MINNEAPOLIS – First pitch was still half an hour away and the empty plastic cups, crinkled foil wrappers and peanut shells were already piling up under the blue seats in the Metrodome's upper deck.
While the Minnesota Twins prepared to play the Cleveland Indians on a recent evening, a few hundred fans were getting ready for a night-long contest of their own — a race to empty out the concession stands before they closed.
"I've done four hot dogs, three nachos, a pretzel, some popcorn and about four of these pops," said Charlie Romain, proudly treating himself to an early 22nd birthday feast. "It's only been an hour, but I'm digesting a bit right now."
High above third base, Sections 232 and 233 have been turned into all-you-can-eat seats for 10 Tuesdays this season. So far, about one-third of the 600 available tickets have been sold for each of the special nights.
In this season of recession, the Twins are just one of several ballclubs trying such stuff-your-face promotions, the idea being to boost attendance, which is running more than 6 percent behind last year.
The clubs may not have counted on gluttonous fans like Jorge Retamal and Ron Benson, though. Their goal: make the home team lose money on the deal.
"I just like the idea that, because food is so expensive, I can come and, like, stick it to the system," Retamal said. "You know what I mean? I feel like I can even things out a little bit, just like baseball evens everything out."
For $34, up from the usual $22, customers can get a decent though distant view of the diamond and an unlimited amount of hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, peanuts, pretzels, soda and water during a 3 1/2-hour window that is sure to ruin any lingering New Year's resolutions.
Buddies Kyle Cash and Adam Petersen weren't too worried about the next-day cost to their stomachs.
"We're just here to pig out," Cash said with a smile.
Retamal and Benson, students at North Central University, walked from the campus a couple of blocks away. What amounts to free grub is clearly a big draw for the college-student demographic. Almost all the customers in the designated seats were young guys.
"As long as there's food involved, that's all that matters," said Benson, whose goal was to devour 20 hot dogs.
The Twins say they aren't too concerned about losing money on the really big eaters. Beer isn't included in the deal, for one thing. No waffle cone sundaes, either. And the all-you-can-grab grub ends at 9 p.m. no matter how many innings are left.
"Between the ticket and the food price, we're pretty well covered," team spokesman Chris Iles said. "It is a great deal for fans, though."
Two years ago, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles began offering all-you-can-eat seats in an often-empty section of the outfield bleachers, inviting fans to help themselves to as many as those famous Dodger dogs as they want. This season, the tickets cost $25 when purchased in advance, $30 on game day.
In San Diego, the Padres are doing it, too, for $28 or $32, depending on the seat. They even have a "veggie dog" for those health-conscious Southern Californians.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers also are among the teams offering stuff-your-face tickets.
The promotions are part of a larger effort by the major leagues to sell tickets in this downturn. This year, the Twins have tied the price of a $21 left-field seat for Monday games to the Dow Jones average from the previous Friday. The Dow closed last week at 8,280, dropping the price to $8.
"We're always looking for ways to be more creative," Iles said.
So are the fans.
Defending their gluttony, Retamal and Benson boasted that they had all the basic food groups covered.
"Ah," Retamal said, spying the jalapenos alongside an order of nachos, "I've got some veggies here!"