How to Eat and Drink Like an All-Star on a Rookie Budget at an MLB Game

Nancy Tokarz and Patty Griffing enjoy a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida.
From left, Nancy Tokarz and Patty Griffing enjoy a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game from the cheap seats inside Tropicana Field on Thursday, August 25, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

An afternoon or evening at the ballpark is a little slice of heaven for me. Beer and hot dogs are musts. Peanuts in the shell, too.

I can already hear you. “It’s too expensive!” Maybe it’s not cheap, but Major League Baseball still has the lowest average ticket price of the four big sports. Have you been to an NFL game lately? Yikes!

Plus, MLB has some of the most fan-friendly regulations to help you save money. That’s why I was shocked when I saw an article that showed the estimated cost to attend an MLB game at each ballpark.

Spending $157 for two tickets, two beers, two hot dogs and parking at Fenway? Are you nuts? According to the article, the average cost of a baseball game across the league was $77.92. Our local team, the Tampa Bay Rays, came in just below average at $69.11.

I knew I could do better than that, so my wife and I decided to go to a Rays game. Just how much more could we get for $69?

The Parking Problem at MLB Games

To park across the street from Tropicana Field for a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, one must pay $15.

Parking near Tropicana Field for a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game can run $15. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Why pay $15 or $20 for stadium parking… ever?

If you’re going to eat well at the game  — that’s the plan, right? — you may as well burn a few calories. By parking farther away, you should find a cheaper, if not completely free, place to park.

For the Rays game, we parked in downtown St. Petersburg, where the metered parking ends at 6 p.m. We arrived right around then and parked for free. Lucky for us, the Rays have a shuttle that runs from downtown to the stadium. Cost? Nada. OK, I tipped the driver $1.

Running Total: $1

See the Same Game From the Cheap Seats

People sit in the cheap seats during a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game

People sit in the cheap seats during a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game inside Tropicana Field. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Standard Rays ticket prices range from $15 all the way up to $120. We’re all going to see the same game, right? Why spend big bucks when you can see the same action for a lot less?

If you want to get into the stadium for cheap, look for special promotions. My wife, Mary, and I went to a game on a Friday night, which is 7-Eleven night at Tropicana Field. Stop by a local 7-Eleven gas station, pick up a voucher and get two upper-deck tickets for just $7.11 each.

Can’t find a great promo on the day you want to go? Check out secondary ticket sites like Stubhub.com. You can frequently buy tickets for less than face value at sites like this. For instance, if you want to go to the Sept. 30 game at Nationals Park, in Washington, D.C., between the Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, you’d pay $22 for an upper gallery seat through the Nationals website. At Stubhub, you can find the same seats for just $13 each.

Running Total: $15.22

Pack a Snack for the Game

Janet Rust and Ron Rust saved money by bringing their own water to the Tampa Bay Rays baseball game.

Janet Rust and Ron Rust save money by bringing their own water to the game. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Did you know that some MLB stadiums allow you to bring in some food and beverages?

I personally enjoy a hot dog and a beer at the game, so we didn’t pack much. We did swing by Publix to pick up a couple bottles of water and a bag of peanuts. Why pay $5 for peanuts or $4 for water at the game when I could get them both at the grocery store for $3.57 total, including tax? Not too shabby.

We’re not the only ones who take advantage of MLB’s lenient food policies. At the game we bumped into Judd and Cyd Bean, who had a soft-sided Tampa Bay Rays cooler and what looked like a small buffet. The couple brought in waters and their favorite sub sandwich to share, along with chips and candy.

They said that they try to make it to 10 to 12 games each season and always pack the same dinner. Their expense? Less than $10.

All we brought in was water and peanuts, but we were just getting started.

Before packing up an entire meal and heading to the ballpark, make sure to check out the stadium’s policy on outside food and drinks. These policies can get confusing, so you may want to call the ticket office to verify your meal and its containers comply with regulations.

Running Total: $18.79

9 Innings of Fun (and Ballpark Food Calories)

Pipos employee Ken Adum helps customers inside Tropicana Field.

Pipo’s employee Ken Adum serves a Cuban sandwich at Tropicana Field during a Rays baseball game. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

As the first inning ended, Mary and I decided it was time to have our first bite to eat. On the downside, we didn’t find any amazing deals on food at the park that night. If you look at the promotional schedule for your favorite team, though, you may find great ballpark food deals like Taco Tuesday at Petco Stadium in San Diego or Dollar-a-Dog Day at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Luckily, we saved enough on parking and tickets that we had money to spare.

I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to baseball and went straight for a hot dog. At the Trop, your basic hot dog is $5. Not great, but not too bad either. I added a large 2-Seam Blonde Ale for $9. Not too bad for a beer brewed locally by Green Bench Brewing.

Mary decided to get more creative and go for a local offering. Each MLB stadium offers one or two specialty items, frequently with local flair. In Tampa Bay, it’s Pipo’s Cuban sandwiches. Mary opted for a $7 half Cuban.

Running Total: $39.79

The Captain Morgan Blue Storm drink offered to customers during the Tampa Bay Rays baseball game .

A “Captain Morgan Blue Storm” drink is offered to customers during the game. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

The ballpark food kept us happy for a few innings as we watched the Rays and the Milwaukee Brewers engage in a pitching duel. Plus, we still had water to drink and peanuts to snack on. There’s nothing like cracking peanut shells and hearing the crack of the bat as you munch away.

While we relaxed, we noticed someone with a bloody mary that looked like it could feed a family of bears and another person with a tall, blue drink that we later learned was a Captain Morgan Blue Storm. Neither really appealed to us, but they were definitely interesting options.

But we couldn’t sit and watch the game all night. We had research to do. Around the fifth inning, we roamed the concourses again to see what else we could eat.

This time, Mary went with her craving for a cheeseburger and fries. At $11, it wasn’t a bad deal.

I was feeling more creative and found my inspiration when I saw the Grilled Cheese and Mac Bat Stand, which offered a grilled cheese sandwich plain with tomato or bacon. Just for asking, I got my grilled cheese with both tomato and bacon. Yes! At $13, this specialty item hit the spot.

Running Total: $59.79

James Lich sips on a 3 Daughters Beach Blonde Ale.

James Lich sips on a 3 Daughters Beach Blonde Ale at Tropicana Field. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

With a couple innings left and a little budget to spare, I ordered a premium craft beer to top off the night. You can’t go wrong with a Tampa Bay Brewing Reef Donkey American Pale Ale, an outstanding brew at a $12 premium.

At this point, we couldn’t imagine wanting anything more to eat or drink at the game. We settled in to watch the Rays lose a hard-fought battle with the Brewers 2-0.

Total: $71.79

OK, I went over the budget by $2.50, but consider the final tally.

Reported Average of $69.11

  • Two tickets
  • Parking
  • Two hot dogs
  • Two beers

Our night at the ballpark for $71.79

  • Two tickets
  • Two large craft beers
  • Two waters
  • Peanuts
  • One hot dog
  • One cheeseburger
  • One half Cuban sandwich
  • One grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and bacon

Choose Where You Spend Your Ballpark Money

Charley Ewell, 10, chows down on cotton candy as he attends a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game with his grandfather, Elisteio Patterson. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

It’s easy to spend a boatload of cash at an MLB game if you pay for every little convenience. Park a little farther away and pay less or nothing at all. Look for deals on tickets. There’s a ton of them out there, especially if you’re flexible on what day or night you want to go to the game.

Once you’re in the game, look for food and drink specials, but don’t be afraid to use that money you saved on parking and tickets to enjoy some of the specialties the ballpark has to offer. Remember, it’s a ballgame. It’s supposed to be fun!

Bon appetit and play ball!

Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.