Come Thursday, baseball will return to Camden Yards, marking the actual official start of spring here in Baltimore. Trees will bloom, days will grow longer and hotter, and the Orioles, a winter removed from a magical season we hoped would never end, will try for an encore.

The players on the young roster, anchored by Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, are a year older. The starting rotation got better, at least on paper, thanks to the front office. And the team is one step away from being under new ownership. There’s reason to believe the last few decades of misery and mediocrity are really, truly over.

You should try to be there this year for as much of it as you can.

Baseball games, or really any live event, are more expensive than ever, driven by inflation and the desire to do the things we didn’t get to during the pandemic. That’s especially true at Camden Yards. The place may be a modern-day baseball cathedral, but the price of worship is steep. In 2023, the O’s sold the most expensive hot dogs and the second-most expensive beers in the majors, according to USA Today.

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Yes, you read that right, hot dogs and beer cost more at a baseball game in Baltimore than in New York or Boston.

But there are ways to go to Camden Yards, to be a part of Orioles Magic, without breaking the bank.

I introduce you to the centerfield bleachers — some of you have surely met them already, but for those who haven’t, welcome to the best seats in town. This year, Monday through Thursday, tickets cost $12 — last year they cost $10, damn inflation.

This is not meant as a disrespect to the denizens of the upper deck, even though up there the game is played out in miniature. You’re so high up you could catch a cold, and also I get vertigo. I still sit there on occasion, usually because the bleachers are sold out or someone else bought the tickets.

This is an ode to center field, to bleacher creatures, to regular folks like you and me and that guy who takes his shirt off for no reason other than he wants to.

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The bleachers in Camden Yards aren’t actually bleachers, they’re seats, and they’re about 400-plus feet from home plate. Good luck trying to call balls and strikes; just be happy if you can see the ball, it means your eyes aren’t so bad.

Ruth Brower of Severna Park waits to cross the street outside Camden Yards before the 2023 home opener. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

You cannot see the largest scoreboard in the ballpark unless you crane your neck or are an owl. Depending on your section, you might not see the entire field — the right-field corner is nonexistent for those sitting in sections 98 or 96, any balls hit over there may as well have been lost in the Bermuda Triangle as far as you’re concerned.

During a day game, the kind you go to in mid-July when the sun is a broiler and you wonder if the season, like this sentence, will ever end because there are so many games, 162 to be exact, you will find no shade.

Instead, you will bake. You will long for shade so bad that you will wish you could trade places with the cop standing to your left in the lower corner of Section 98, back to the wall below the standing room only porch. He has the only shade spot on this side of the ballpark, and he has a badge and gun, so you probably shouldn’t challenge him for it, though the thought may cross your mind after a few of those cold, most expensive beers.

But this is not a place for misery. I already told you, these are the best seats in Camden Yards. It’s where the field is before you, under towering sky. On a day when the stadium is full, you’ll be treated to a collage of orange and black-clad humans ringing the diamond.

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When the ball is hit squarely, you can convince yourself you’re in the game and the ball is coming right to you. The seats out in center bring the joy of watching guys like Cedric Mullins, a player so fast he moves like a blur, dazzle in the field, diving to steal away a hit, preferably from those damn Yankees. Or maybe you’re there for Anthony Santander over in right, a nice guy who might toss a ball your way before the top of the inning or hit one right in your lap during the bottom-half.

More important than the game is the people around you. If you sit here, you are almost guaranteed company. There will be children and the elderly, side-by-side, root, root, rooting for the home team. They will be of all stripes and come from all neighborhoods. They may look like you and they may not. It does not matter. You’re all here to enjoy Birdland, to heckle the away team, to cheer for mustard during the condiment race, or to sing “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

You can go with your dad or your friends or your special someone or by yourself. It doesn’t matter, you will not be alone out in center field.

So much will happen out there in your $12 seats.

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You don’t even have to buy a hot dog, or any food at all. Maybe you’ll be like some people I know and bring in bags of spaghetti, or maybe you’ll buy two or three hot dogs from one of the many entrepreneurs selling them outside at a fraction of the price of one frankfurter on the inside. Sometimes, when I remember to like myself, I will buy a sandwich from DiPasquale’s and bring it in a Ziploc bag where it waits for me until about the second or third inning.

You can do your drinking beforehand at Pickles or Pratt Street or Water Street. All of them will sell you a beer for less than on the inside. Or drink at home if you live close enough. Or do some baseball math and determine the money you saved by sitting out here means you can buy some of those most-expensive-in-the-majors cold pops.

Or don’t drink at all. It’s your choice.

There are no rules for this except that you sit in the cheap seats.

Lee O. Sanderlin is an Enterprise Reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Before joining The Banner, he worked at The Baltimore Sun as a reporter covering a wide array of topics, including stories about abusive politicians, sexual abuse, gun violence and legislative issues.

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