Picked Off

A cautionary tale for ticket scalpers at Pro Player Stadium

When the baseball fans looked at me, I looked back in their eyes. I did some political canvassing back in college and was good at it. Eye contact, keep it simple, close the deal. That's all you really need to know.

But several minutes passed, and nothing was happening. I started throwing out more slogans:

"Trade in your uppers! Sit down low."

Got tickets, lower levels, need tickets?
Colby Katz
Got tickets, lower levels, need tickets?

"See the game -- not the blimp."


"Fear heights? Buy here."

"Heckle the Cubs relievers!"

I know, you're thinking this must have been painful for all involved, that I must have felt like a fool, and that most people must have wanted to thump me. Which is true to an extent, but some of my chants got laughs, and although there were precious few genuine buyers, I piqued some curiosity. Several guys asked the price. I started at $100 a pop. They kept walking. Soon I was down to $75.

After another ten minutes, seller's desperation crept in. Anyone who has tried his hand at sales knows that feeling, the sinking of your heart into your gut, the horrible taunt of failure. The game was only ten minutes away, and I hadn't had one offer. As the desperation grew, I knew I had to suppress it. People pick up on doomsday vibes every time. It's like a hard-wired telepathic power. So I hid it well. It's called hustling, and it's the lifeblood of capitalism.

Finally a friendly-looking middle-age fellow in a Cubs hat stopped with his wife and two kids and asked me where my seats were. I showed him the tickets.

"How do I know these are real?" he asked, looking at the tickets.

"Do I look like I would rip you off?"

I actually said that. Call me Crazy Eddie.

"I don't know you."

"Look, I'm going to be right next to you. My family is going to be there."

"How much?"

"Fifty each."

Maybe I could have said 75 -- but I knew 100 would have sent him running. I didn't mention the beer. To hell with the package now; it would kill the tiny profit.

He bought four. They'd flown all the way from Chicago, and I gave them a gift. It felt good; the sales energy was up. A good transaction has almost a sexual charge to it. Call it good societal intercourse. And it cuts through all the prejudices, brings people closer together, even Cubs and Marlins fans.

I still had two left, so I kept slinging slogans. But it was dead again. I started talking to another guy who was trying to sell, a middle-age bespectacled man who'd come to the game by himself. He was no pro -- he just had an extra ticket. He told me he'd had no luck at all and expected to eat it. "You know, the police were out here and loaded up a whole bus with guys and took them away," he told me.

"Glad they're gone," I said.

I heard the pop of fireworks and "The Star-Spangled Banner." I'd miss the first few pitches. I walked up to a group of straggling guys closer to the stadium. A twentysomething Cubs fan asked me how much.

"I'll give them both to you for $40," I told him, just wanting to break even on the six.

"I'll give you $20."

"No way."

I would rather have eaten them. It was just too damn cheap.

"Thirty," he said.

"All right, you damn vulture."

So I sold six tickets for $230. I'd lost $18, but I felt something like elation as I turned and sprinted all the way to my seat, stopping only at the gate and at the Heineken beer seller, where I bought two 24-ouncers for $19. I waved at the fellow who bought the four. He pointed and gave me a "thanks" smile.

As I sat down, I told my wife, "Never again."

I meant it, but I had no regrets.

In the third inning, the young Cubs vulture who bought my tickets finally made it to his seat. He had a shell-shocked look on his pinkish face, which was spackled with sweat.

"Where you been?" I asked him.

It was a great game.

"My friend got arrested out there trying to sell his ticket," he said, a hint of horror slipping into his voice. "And he has the keys to the rental car."


The guy was just trading for a better seat. He'd come all the way from Chicago, and now he was sitting in a bus waiting to be taken to jail. And his friends were all stranded at Pro Player.

After the game, I got the arrest reports from that night. In all, sixteen people were charged with ticket-related offenses, only one of them for scalping. The rest were for trespassing -- in other words, selling tickets at face value. I determined the friend with the rental-car keys must have been Brian Hayes, a twenty-year-old from Chicago. Hayes was definitely no pro -- he had only two tickets on him. I found his phone number and left him a message, but he never called back. Probably wants to forget the whole miserable night.

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