The absence of baseball these last few days over the extra-long All Star break got me thinking about some of my favorite baseball memories. Specifically, memories from games I’ve attended. I’ve watched hundreds, maybe thousands of Cubs games on TV, but all but the very best of them start to bleed together in my memory. Nothing compares to the sights, smells, and atmosphere of actually sitting in an uncomfortable plastic seat in the burning sun crammed next to a bunch of strangers.
But I’m not just interested in my stories–I want to hear yours, too. To prompt your thoughts, I’ll couch each of these in a question you can answer in the comments below.
Have you ever caught a home run or a foul ball?
I have not, but my dad almost did when I was a kid. We were sitting out in the bleachers at Dodger stadium–back when it was still safe to take women and children out there–and Benito Santiago hit a bomb right at us. In fact, he hit it right at my dad. He got his hand up in time, but it hit his palm with such force that he couldn’t hold on. The ball actually bruised his hand, and the next day you could just make out to stitch lines of the ball on his swollen palm. We’ve collected plenty of batting practice balls over the years, but I’m still waiting for my first in-game souvenir.
What were the best seats you’ve ever had at a ballgame?
As I’ve said before, I’m partial to the bleacher seats in Wrigley Field. I’d rather be there than almost any other place in the world. But for one glorious afternoon as the Cubs hosted the Astros in 2001 (a series we’ve written about before), Jedi and I had box seats just five rows off the field, right behind the visitor’s on-deck circle. The seats belonged to an acquaintance of my parents’–I want to say he was Randy Hundley’s doctor, but I can’t back that up. He’d offered the seats to my dad the next time he was in town, and Jedi and I were able to finagle access to them that afternoon.
We were positioned just beyond the backstop, close enough to hear the conversations going on in the dugout. Some of the Astros recognized a few regulars in the rows in front of us and chatted while they took their practice swings. From that close to the field, it felt almost like a Spring Training game–like we were sitting right on top of the action.
Who was the most effective/entertaining heckler you’ve ever encountered?
We were so close, in fact, that the guy seated right in front of us was able to burrow his way deep into the psycke of Vinny Castilla. The guy wandered in and sat down with his wife as batting practice was winding down, and right away you could tell he was going to make things interesting. I’m convinced he was drunk when he sat down, and proceeded to get more and more soused as the game went on. He was loud, but not too obnoxious–as ballpark drunks go, he was relatively tame and livable.
Unless you were Vinny Castilla. I have no idea why this guy picked Castilla out of the lineup that day and made him his personal whipping boy, but he did. From the moment he emerged from the dugout to take his warm up swings, Castilla was showered with insults. When none of that worked, the drunk guy simply resorted to whining out his target’s first name, like one long, loud “Viiiiinnnnyyyy!” Over and over, throughout the game. It started out tedious, and I hoped the guy would pass out in the sunshine. But he never did, and the longer it went on, the funnier it got, and the more it got to Castilla. You could see it affected him in the on-deck circle, and after Castilla struck out to end the 4th inning, he came back to the dugout, staring down the drunk, who was now a folk hero to the rest of our section.
The drunk didn’t stay for the whole game–eventually he and his long-suffering wife had had enough. But his work was already done. Castilla went 0-4 that day, and the Cubs won 6-2.
What are the worst seats you’ve ever had at a ballgame?
Jedi and I also once sat in the back row of the upper deck, in the left field corner, about as far as you can get from home plate and still be in Wrigley Field. It was opening day, and in the mid 50’s or lower. It was insanely windy, and most of our section abandoned the game early. We didn’t–after all, the worst seats in Wrigley are still seats in Wrigley. The Cubs lost 4-2.
What’s your favorite non-Wrigley ballpark?
For me it’s easy. Petco Park in San Diego is about as pleasant a setting as you can imagine. Just blocks from the beach, the weather is always nice, the food is great, and the layout of the park is beyond inviting. All the concourses are connected, so you can go anywhere you want in the park. There’s even a small cutout in the left field corner where you can stand on the field, separated only by a chain link fence. The standing room areas are well-placed, offering unusually good views from the literal cheap seats. And I’ve yet to find a bad seat in the house.
That includes the obstructed view section in center field where I usually sit with my family. In the infamous sandbox section, you sit on backless benches separated by three feet wide aisles of grass. That’s right–freshly mowed, clean, green grass. Like, “why don’t you lay down and relax while the Cubs flail at pitches out of the strike zone” grass. It’s fantastic. And with the sandbox in front, you don’t often have to contend with whiny, screaming kids. Even the “obstructed” part of your view is overcome-able, as you can easily see at least one of the video boards from almost any of the seats.
What’s your favorite ballpark food?
Like I said, the food at Petco is very good. Not far from the sandbox section is a great BBQ stand–the smell that wafts throughout our section is another one of the perks. But no churched-up pulled pork sandwich can compare to the simple, timeless delights of a Carnation frozen malt. These things are an absolute must-have for any sunny day game at Dodger Stadium–and frankly, no one will think twice if you pound one on a chilly fall night, either. It’s one of those things that is so wrong it’s right. It comes in a cheap waxy paper cup, and it’s frozen solid. So frozen that it can be hard to hold at first, but don’t let that turn you off–it’s designed to melt as you eat it. For most of my childhood they were served with an utterly useless, impossibly fragile, flat wooden spoon (it was really more of a tongue depressor). It didn’t matter that it was a challenge to hold and eat successfully–it is the unparalleled king of summertime refreshment. Dadgum, I want one right now.
Have you met any famous Cubs fans at the ballpark?
A couple years ago, after a great Cubs victory at Dodger Stadium, I high-fived Vince Vaughn as he walked past me out to the parking lot.
I’d tell you more about it, but I need to go find myself a frozen malt.