$8 to stare at Beavers…

May 20, 2007 at 5:06 am (The Easy Chair, Waxing Nostalgic)

Will I ever tire of suggestive titles for blogposts? I can think of two women who would bet big money on this answer:

D.) Never.

Today was ‘take me out to the ballgame’ day. The San Diego Padres Triple A affiliate are the Portland Beavers. Oregon’s state animal is the beaver. It’s Oregon State University’s mascot. The town of Beaverton has been immortalized on South Park. (It floods, in a parody of Hurricane Katrina.) I explain all this, lest you think all Oregonians are obsessed with a certain part of the female anatomy, and not just some, ahem. (Whistling, tapping foot nervously, looking upward…)

So, sorry perverts, this one is about base-uh-ball.

It was a cloudy Saturday afternoon, not much was going on downtown, and there was a day game at Civic Stadium, er, PGE Park. Once or twice a year I meander out to the ballpark, and today I had the urge. The Las Vegas 51s were in town, and I like to support UFO-themed enterprises. How could I resist?

I’ve been attending Beavers games since the late ’70s, and have watched numerous owner/affiliation changes. For a brief stint, we were force-fed the Portland Phillies. There was outrage when this happened. (Don’t be messin’ with our Beavers!) I think I went to a game that year, but can’t be sure. I know it wasn’t long before our Beavers were back in the city, and not just in Corvallis.

In the mid-70s, Portland had the Mavericks, who were owned by Bing Russell. His son, (grandson?) a Ronny Howard wannabe named Kurt, played shortstop for a brief time. I wonder whatever happened to him? Hope he’s doing okay…

In the ’90s, cranky ol’ Joe Buzas moved the franchise to Salt Lake City, leaving heartbroken fans in his wake. It turned out to be good for the city. The Portland Rockies came to town, and baseball resurrected itself once again. Jack and Mary Cain became baseball’s First Couple, and when Triple A baseball pulled rank on their Single A status, I was sad to see them go. The Beavers are a class operation, though, and honor Jack and Mary every once in a while. If not for their contributions, Portland baseball could easily have been sucked into that hole of internet and Starbucks that was the ’90s.

A city-funded cash infusion brought upgrades to Civic Stadium. (Including naming rights. PGE’s parent company was Enron, and there was some dissatisfaction in the community over that. But that $38 million had to come from somewhere…) And now our Beavers are back.

Today’s crowd was sparse, 1,000 or so. There was a breast cancer awareness promotion. The Army was there, giving away camo Beaver caps. (I didn’t get one. There was a time I’d have killed for one, metaphorically speaking, but in war time, I feel uncomfortable wearing fatigues. It loses its hip factor when people are dying every day.)

One thing I wish I’d known ahead of time- it was country music day, sponsored by KUPL. I heard enough twangin’ to last me a decade or two. Although I knew it existed, I’d made it this far in life without having to sit through the Honkytonk Badonk-a-donk. It played at jet levels as I found my general admission seat. (How do they turn the name Bill into a four-syllable word, anyway?)

Yeah, general admission. I’m all for paying extra to sit down below, but the seats suck at PGE Park, unless you’re 5’3″ and weigh 120 pounds. At just shy of six foot, I can, or could, squeeze in. That was before they put those fucking cup holders where the seats curve; now there’s nowhere for my knees. At a previous game, my date and I lasted about half an hour before heading for the bleachers, where one can take up three seats. (During near sell-outs, when these seats are assigned, I do take up three seats. They give you about twelve inches of territory to cram into.)

Today, crowding was not a problem. The upper third of the bleachers were tarped off, and my favorite seat was the back row. Perfect for snagging foul balls, should they land behind me. Come to papa… Alas, no such luck. I did see one old guy get whacked on the shoulder. Another guy got the cell phone knocked out of his hand. (That was funny.) It’s sad when the best part of the game were the foul balls.

I saw a rolling donut, but no one took a flying fuck at it. (One of those weights they put on bats.) An umpire was mocked when it took three tries to toss a dinged baseball into the tented-off drinking area. I didn’t drink, but to amuse myself, I counted how much money I’d saved by staying sober. At $6 per beer, I would have spent at least $24. (A more likely scenario- I’d have left in the fourth inning, and went to The Matador across the street, where drinks are cheap and strong.) The only time I ever was glad I spilled a beer? Once I got stuck with a Coors Light. My buddy, meaning well, offered to chase down the vendor and replace it when it got knocked over, but I held out for two more innings, until the Bud man came around. Why? Trying to get drunk on light beer is like trying to get laid by kissing your sister. What’s the point?

Another nice thing about Triple A baseball, you get to see big-leaguers once in a while. Tony Abreiu was the lead-off man for the 51s, and I know I’ve seen him on a Cubs/Mariners/Braves broadcast. I recognized a couple of other names. The Beavs have had a few on the roster over the years, which reminds me of my favorite baseball souvenir.

I worked in a market next door to The Matador in 1980. A lot of the Beavers lived in the apartments above the store, across the street from the ballpark. One night, after a skirmish with a cussed-dumber, one of my favorite regulars, a burly Latino with broken English, saw what was going on and went upstairs.

He came back with a baseball bat.

“Whoa, dude! It’s okay! The cops are coming. Trouble’s over. Don’t hit anyone, okay?”

“NO. Thees is for joo.” He offered the bat. It was taped near the logo. “He use it, it is crack, but it will hurt on head of asshole, no?”

I looked at the molasses-colored beauty. Lousiville Slugger. 36 ounce, I would guess. The name inscribed?

Willie Horton.

“Was this really his?” I asked. Willie Horton, Detroit Tiger legend, had spent a bit of time in town that summer.

“Jes. Willie break lots of bats.”

Once, out in our back yard in the country, over several beers, I talked my sister into pitching me a couple of balls, just top see if I could still hit, if bats made a difference, etc… The first pitch went over the woodshed, over the fence, and out into the neighbor’s cow pasture. End of experiment. I wish I could have seen just how far the ball went.

Almost thirty years later, I still have Willie Horton’s bat, sitting at the end of my desk, near the door for easy access.

After eight innings of uninspired baseball, I ducked out. The Beavers were down 4-0, and my ass was numb from sitting on a 2X8 with fifty coats of paint for a cushion. I walked toward downtown, deeply inhaling the fresh air and feeling good for supporting the local team.

Baseball is like pizza and sex. Even when it’s not the greatest, it’s still pretty good…

1 Comment

  1. Paul said,

    Man, you write some great blogs!!!

    keep it up!

    -Paul

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