Friday, May 25, 2007

Never mix baseball and technology

Each year during baseball season I play hooky for an afternoon and attend a major league game. There are two professional teams in my backyard – the Cubs and the White Sox – and it doesn’t matter which team I watch. The point is, the weather is warm, I’m watching baseball and I get a chance to reflect on childhood memories.
Flash back to 1973, my first ball game. I attended it with the other members of Den Five, my Cub Scout troop. Thankfully we did not have to wear our Cub Scout uniforms to the game, as there really is no reason to attend a ball game wearing a knotted yellow scarf. Instead, we dressed like the normal, wide-eyed kids we were, as we descended on Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs do battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I brought two items from home: my baseball mitt and a ballpoint pen. Like every boy, I dreamed of snaring a foul ball from the likes of Ron Santo or Ernie Banks as if it were as routine as catching a pop fly during a Little League game. The cameras would zero in on me as the fans applauded. I’d take the ball home, put it on a bookshelf in my room and go to sleep every night staring at it.
I could dream, couldn’t I?
The ballpoint pen represented a more realistic goal. I was determined to get an
autograph, any autograph, of a major league ballplayer. I knew from watching pre-game shows on TV that players liberally signed before beginning their jobs. This was my chance to not only meet one of my idols, but also come home with proof.
As Den Five made its way into Wrigley, I immediately stopped in front of the man yelling, “SCORECARD!” I purchased one for a dime; this was now my official autograph book as there was plenty of blank space surrounding the lineup box for signatures. Once we got to our seats, I immediately began scanning the field, in hopes a Cubs player would make his way to the stands and sign.
Suddenly I spied a real live Cub. Not just any Cub but my favorite player at the time, left fielder Billy Williams. I darted down the steps with my card, where more than 50 kids had already assembled near the dugout, all with the same intention – get Billy’s autograph.
For a ten-year-old boy, the scene was intimidating to say the least. Dozens of outstretched hands held programs in Williams’ face. He would randomly pick one, sign and thrust it back into the mob, where the card’s owner took it. Stretching my arm as far as I could, I did the same with my card, thinking that it was hopeless.
Moments later, I felt a tug on my scorecard, as if a fish had just nibbled my hook. I had a bite! Not just a bite but it appeared I was about to hook the mother of all fish as I saw Williams’ light-brown hand on MY card! I let go. As Williams signed, I wondered if I would actually get the card back. “He’s just going to stick it back in the pile,” I thought. “There are older kids here. Surely one will grab the card.”
But nobody did. Williams completed his signature, placed the card back into the mass and waited for a tug. That tug came from me. I had the card. With a whoop of delight, I retreated to my seat. It was like a simple movie premise: boy sees player, boy gets scorecard, player signs scorecard, boy get scorecard back, boy lives happily ever after.
Now flash forward to 2007. Picture a ten-year-old Cub Scout trying to do the same thing and lets see how the scenario would play out.
Having successfully raised $800 during the winter, Den Five finally has enough money to afford baseball tickets. Or so they think. The den mother’s plan to purchase tickets on line goes awry when she pulls up the seat map for the game and sees the only tickets left are behind a support beam. A hasty bake sale/car wash/canning drive is organized and the troop raises another $200 that’s needed to purchase seats through a ticket broker.
The boys arrive at the ballpark and endure the formalities of getting inside. Their bags are searched and they are wanded for explosives. One boy wanders over to purchase a scorecard even though he is breaking the den mother’s first rule. On the bus ride she clearly stated, “under no circumstances will you go anywhere without adult supervision.”
Thankfully, one of the chaperones walks over and the boy completes his transaction for the simple white cardboard square that looks exactly the same as it did 34 years ago, albeit with more advertising. The other scouts decline to purchase scorecards, as they don’t want to part with $3.50.
The youngsters take their seats and eagerly await the arrival of the hot dog vendor. But the scout with the card has his eyes on the field, desperately looking for a player, any player, who is signing autographs. There are none. Yes, there are dozens of players on the field but none are talking with fans. Instead they are talking with men wearing expensive suits and carrying two cell phones.
Speaking of cell phones the boys get a lesson in swearing when they are forced to listen to a spectator sitting directly behind them in company-purchased seats. He is having a loud, profanity-filled conversation with somebody with the following names: “son of a bitch,” “dickhead” and “asswipe.” A disapproving glance from the den mother proves pointless.
Suddenly a lone player wanders over to the stands. The scout has no idea who it is. Truth be known, it’s a minor leaguer who was called up yesterday for a ten-day assignment. But all the kid knows is that a professional baseball player is actually going to SIGN AUTOGRAPHS. He charges down the steps, pursued by the assistant den mother who is trying to heed the den mother’s aforementioned rule. She will have her hands full as an aggressive-looking mob, consisting primarily of middle-aged men holding multiple balls, baseball cards and jerseys, has already assembled.
The boy thrusts his scorecard into the pack. Tears form in his eyes as his feet are stepped on and his ribs elbowed. He is ready to give up when suddenly he feels the tug. Yes, the player has grabbed his scorecard! He lets go, the player signs and places it back into the pack.
The boy reaches for the card Suddenly another hand appears from nowhere and grabs it. The hand belongs to a grown man with a shaved head and tattoos adorning both shoulders. One is a Confederate flag logo; the other simply says “BITCH.”
Clutching the autograph in one hand, the man races up the steps and returns to his seat. Using his digital camera equipped Blackberry, he snaps a photo of the autograph and prepares to upload the image to eBay for a “Buy It Now” price of $30.
Meanwhile a security guard consoles the sobbing scout. The kid relays his story and points to the thief, who is now drinking beer with his friends, showing them the autograph and freely admitting that he stole it from “some dorky looking kid who probably came with his gay scout troop.”
Three guards ascend the stairs and confront the thief, who replies with his middle finger. One guard reaches for the program and the thief pushes him. The guard pushes back. A scuffle breaks out, another guard tasers the perpetrator and he is hauled away in handcuffs, freely screaming profanities at anyone within earshot. Another spectator, sitting two rows below, records the whole scene using the video camera contained in his cell phone. Within moments he uploads the images to CNN where a graphics editor slaps on the phrase, “EXCLUSIVE: BASEBRAWL!” and forwards it to a news producer, who makes it the leading story on the Noon News Round Up. Half an hour later, the video has been viewed over one million times on YouTube.
Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton reports, incorrectly, that the beating victim is a distant cousin of Lindsay Lohan. Website TMZ.com, citing “sources close to the brutal attack,” reports that the victim is 1/82 African American.
By the third inning, Jesse Jackson is leading a protest march outside Wrigley Field. The Rev. Al Sharpton has already appeared on every major network and cable outlet, demanding the firing of the security guards, the ballplayer, the entire Cubs front office, Bud Selig and Abner Doubleday. He also says “serious discussions” are needed in the Cub Scouts organization.
Meanwhile the scout has returned to his seat, sans autograph. Cameras hone in on him and plaster his face on the television. An alert tipster calls the network with the boy’s name and soon he is being identified on screen. At home, his mother wonders why the phone is ringing so much? Furthermore, she can’t understand why the first call is a death threat, the second is from Anderson Cooper and the third is from a producer for The Late Show with David Letterman.
A Cubs public relations official finds the boy in his seat. He apologizes profusely and tells the den mother that, if the child agrees not to sue, he will get a tour of the lockerroom and an autographed jersey signed by every Cubs player.
The scout says he has to think about it.

I still have my Billy Williams autograph. I took it out the other day and wept on it.

1 comment:

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