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Eat, Drink and Be Married at the Ballpark

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the season for baseball and brides, some couples are opting for a double play: At Dodger Stadium, the ring bearer presented the bands in a baseball mitt. At Camden Yards in Baltimore, the best man threw a ceremonial first pitch. At Comiskey Park in Chicago, bridal parties posed for pictures at home plate. At Edison Field in Anaheim, at least one couple married in the park’s Hall of Fame, surrounded by team memorabilia.

Most stadiums have not actively advertised their parks to the bride and groom, but the construction of newer fields with nicer facilities and a trend toward nontraditional ceremonies have made the ballparks attractive to some as wedding diamonds. Not all stadiums are eager to play ball--Yankee Stadium is a reluctant sport--but many are happy to make alternative use of their fields on days not committed to Big League play.

Couples who marry at a ballpark are often returning to the place where they first met or had their first date. Some stadium employees do it for the convenience. Others simply seek a unique venue to host their own opening day. “People are looking for something different,” says Genia Larson-Moore, director of sales and catering at Coors Field in Denver. “The ballpark offers something that everyone loves from every generation.”

As she well knows. One day after the 2000 baseball season at Coors Field, her boyfriend asked her to accompany him to home plate. (Both worked for the stadium at the time.) There, he threw her a fastball. The scoreboard read: “Genia, my love, will you marry me?” When she said yes, the couple decided that “it didn’t make any sense to go anywhere else” for the wedding, Larson-Moore, 25, recalls.

At their August ceremony, the couple hosted cocktails for 250 guests in the outfield. The wedding and reception followed in a picnic area just outside the playing field.

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“I know that my wedding is going to be the talk for a long time,” Larson-Moore says. And some couples step up to the plate for that very reason.

“It’s not about doing what Emily Post says anymore,” says Randie Wilder-Pellegrini, executive producer and president of Cordially Invited, Inc., in Beverly Hills.

Couples are planning less conventional and more personal ceremonies, preparing the reception meal with family recipes and creating table decorations with baby pictures, for instance. In keeping with this trend, event planners have seen couples move away from places where ceremonies have traditionally been held--churches or hotels--and choose locations that have more meaning to them.

“There is such a yearning on the part of engaged couples to have their wedding ceremony express themselves,” says Lisa Hurley, editor of Special Events magazine. “Every element of the event articulates who those people are.”

In 1996, when Susie and Brad Byers met for a blind date at Dodger Stadium, they weren’t sure they’d get to first base. Five and a half years later, they went all the way. The couple, who describe themselves as being “more jeans-and-T-shirt than shirt-and-tie,” wanted a traditional church wedding but not the traditional ballroom reception. At their November reception in the Dodgers Dugout Club, the caterer served Dodger Dogs alongside roast turkey breast. Tiny baseball bats and gloves dotted the icing on their three-tier wedding cake. And “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” played as the Cypress couple took to the dance floor for the first time as husband and wife. “It was traditionally untraditional,” says Susie Byers, 29.

Since Levy Restaurants took over Dodger Stadium in 2000, the ballpark has hosted about five weddings and 100 receptions at its two restaurants, says Christine Wilson, sales manager at Dodger Stadium.

The upscale Stadium Club, with its white table linens and light wood paneling, overlooks right field. Only season ticket-holders can access the restaurant, which seats about 400, on game days. The Dugout Club, located behind home plate, is decorated with Dodger memorabilia, including the private photo collection of former team president Peter O’Malley and the 1988 World Series trophy. Neon blue lights and plush velvet chairs complete the decor.

Edison Field, home of the Anaheim Angels, hosted about a dozen weddings and receptions in its two restaurants and Hall of Fame last year, according to Nick Julian, premium service manager at the field. The Diamond Club features outdoor dining behind home plate, while the club level Knothole Club offers a view of the field.

Reception fees range depending upon stadium, party size and menu. At Comiskey Park, for example, there is an $8,000 food and beverage minimum. Wrigley Field has a $4,000 minimum. Renting home plate for a wedding can cost anywhere from $1,000 (Coors Field) to $5,000 (Dodger Stadium). Renting the entire field can start at $25,000. Some stadiums will introduce the bridal party on the Jumbotron or bring in the stadium organist to play the wedding march for additional fees. At Edison Field, couples can set off fireworks for about $1,500 a minute.

Most stadiums only hold events when the home team is out of town or during the off-season. This season alone, Larson-Moore, who books weddings at Coors Field, has more than a dozen weddings and receptions scheduled.

With the events, stadiums can keep staff employed throughout the year, says Bob Adolfson, vice president of national sales for Aramark, which provides food and beverages for 13 baseball stadiums, including Edison and Coors fields. The events are also an additional source of revenue, which can be particularly important for some of the newer fields.

The stadium has not yet hosted any weddings, but 2-year-old Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco markets the field for a variety of other events, including birthdays, business conventions and bar mitzvahs. (One of its most expensive packages: a night on the field with dinner along with a movie screened on the Jumbotron at a cost of $150,000.) “We’re open to do it,” says Stephen Revetria, director of sales and marketing for the park, “because we have a mortgage to pay.”

Not everyone, though, is such a fan.

Yankee Stadium, perhaps the most famous baseball stadium in the world, will host weddings and other events; however, officials there “frown on it,” says Joel White, of concessions and hospitality. “It sounds like a very cute thing, but when you get down to it, it’s not our business .... We’re not a catering hall, we’re a baseball park.”

For Sherri Hoffman and Bill Whipple, Dodger Stadium is even “holy ground.” The sanctity of the field made it the only place for the Pasadena couple to sanctify their marriage.

During their November 2000 nuptials, the wedding party donned Dodger blue and yarmulkes with the team’s logo. Baseball bats held the Jewish chuppah, or bridal canopy, above home plate. Dinner, in the stadium’s Dugout Club, started with hors d’oeuvres of peanuts and pigs in a blanket. And guests received Dodger baseball bats and balls--imprinted with the couple’s wedding date--as favors.

“There wasn’t a whole lot that we didn’t include,” Hoffman, 46, says on a recent Saturday before she and Whipple, 51, head out to the ballpark.

The couple, who never miss a home game, met at the stadium; their season tickets were next to each other. Reserve level. Aisle 11. Row V. They still sit in the same seats.

“How many times do you go back to where you were married?” Hoffman asks. “We go back 81 times a year. Please, with season playoffs, 90 times. It’s where we belong. It’s home.”


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