Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Old Ball Game

I find that the world these days is not a place I care to write about much, and so I will write about The Good Old Days.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a winning season since I left that town in the middle of 1993. I am not convinced that I am to blame for this, though sometimes I wonder what would happen if I moved back. It’s a nice city to live in – I lived there for four years and enjoyed it, so the possibility is always there. Perhaps someday I’ll test this theory.

When I lived there I used to go down to Three Rivers Stadium to see the Pirates play fairly often.

It was cheap, which meant a lot to someone on a graduate student’s stipend that even my own department considered to be below the poverty line.

It was accessibly by bus, as was most of the area, really – Pittsburgh had an excellent public transportation system at the time. It was easy to get to the stadium, and once you learned the trick of getting on the buses as they were coming into downtown rather than as they were leaving downtown, getting home was a breeze.

And I enjoyed the games. Baseball is best enjoyed in person, down at the stadium. The Pirates were good then – nearly always in the playoffs. Jim Leyland was the manager. A nonsteroidal Barry Bonds – whip thin and wearing a much smaller hat than the one he retired with – played in outfield, along with Bobby Bonilla and the resident quote machine, Andy Van Slyke. I saw Tim Wakefield’s first game, before anyone knew he was a knuckleballer – we all just thought he had control issues. It was fun.

Every so often they would have “Buc Night” – one of those marketing puns that front offices around the league just love to inflict on their fan bases. In practical terms, it meant that any member of the rabble could get in for a dollar and sit in the outfield seats, between the foul poles. This was an irresistible temptation for one as financially challenged as I, especially since I already had a bus pass. For a buck, I had an entire evening’s entertainment right there in front of me.

And everything was a dollar. Admission was a dollar. Hot dogs were a dollar. Nachos were a dollar. Sodas were a dollar.

And the quart-sized beers? Those were a dollar too.

All of which meant that by the seventh inning, the game was probably the least interesting thing going on in that stadium.

They only had those Buc Nights for games that didn’t mean a whole lot to begin with – Tuesday night games where none of the opposing teams were anywhere near the playoff races, for example. Nor were any of those opposing teams natural rivals or divisional foes – I never got to see my Phillies on those nights. They were throwaway games, and as such tended to be rather uneventful.

These Buc Nights were successful, as far as they went. The cheap seats out in the outfield were generally filled with rabble. And it was a good thing that they had this promotion, because there was usually nobody else in the stadium. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.

Give the cheap seats large amounts of low-cost beer and nothing much to distract them, and they will create their own distractions.

Good times.

Actually my favorite story from my days at Three Rivers wasn’t one of those Buc Nights at all, but was another night where the fans created their own distractions.

I was temping as a paralegal at the time, having achieved my MA and not quite knowing what else to do with it, and one of my office buddies decided that the lot of us should go down to Opening Day. This must have been 1992.

So about half a dozen of us got seats out in left field, fairly down low, not far from the foul pole. I believe we were the first fans above the left field wall, so if there had been any home runs that game we might have actually come away with the ball.

This turned out not to be a concern.

As a promotional item, the Pirates had handed everyone in the stadium – a fairly good crowd, as I recall – a glossy team guide, listing all of the players and trumpeting what would no doubt be their fine achievements in the coming season. And in the center of this they had inserted a full-page game card for us to write out the line-ups and follow along, the way baseball fans do.

Do football fans do that sort of thing? Or is it unique to baseball?

The thing you have to know about that game card is that it was printed on nice, heavy cardstock, and perforated for easy removal, in case you wanted to keep the guide for reference purposes after the game.

The game itself was one of those 2-1 pitchers’ duels where all of the scoring happens in the first inning and a half before the pitchers settle in, and then nothing else happens for the rest of the night – no runs, no baserunners, not even much in the way of interesting fielding.

So we had a lot of free time, out there in the stands.

The first paper airplane hit center field sometime in the fourth inning.

By the top of the fifth inning, there were several dozen out there, and more in the air. They would come launching out of the cheap seats, way up in the air, and sail lazily around the stadium on the swirling air currents before finally settling more or less gracefully onto the turf. Whenever one made it all the way onto the infield the entire crowd would erupt into cheers.

We didn’t have much else to cheer about.

By the seventh inning the planes were coming down like snowflakes, maybe two every three seconds, and they were getting hard to keep track of individually.

Eventually they stopped the game and sent out the groundskeepers with large trash bags to scoop them up and cart them away. The crowd was not particularly happy about this and voiced their displeasure, but the game announcer made it very clear that a) management did not especially care about our displeasure, as they had enough of their own regarding the situation to keep them occupied, and b) serious but unnamed consequences would be visited upon us should this sort of thing continue.

I don’t recall that the airplanes stopped after that, but I do believe they slowed down.

It was a glorious night for baseball.


Janiece said...

Sigh. I love baseball.

KimK said...

Ahhh, Buc Nite - many happy memories. Do they still do that? Any yinzers out there who can report back?

David said...

You need memories of baseball, especially now when the ground is covered in snow.

Unknown said...

A DOLLAR for major league baseball in the nineties? You're not pulling our legs?

David said...

It was a promotional thing - they did it a couple of times a season, on the theory that a) nobody was going to see these throwaway games anyway, so any dollar they made was a dollar more than they would have made, and b) you might like it and come back to pay full freight next time.

I wonder if they still do it.

Kathleen said...

I remember Buc night. Good times. We went to one that went on for 15 or 16 innings, with a final score of 1-0 or something (oy), but we wouldn't leave unless it ended up being a record long game...

Kathleen Rehder said...

"in case" not "unless"...