- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It was “College Night” at the Brewers game and season ticket holder Aaron Gross knew what that meant. Cheap tickets for sale. Cheap beer at the tailgate parties. Plenty of booze-fueled trash talk inside the stadium. And, eventually, some alcohol-induced insults leading to suds-soaked fisticuffs.

“I have no problem with heckling people, that’s part of the game. But they were crossing lines,” said Gross, who found himself _ along with his wife _ caught near a brawl on a night when college students got in for half price. “It got unpleasant to the point where we left the game. The whole section was completely drunk and obnoxious. We left in the fourth inning, just said, ‘That’s enough.’”

At eight stadiums across the country _ Miller Park in Milwaukee, Coors Field in Denver, Busch Stadium in St. Louis among them _ fans told The Associated Press similar stories in recent weeks, reinforcing a fact of life at American stadiums: Alcohol is as big a part of going to a baseball game as peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

And while much of the boorish, and even criminal, behavior at the ballpark involves alcohol, expect the suds to keep on flowing. The business partnership between beer and baseball is as intertwined as the bond between pitcher and catcher.

From the 1970s-era debacles of 10-cent Beer Night in Cleveland and Disco Demolition Night in Chicago to this season’s most disturbing moment _ the coma-inducing attack on a Giants fan at Dodgers Stadium _ there’s an alcohol-related slant to many incidents involving unruly fans at baseball parks.

Last weekend, authorities arrested 31-year-old Giovanni Ramirez, the man they say was the main aggressor in the beating of Giants fan Bryan Stow in the parking lot at Dodgers Stadium following the season opener. In the days after the beating, Los Angeles canceled six half-price beer nights scheduled for 2011. Witnesses said the people who attacked Stow were apparently drunk.

“When at least a certain portion of folks go to venues, they’re there to have a good time and part of the good time is they’re going to have a few cocktails before they go and a few more when they’re in the stadium,” said Robert Pandina, the director of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University.

“What’s alarming is the increased risk, because you have so many people in the stadium who are becoming intoxicated. A lot of them are young men. It becomes kind of a tinderbox for aggression.”

At the University of Minnesota, researchers became interested in the topic of drunkenness at games after seeing a steady stream of small news items involving assaults, car accidents and rowdy behavior by drunken fans. Among the findings from the school’s studies since 2005:

_ Alcohol laws and guidelines at stadiums are poorly enforced: Researchers said 74 percent of people pretending to be drunk were served and they were three times more likely to buy it from a vendor working the stands than a concession booth.

_ Thousands of fans leaving games and getting into their cars are drunk: Researchers took breathalyzer tests of 362 fans at 13 baseball and three NFL games and found 8 percent of them _ 1 in 12 _ were legally drunk, while 40 percent of them had at least something to drink. That 8 percent, when multiplied by the thosands of people attending games nationwide, leads to a staggering number.

“I hear from people who’d been going to games their entire life, they say, ‘I don’t go to games anymore,’” said Darin Erickson, who worked on the University of Minnesota studies. “They tell stories about people swearing blatantly, throwing things and fights. It’s not always actual assaults, but some of the people I talk to just aren’t comfortable with the environment. And it seems that they’re often saying it’s attributable to general drunkenness.”

Coors Field usher Travis Wilson saw a lot of that sort of behavior play out last season from his perch above centerfield, looking up into the rowdy Rockpile, where the tickets cost only $4 and there’s plenty of extra cash for fans to spend on the ballpark’s namesake beer.

“Pretty common,” said Wilson, who works the Colorado Rockies games in Denver, when asked how often fights broke out in the cheap seats. “Sometimes, it depends on the rivalry in town, if it’s a team we have a history with. It doesn’t always have to do with alcohol, but a lot of times, it’s a contributing factor.”

Wilson said he never kept count of how many people got dragged off by police, some of them to the holding cells at the stadium. But, he said, it was hardly a rare event.

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