Fan Club

So, in 2006 there was this show called Fan Club. (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2006/jul06/07-10FanClubPR.mspx). Someone had come up with an idea that it would be ok to have the starting lineup for the Schaumburg Flyers, an independent team in the Northern League (where I worked from 2004-06) be decided by the fans. There was a reality component to it, where the players talked about all sorts of things, from nights out to on-the-field activities.

It was interesting, to say the least. I’d walk into the Flyers’ clubhouse and run into Andy McCauley, their manager and a baseball man if I’ve ever met one. Andy would say things like, “Can you believe I’ve got to start that SOB in center field, Loren? He’s never played center field in his life. And he’s the slowest guy on the team and I’ve got to bat him leadoff.”

Who knows who was doing it, and why, but someone was stuffing the ballot box so Andy’s lineup would be horrible. He was a great manager, from an indy ball perspective. He’d take the time to show me his salary cap spreadsheet, tell me why he was doing what with whom, and teach me. I wasn’t his broadcaster. But for some reason, the dude held me in high regard. He used to tell me I could have been the operations director for the league, that no one else in the league knew the roster rules and intricacies better than I did.

But later in the season the Fan Club people got bored. They needed story lines, and they had grown tired of doing things like a profile on Randy Birch, our public address announcer who used to chant “Who-pper” when the Burger King Whopper batter got two strikes. (We’d set up a promo where if the Whopper batter struck out, one section would receive a free whopper.) “Ahh, I can taste the flame broiled goodness!”

So they took Blake Williams, a Schaumburg pitcher who was a little outspoken. A former first rounder, Williams was in independent ball as much for his attitude as for his results. And the producers fed Williams some questions about the T-Bones, and Kansas City, and all of that, and Williams bit. You see the same sort of thing on the Bachelor: the producer and staff know what they want to hear, they ask leading questions, and they fool the principals and the audience. A rather simple tactic, and Williams fell for it.

Well, the staff showed some of our players the video in the dugout. I remember seeing it. And I remember seeing a few of our players right after, and them intimating that Williams was going to pay for it.

So, to set the scene, Greg Jacobs is at bat. Jacobs is a guy who had gotten to Triple-A for the Mariners, and while Jake always had a tough exterior, I’ll never forget when he held our four-month-old daughter one night at dinner for about half an hour. He had a huge grin, just loving it. But the Flyers thought Jake was peeking – looking back with his shades and seeing what the catcher was calling. The catcher said something to Jake. Jake said something back. Charles Peterson (#23), another first rounder who had gotten an offer to quarterback the FSU Seminoles, came out and got between Jake and the catcher. At that point, the umpire Sean Randall should have warned the benches, sent Chuck Pete back to the dugout, and resumed play.

But Randall didn’t. And the sound guy played “If You’re Happy And You Know It”.

Jake kept yapping. It went for a while. And the next pitch from Rick DeHart went behind his back. Randall warned both benches – and then, the on-deck hitter, Peterson, charged the mound, flattening Randall along the way.

You always wonder how dudes will respond. There’s J.D. Foust (#20), running around trying to knock someone out. There’s Chad Sosebee (#5) punching someone, trying to defend someone on the team. There’s Flyer shortstop Sandy Almonte sucker punching people until catcher Craig Hurba tracks him down “like Wild Kingdom” (I have a still shot of that, signed, on my wall at home). There’s big Eddie Pearson (#48) getting sucker-punched and losing his mind. From a team standpoint, it was all bad. Foust, Jacobs, Peterson and Pearson were all suspended for varying time periods. It knocked us out of any playoff contention and basically ended Eddie’s career with the team.

And then the field manager “Dirty” Al Gallagher (#24). Yeah, that was his name, and it was “Dirty”, not “Dirty Al”. Al was trying desperately to stop Chuck Pete from getting back into the thick of things. It wasn’t working. Al did a Jeff Van Gundy impression and I thought he was going to have a heart attack.

Bobby Bell, the hitting coach for the Flyers and another good man, was going after Sean Randall for his complicity in letting the whole thing take place. McCauley (#22) tried to get Bobby out of there, and finally he did. What a mess the thing was. It reminded me of reading Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, when late in the book the fans get disturbingly violent.

And you get the dude at 4:03 in the video (http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=24219954618) – “Is this going to be on TV? Can you get me on TV?” He sounds a lot like LeBron James, come to think of it.

It’s amazing what kind of insanity you can cause by telling someone they’re going to be on television. Amazing.

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