Tom Lohr is an avid baseball fan and has visited every Major League Baseball park . . . twice.
The Ballpark Is Calling You
Going to a major league baseball game is a rite of passage in America. It is the one sport that is pure Americana and plays a prominent role in our culture. Baseball used to be a game for the working class. Going to a major league baseball (MLB) game was not much more expensive than taking in a movie. There is a multitude of reasons why the cost of attending an MLB event has skyrocketed to the price of a mortgage payment (I am looking at you, free agency fans), but debating the causes will not lower the price of a game any time soon.
It is a travesty that more fans cannot afford to attend, but with proper planning, you just might be able to fit a trip to the ballpark into your budget. There are ways to shave the associated costs of seeing an MLB game, but you need to be sly, savvy, and willing to make a few sacrifices in order to grace the cathedrals of baseball with your presence. Here are the top ten tips for making a trip to the ballpark without having to take out a loan.
1. Consider Who You Are Taking to the Game
Are you planning on taking your children? Yes? Are they under the age of 10? Yes? Then take this opportunity to save the most money: don't go. Just don't. I have been to hundreds of games in the last decade and sat within earshot of thousands of kids in their single digits. I would call them fans, but they aren't.
If you take your kid to the ballpark, they will fidget (and disturb nearby fans), want every item of junk food at the concession stand, and want to spend most of the game at the kid's zone (why ballparks have these is another discussion). What you get at the end of the game is a child that is hyped up on too much sugar, cranky because it is past their bedtime (most games will run until 10 pm), and a whopping credit card bill for tickets, food, parking, and souvenirs.
Additionally, you and your kid will have seen little of the game. Instead, take your kid to the park, let them play until they are tired and then swing by the local hot dog stand on the way home. Once your kid can name at least five starting players on your local team and explain the infield fly rule, then it is time to consider taking them to the ballpark.
2. Get to Know Dynamic Pricing
Know your team's pricing schedule inside and out. Several years ago, baseball introduced something called dynamic pricing. Basically, it prices tickets using a computer algorithm that results in the same seats being priced differently for certain games. It uses historical attendance to figure out which games will be in high demand and charges more to see those games.
It is the basic law of supply and demand, but real baseball fans hate it. If you are planning to see a game, make sure you check the team website and figure out when games are the cheapest to see. As you might imagine, weekend games and games with rival teams tend to be the most expensive.
3. Get High . . . Really High
You probably already knew this tip, but sitting in the upper decks (also known as the cheap seats) is a great way to save. On a weekday Texas Rangers game, for example, you can get close enough to smell the pine tar with a premium dugout seat for $120. Or, you could opt to take the escalator and get a bird's eye view of the entire game in the upper reserved section for $17.
Both seats see the same game, and frankly, I personally believe that higher is better. You can see everything develop. Unless there is a special player you want to heckle, sit up high and enjoy the savings.
4. Know the Specials
Know if the team has super cheap ticket specials. The Washington Nationals offer $5 grandstand tickets, with the caveat that they only go on sale a few hours before the game. That's one cheap MLB ticket. The Chicago White Sox have thirteen Sunday home games where upper-level tickets are just $5. The bleacher seats at Coors Field in Denver cost a mere $4 ($1 if you are under the age of 12 or over 55). Not every team has these great bargains, but many do. Check with the ticket office.
5. Take Others Up On Their Generosity
Do you know what is better than cheap? Free. Occasionally, you can get a legit free ticket from the ticket office. The St. Louis Cardinals do this for veterans if you have identification that verifies veteran status. A few years back, the Tampa Bay Rays gave veterans free entrance for the second half of the season.
If you are not a veteran and need only one ticket, try this: show up at least an hour before game time and hang out by the ticket window but far enough back that it seems you are looking over the ticket prices. If you spend a full hour doing this, there is a 50% chance you will be approached by someone looking to give away a ticket. They have an extra, and they don't want to waste it. Take them up on their generosity.
Most of the tickets I have received this way are upper deck seats, but I have, on more than one occasion, been gifted a seat that would have set me back over $100. At a few venues, for reasons unknown, it is illegal to give away a ticket for free. That policy sounds like something from the Soviet Union, but only once have I ever seen it enforced (I am talking to you, Pawtucket Red Sox).
6. Be Your Own Drink Vendor
Take your own water. Most baseball games are outside, and especially at day games, you are going to get thirsty. Every MLB ballpark has water fountains, but by the time you get to it and wait in line to get a drink, you will miss that grand slam that wins the game. Bottled water at the ballpark is the same as airport prices.
Charging $3–6 for a bottle of water is called something. I think the term is price gouging. Instead of being held hostage by water pirates, take one or two empty water bottles from home, crush them flat and put the cap back on. Put the now flat bottles in your back pocket or purse. Once inside the ballpark, unscrew that cap, blow hard into the bottle to re-inflate it, and then fill it up at the water fountain.
7. Fill Up Outside the Park
Eat before you go. Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, boasts some cheap eats. About $4.50 for a hot dog and $6 for a beer. A beer and a dog—time-tested ballpark fare. But get that hot dog with chili or one of the specialty dogs, and the prices increase dramatically. As it is, you would need to eat at least two hot dogs for a meal, and that beer is likely a small domestic tap beer—something putrid like Budweiser. Two dogs and two beers will set you back at least $21. Add at least $10 to that if you want a craft beer and decent-sized dogs.
Instead, you could eat before the game at Ninfa's Mexican restaurant. You could chow down on spicy pork tacos andgood-tastinging beer for about $20. Your stomach will thank you later. But it gets better. Customers at Ninfa's can park there for free and take their shuttle to the ballgame (it is also walkable). Not all, but many ballparks afford you the option of eating close by before heading for the turnstile. The food will be cheaper, and you'll get bigger portions of better food for less than it costs to eat in the ballpark. Several local pubs also offer free parking and a shuttle for customers, saving you even more money. Do your research.
8. Park Away From the Stadium
Speaking of parking, where you park your car can save you a ton of money. Wrigley Field in Chicago has no official parking lot, but locals will let you park in their driveway or yard very close to the stadium for about $40. That kind of money will fill up most gas tanks. Parking on a nearby street is a no-no because Chicago is one of those cities that makes residents obtain a sticker that allows them to park in their own neighborhood. Park there without this decal that identifies you as a member of the hood, and you risk being towed.
But, a little more than a mile away, there are no such restrictions. You can park absolutely free. It's about a 20–30 minute walk each way to the ballpark, but I would crawl a mile through broken glass to save $40. Put the Google Maps app on your phone and note where you parked. It will likely be dark when you return to your car (the neighborhoods are safe in that area), and navigating could be tricky.
Most baseball venues have free or cheap parking options that are not affiliated with the stadium. There is a guy on the inter-web that figured out all of the nifty places to park at each ballpark. You can check out his website at ballparksavvy.com. With few exceptions, if you are willing to walk a bit, you can park for free.
9. Think Smaller
Redefine your definition of baseball. Most fans think of attending an MLB game when heading to the ballpark comes to mind. But for every MLB team, there are at least three minor league baseball (MiLB) farm clubs. That adds up to 90 minor league teams scattered about the United States when accounting for all of the AAA, AA, and A clubs, each team's farm systems.
Toss in lower A and short-season teams, and it is well over 100. While attending a MiLB game will not guarantee an MLB level of play, those games are full of young, hungry ballplayers and often offer some exciting diamond action. Parking usually costs $5 or is free, good tickets for $15 or less are common, and getting to and from the ballparks is much less of a hassle. Many teams also have regular post-game fireworks shows that toss in some extra entertainment value for your dollar. Food is not at MLB prices, but it is still quite expensive, so you should still either eat before you go to a MiLB game or tailgate it in the parking lot.
10. Enjoy the Game at Home
Give baseball the Hollywood treatment. Attendance in movie theaters across America has been on the decline for quite a while. There are several reasons for this, but the main issue is cost. Going to the movies for a family has become a pricey event. With high-definition, big-screen TVs bolted to nearly every living room wall in America, a short wait after theatrical release allows the entire family to see a flick for the small cost of a DVD or streaming rental. And they never have to leave the house.
If you and your family love baseball, consider getting a yearly MLBTV subscription. You can watch EVERY MLB game live (with the exception of local blackout restrictions, which all MLB fans hate). If you follow your local team, you will not be able to watch it live, but if you can wait 45 minutes after the game has ended, you can watch it on the replay function.
You can also choose to listen to any MLB game radio broadcast without blackout restrictions. An MLBTV subscription is about $120 a year, which is about what you would pay for a family outing to the ballpark. The network also offers a steep veteran's discount if you have proper documentation.
Put Your Butt in the Bleachers
Baseball is America's pastime. Every citizen should have the fiscal means to attend at least one game a year; it's our patriotic duty. Using the aforementioned tips, your trip to the ballpark doesn't have to break the bank. I'll see you in the cheap seats.