View From The Bleachers

July 13, 2012

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Filed under: Featured,General — Jeremiah Johnson @ 4:08 pm

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.


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  • Jedi

    Headed to the Stadium tonight…might need to have myself a malt – provided I don’t get shivved before I get through the turnstyles.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Admittedly, it is harder to eat it with all that riot gear getting in the way.

  • cap’n Obvious

    ahhhh, Doger Stadium.  Where else can you get a 3.2% alcohol Coors Light for $9?

    The answer?  Staples Center.

  • Doc Raker

    Is shivved like getting shanked in the big house?

  • Lizzie

    (Safe travels Jedi.) Great article, Jeremiah. I got hit in the left breast with a (thrown) ball once at a AAA game. I survived intact.

  • Jeremiah Johnson


  • cap’n Obvious

    Caught 2 foul balls.  Well, only ‘caught’ one.  First was as a 12 year old at Wrigley in ’82.    A foul ball into the 2 dozen or so empty lower deck seats in the left field corner, hit by Larry Bowa.  I raced and beat 3 or 4 other kids to the ball.  I jumped around like a world series winner…and was later told that Harry referenced me as a “happy kid.”  No VCR at the Obvious home until about ’87.  The other was when I was finishing college in St. Louis.  My mother (who was running Mike Shannon’s restaurant at the time) gave me 2 tickets to a Cardinals game, with the catch being I take a friend’s daughter, who turned out to be a quite attractive, but amazingly shallow and stupid freshman co-ed from Mizzou.  Caught the foul ball off a rebound of the upper deck facade, held it up, and the co-ed found the TV camera and kissed me and took the ball.  It was a Cardinal game so I let her keep it.  I also let her keep the cases of the clap and herpes she was likely dealing.

    Best seats I ever had was at Wrigley.  Alec Berg has a friend that had front row seats on the bricks next to the visitors dugout.  Until the ownership pushed him out and put a row in front of him.

    Not a baseball game, but during the Bulls playoffs in ’93, game 6, I had 2nd row seats behind the Knicks bench, and proceeded to shower John Starks with poll data I told him I got from the fans around me.  I was sure he couldn’t hear me or didn’t care, until late in the game when I yelled something about no one in Oklahoma naming their kids John anymore, and he yelled “man, fuck you!” directly at me.  I was pretty proud of me for getting under his skin at that moment, and will go ahead right now and take some credit, publicly, for the Bulls win in that series and eventual NBA Championship.  You’re welcome Chicago.

    Worst seats were at old Comiskey.  I was about 6 years old.  Last row of the lower deck behind the plate.  About 4 beams blocking the view, one in each direction.  And forget about seeing any ball in the air.  Chet Lemon homered to lead off the 9th, and Jorge Orta hit a 2 run homer, and the Sox overcame a 6-4 deficit to win 7-6.  

    Favorite non-Wrigley ballpark is probably Petco.  Great sight lines, great food, and the Cubs usually have a decent chance at beating the woeful Padres.

    My grandfather was a polish south sider, and a huge Sox fan.  He used to take us to almost every home game at old Comiskey from about 1976-83.  He’d never kick down for good seats, but my brother and I would always buy these awesome cherry italian ices in the left field corner and hang out in the picnic area and watch through the left field fence.    I’d easily pay $100 for another one of those italian ices, which were 50 cents I believe.

    I once braved a Cub game at Dodger Stadium with Ken Ober and Alec Berg.  About 300 people came by and bothered us.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to REALLY be famous.  Another time, I went with Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane, who I tried to teach a quality left-handed swing.  If you saw 61*, you know I miserably failed, but if you saw either of them swing before the month I spent in a batting cage with them, you’d appreciate the effort.  No one bothered us, because we were in the dugout seats at Dodger Stadium, and people are always more interested in Lasorda and Pat Sajak down there.  I suppose if you consider a hot dog and a beer dinner, one could say I dined with all of them.  Only in LA.

  • Buddy

    Big fan of Petco Park, especially when you stay next door at the Omni. The hotel is connected to the stadium. 

  • Doc Raker

    So many great memories it is hard to choose. I saw Burt Hooton throw a no hitter on a cold April day in 1972 with my 2 brothers and dad. 
    I took 2 of my California friends to Wrigley in August 1999, we went to an entire Rockies series. When we departed LA I told them I couldn’t be responsible for them not ever enjoying any other ballpark after they visit Wrigley- they guffawed. One game we sat in the Alec Berg seats the Capn mentioned, one game in the bleachers and one game in the box seats on the third base side. The air show was in town and the fighter jets were buzzing the stadium like crazy, one jet did an air stop in front of the scoreboard and then shot up into the sky like it was a cartoon. Sosa hit 4 home runs in that series and he hit one out onto Waveland that went over the edge of the center field bleachers- it was the farthest ball I had ever seen hit at Wrigley. We got to Wrigleyville early, left late and enjoyed Wrigley in all its glory. Took my dear Aunt Cookie, Rose and Juanna to a big greek dinner in greek town, an awesome weekend. In the last inning on Sunday a fouled ball fell in and out of my hands in the Alec Berg seats and when I get home my wife says, “So you dropped the ball”- My brothers saw it on TV and will never let me forget it, apparently my error was a close up for the Arnie Harris production team. On the flight back home my friends said, “Ok, we get it, what an awesome place.”Petco has a Wrigleyville feel with the stadium being in the Gas Lamp district of downtown. I even got to meet the JJ brothers on the last day of last season last September at Petco. I also like Banc One or whatever it is now called in Phoenix in any month other than June, July or August.I took my wife on a date to a game at Dodger stadium and she catches 2 foul balls in the same game, lucky lady she is and it was also good fortune to catch 2 foul balls in one game.

  • Doug S.

    Yes on the foul ball, though it was a minor league game. Beer in right hand, clean catch with my left hand, it stung. Immediately gave it to a kid behind me. Applause.

    Best seats. Dodger stadium on my birthday this year. On the aisle 3 rows up from the Nationals bench. Harpers 2nd game. Sunny afternoon. 2-0 Dodgers

    Heckler. Candlestick Park. Giants vs Dodgers. 10 rows behind Dodgers bench. This guy was non stop before the game heckling the Dodgers in turn about their contracts and performance. Very funny.

    Worst seats. Old Yankee Stadium. True nosebleeds in right field, it was packed.

    MLB Ballpark. Been to 20 of them. Safeco is my favorite.

    Hot dog and beer.

    No famous fan meetings, but lots of cool non-famous cub fan meetings. Meeting other fans at Cubs road games is great. Family like, without the annoyance.

  • Doc Raker

    I heckled Jeff Bagwell from the Alec Berg seats once, “Hey Jeff, how is it playing in a real ball park? What’s going on at the Astro Dome right now? The Circus in town in Houston? Will there be a big stain from elephant dung on the astro turf at first base when you get back? Enjoy playing in a real ball park while you are here.” The umpire and Bagwell were laughing.


    1. Never caught a HR or foul ball, but I did catch a ball from Dempster pre-game when he was shagging flies.
    2. Always the bleacher seats at Wrigley, section 304, left field, where the REAL bleacher bums hang out. My seats for one of the Marlins games wasn’t bad at all either. I posted a picture of it. This might change in 2 weeks though. I am going to Turner Field, Great American, and Progressive Field on the drive home. (In Atlanta right now)
    3. April 2007. Cubs-Brewers in the RF bleachers (before I learned that 304 is where to go). All of us were heckling Billy Hall. We told him his mom called and told him to put on a sweater bc it was cold. He gave us the finger in the 8th inning. Last year, I was at Cubs-Reds and told Johnny Gomes to stop cutting his hair with a weed-whacker, and see a barber
    4. 2006, Cubs-Mets in the 500 level. Obstructed view
    5. Right now, it the Marlins new park. Again, this could change in 2 weeks
    6. Easily Miller Park. Polish, Italian, and Bratwurst. Do I need to say anything else? I doubt this will change in 2 weeks, but you never say never (even though I just did 2 times)
    7. No, but I delivered a pizza to Tom Ricketts and got Jim Hendry fired.


    BTW – What are Alec Berg seats?

  • Doc Raker

    Second row behind first base, now 4th row since they put in the bullpen seats in from of them. I sat in those seats on a game Ryne Sandberg got thrown out in, he beat out a 1st and 3rd double play ball in a close game. A safe call scores a run but the umpire banged him and he argued with the ump right in front of us which makes me one of the few people to ever actually here Ryne Sandberg talk on a baseball field.


    I amend #5 to say Atlanta. What a day in Atlanta today. Saw Turner Field. They have a huge HOF, and so many reminders of their past. And so many memories from the Olympics. Those games did so much good for Atlanta.

  • Christopher Allen

    Have to say, I just found this blog this season and many thanks for the witty, insightful banter to help me through another Cubs season.  I don’t get to see many Cubs games on TV anymore (what’s wrong with WGN?) and living in ATL I’m too far to catch a game in Wrigley.  Anyway, here are my recollections:

    I have never caught a ball at a game—foul ball, home run, batting practice—and the closest I’ve come is a home run ball to the bleachers maybe 20 or so seats away.

    Best seats were playoff game seats with my parents at the Ted.  They were visiting me when the Cubs played the Braves in the NLDS. Thankfully, Braves fans don’t feel the need to show up for the playoffs until the World Series.  We were field level, 3rd base side, about 50 rows up.  We went back for a second game in the series (thanks again, Braves fans!) and had similar seats.

    I can’t pick out any hecklers in my memory and I can’t say I’m disappointed.  I do recall a drunk trying to pick up my mom when I was 18 at a Black Hawks-Capitols match in DC.  I was happy when he retired his antics somewhere in the second period.

    Worst seats… I didn’t care for the old Busch Stadium (haven’t been to the new one) and the Philly stadium compares just as infavorably with much worse fans.  Philly fans are so ignorant and we had terrible upper deck seats. However, the worst seats ever were for an end of season game at Memorial Stadium to watch the Orioles play.  Extreme upper deck, completely exposed to the wind, we spent so much of our time in search of hot chocolate vendors I can’t recall who the Orioles were playing.

    Favorite park outside of Wrigley, Camden Yards.  Beautiful park, great sight lines, and such a nice renovation to the waterfront mdke my trips there a great experience.

    I’m a traditionalist (or just plain cheap) so my favorite ballpark foods are hotdogs and peanuts.

    I have not met any famous Cubs fans at the ballpark.  My closest bout with fame on
    any level is sitting across from Elizabeth Dole on a nearly empty flight to DC.  “Nice legs,” I thought, and then I went, “Woah, that’s Elizabeth Dole.  Who knew she had such nice legs?”

  • Eddie Von White

    Foul Ball – Caught one off the bat of Billy Williams when I was 10 years old. It was his wife’s birthday. My friend and I made a sign out of poster board and crayons that said, “Hey Billy, do it for Shirley.” The ball was bouncing around the aisle, I caught it on a ricochet and about 10 overweight guys landed on top of me, breaking the band on my wrist watch, shattering the glass bubble thing over the face  and wrestled the ball out of my hand. By the time I got up, the guy with the ball was long gone and I was left with an almost memory.

    Heckler – When the Cubs played the Indians a couple of years ago, (Kerry Wood was on the Indians) along about the 7th inning, some guy in the left field bleachers started heckling Ryan Garko relentlessly. “Hey Garko, you’re a bum. You’re a bum Garko,” and on and on eventually escalating into profanities and insults. Not sure what the problem with Garko was but I think alcohol may have been involved.

    Famous ball players – I met Ryne Sandburg, Billy Williams, and Dwight Smith in Mesa one year in the late 80’s. Dwight Smith was the nicest and actually chatted with us a bit.

  • Doc Raker

    Welcome Christopher- so in VFTB speak you had dinner with Elizabeth Dole since they probably fed you some peanuts on your flight. You should of sprang for one of those twist  top chardonnay’s with her. I am a leg man in the sense that the legs tell you most of the story. If you start at the feet and go up from there by the time you are at the ankles you have a good idea if an offer of twist top chardonnay is worth the $8.

  • Christopher Allen

    Well, I have a thing for shoes (heels, but we needn’t go into too much detail) so I really started from there on up…  The twist top chard–classy move–I wish I had thought of that.

    And to think my first comments I expected to make on this blog would be about stats and personnel.  LOL

  • Doc Raker

    Heels for sure, when I see granola crunching sandals I stop the elevator eye quicker than Buddy not reaching for his wallet when the check comes.

  • Seymour Butts

    Would that the rest of her life had been as fortunate.

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