“Alright, it’s the row behind us” I said matter of factly.
“What?” replied JJ
“It’s the row behind us” I said again after surveying, over and across, the row in front of us and then doing the same with the row we were in and then…
“…It’s the row behind us”
“For me to go across and grab our first round”
“Because they’re Pirates fans” In our 11 seasons of catching at least one game, at Shea Stadium and now Citi Field in Queens, there have always been, inevitably, Pirate fans sitting close. “They already like me”
I hate sitting in the middle of a row at a ballgame as, eventually, you will need to Bugs Bunny ‘Pardon me, excuse me, pardon me’ across an aisle of people but in this case I was wearing my Buccos jersey. It was, thus, a much easier momentary imposition I thought.
JJ and I (Jeremiah Johnsen is his name, not to be confused with the beard and living off the land) had fast become friends at Cumulus Radio in Poughkeepsie NY back in ’05 while I was doing an overnight shift and then a morning show when we thought it would be a fine idea to take our respective ballteam fandoms down to New York City for a Pirates/Mets game along with my morning show co-host, Reno and our producer, Beast. So the following Spring, right around the time my morning show tenure was about to come to a premature end, we did just that. I didn’t know the end of that morning show for me was coming but I somehow felt it in my shoes (yeh, I can kick a chair on occasion), when it was decided in the dreaded ‘upstairs’ I wasn’t funny anymore and was instead replaced by someone far less so but far more expensive in more ways than one. That decision would eventually come with a bite. I’ve never held many grudges in my life but that karma bite has always been remembered fondly and that first game was as good a night as any to remember that wonderful morning crew together as we sat just a few rows from God at old Shea watching that first game while bonding and joking with some girls doing their own night together who didn’t realize, or didn’t care how old I was. I thank you ladies for that by the way… and yes, there were Pirate fans nearby.
One of my greatest joys has always been a ballgame, win or lose, wherever I was, checking off 6 different pro stadiums in my time and though I’ve been on the losing side more often than not it hasn’t really mattered in the end. All that has mattered is the green expanse, the rush of walking the stairs, entering the concourse, ticket in hand, to the orderly confusion of favorite player jerseys/t-shirts and caps worn by dads and sons and daughters and moms who need to guide dad forward while he’s distracted, as I have always been, at the smells of dogs, burgers, pretzels, things with powdered sugar and the excited greeting of that expanse…the rush of that smack, the bat, the ball in the glove, the holler of the ump and the seeming hugeness of the same small game you played as a child, ‘There it is again…’ I thought ‘…and it never gets old’ the smack of looking out over that lush of grown up kids running their dreams to their positions and me living it with them with a beer, a dog, a glove and time paused. You know, I’ve felt old now in too many places and at too many times in the last number of years to remember but I’ve never felt old at a baseball game.
I was even reminded of that thought after I did that Bugs Bunnying across that row of Pirate fans behind us this night while making my way to one of the snack bars for that first round when I was stopped by some Mets fans, the type of guys that try to make you feel at home while making fun to your face, especially that ONE guy, the smug one, the one that still finds it some sort of inside joke to wear the #69 in his over 35 softball league. I had my glove with me, as I have always have had my glove with me since my first game when I was 13.
“Dude! Pirates fan! Do you really have your glove with you?!” with the expected laughs from his buddies.
“Of course I do. Where’s yours?”
Another guy “How much you wanna bet on tonight? How about a hundred?”
“No, I’m good my friend”
That ONE guy “How much for that glove?”
“Do you still have the same glove you’ve owned most of your life with you today? How do you not bring your glove to the ballpark?” I asked.
We laughed as I walked away feeling the other laughs at my back drifting behind me.
Not surprisingly, as JJ and I and good friend Brian (who has been joining us going on 5 seasons now) left our seats to make our way to a centerfield vantage in the later innings, I ran into that ONE guy one more time, cheeks flushed, spending his time at a concourse bar hitting on some poor girl, the ballpark now a mere drinking hole.
“Hey, It’s the Pirate fan with the glove”
“And it’s you without one. Never forget what it’s like to bring your glove to a game dude. Be good”
Then it was a fist bump with a guy in a Stargell jersey and off to centerfield for some ice cream. Comfort food. My Buccos were down 10-0 and I was hoping that ice cream would come with a hug.
I had a press pass in my later years at WDVE in Pittsburgh starting in ‘93, the year the Bucs stopped being baseball relevant (something that would continue for 20 more), when all the players left and the fans with them, well, the ones unlike me. I was still there and I gloried in my Charlie Golden Ticket of a free pass to the expanse anytime I wished or when I was there to get sad losing sound bites from Jim Leyland or disinterested players for the morning show. People still needed to hear the trainwreck right? Me? I got to sit in the press box after waving that ticket at security through the press entrance to fellas that would eventually just smile and nod me through, no pass needed. Though the club was a losing one, in a city that seemed to baseball die after ’92 (I swear Pittsburgh took that harder than any Steelers failure), I was allowed access to that press box and the clubhouse and even to the ’94 All Star Game. For a guy who grew up in NY but bled Black N Gold courtesy of my grandad how could you ask for more? Other than winning? You couldn’t and I surely did not when I would walk in on a Friday or Saturday night, unencumbered with the obligation of a girlfriend or others, no sound bites needed for the weekend, and grab a beer and couple of dogs to make my way to the 600 section of old Three Rivers Stadium, feet up in the front row. Bring me bad baseball with sauerkraut and mustard. Now that was living.
In the grand scheme 12 seasons is a blip, it doesn’t even garner a flicker, but it’s been one fifth of my life, MY life. One that is only mine for this short stay but it’s been pretty big. Past days spent with Jagger (Maria’s son) and days spent with he and her, so pretty in a ballcap, days spent with my sis, her Buck and my nephews who are now stuck with the Bucs courtesy of Uncle Steve, a day spent with Johnny, when he was still feeling out his relationship with one of Meg’s daughters, the day in the rain where Beck and Buck and I moved, drenched, to the hitter’s eye seats in centerfield and days spent with JJ on a Sunday if we had a weekend series, getting there at 11a after the night game we caught to grill dogs, burgers and braut in a soon not to be lonely parking lot in the sun, to the game where I just missed a HR ball from Cutch
and to that scheduled doubleheader in ’77, with me decked out in my homemade John Candelaria jersey, the one that would have me noticed at the mad filing out after game 2 by his parents somehow amid that exiting rush, as proud as any parents of their child who, grown now, inspired that homemade jersey of a 13 year old from the suburbs who lived his 13 year old dreams by meeting John himself at the players entrance as they directed me and dad there to display their pride in the form of me. I even got a chance to meet John Candelaria recently and recount that story to a big smile, laugh, a handshake and an autograph on the weathered Pirates batting helmet I got that day almost 40 years ago. This was courtesy of JJ. Thank you for that my friend. The bond of ball.
Though I didn’t really expect a victory on this night with the Pirates pitching scuffling so badly it didn’t matter. I was at the expanse. At the lush. It was season 12 of days and nights at a ballgame and time to be well spent.