies that few paid attention to.

There were other long lines at the concession stand and for the beer bracelets. The concession lines persisted into the middle innings, and presumably the restroom lines were long as well.

Opening night in Salem was a major-league success at the ticket window.

Stadium capacity: 4,968. Attendance: 5,387. The last 419 tickets sold were for standing room.

This is what the Red Sox wanted when they put those tarps over 1,074 seats -- a cozy crowd and a tough ticket. Will it last? Will it work the way the Red Sox envision and make Salem Memorial Ballpark the place to be.

Crowds could be better than last year during this first season of the Red Sox in Salem. The novelty, though, for some people will wear off soon enough to return crowds to normal size.

Complaining about the tarps that eliminated 1,074 general admission seats was an easy position to take, especially as the ticket lines grew.

Seeing lots of fans in every section was good, and on this night, it would have been that way even without the tarps. But on the nights when the attendance dips under 3,000, the Red Sox will have a chance to achieve a small portion of the coziness they love so much at Fenway Park.

It wasn't as cozy as it could have been on opening night. Lots of seats were unoccupied throughout the game, so no one was without a seat who wanted one.

The most crowded area was the concourse, where those who came for the dollar beers and the social networking spent their time. Baseball was not the reason they were here but the vehicle.

We will hear that the tarps are working, but lasting success at the ticket window will be the only way to measure it.

My preferred experiences at the ballpark over the years have been times to relax and watch baseball with plenty of room to put my feet up on the seat in front of me. I like that as much as the baseball -- maybe more.

Not as many people will get to put their feet up this season, but will they care? I doubt it's enough to keep anybody away.

A called third strike on a Salem batter to end the fifth inning elicited some boos. But not many knew the name of the poor batter who argued the call. I can't say I caught his name either.

That's what a night at the ballpark is like -- a little baseball, room to relax and maybe we'll learn the name of a player or two.

For the Red Sox, it was a night to celebrate lots of money in the till and a fan experience they surely believe was positive.

They played "Celebration" after the seventh inning, and it wasn't because the Red Sox were winning.

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