The Bob Gibson Story

So, I have a story which makes all of the time I spent in sports completely worth it. By itself.

In 2006, I was working for the Kansas City T-Bones in the independent Northern League. At our ballpark – CommunityAmerica Ballpark – we hosted the Best of the Midwest, a college tournament which ran for a couple days, every year about a month before the season started. It was a pretty good warmup for the season for us, helped the groundskeeper get things ready for spring training (yes, in indy ball your spring training field is your ballpark) and was another way to get the stadium’s name in the paper and sell some tickets before the season.

For the 2006 season, our presenting sponsor for the tournament was Pridemaker Apparel, a team outfitter in Kansas City. I think Pridemaker did some jerseys for us, and the sponsorship was a giveback. Pridemaker was owned by a former Royals pitcher, a very good guy, who happened to be a radio personality in KC. As part of the sponsorship he got a couple of suites to use for the entire tournament.

I’ve neglected to mention the suites at the ballpark… They were all numbered, starting from the left-field corner, in ascending order. I know there was a 9, Ted Williams; 22, Buck O’Neil; 29, Satchel Paige; 390, George Brett… I can’t remember all of them, but they were mostly players with a Kansas City or Midwestern tie. There was a Bob Gibson suite, too, #45. Gibson was from Nebraska and played his entire major league career with the Cardinals.

Because it wasn’t a T-Bones game, I wasn’t on the radio, which left me to do things like stop people as they tried to bring a keg into the ballpark. Yeah, a keg. They actually said “Just turn the other way, no one will see.”

But back to suite 45. We knew that the Pridemaker guys were supposed to be in #45. But when I checked on the suite, I saw a group of people in there – but no one from Pridemaker. There was a lady who had taken a leadership role among the squatters, but she wasn’t supposed to be in there either. I had checked on the suite, didn’t put two and two together and let them stay. I went downstairs to check on something else. As I came back up, maybe half an hour later, I saw a familiar, athletic looking man, maybe 70 years old, coming down the stairs rather quickly. I didn’t place him. I would shortly.

I ran into my buddy Bryan Williams, our promotions director. He said, “I can’t believe those people in Suite 45.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, I went to ask them to leave the suite. They wouldn’t go. Your friend, that lady, got a little nasty. She kept pointing at this guy in the corner and saying ‘It’s his suite!’ I kept saying, ‘Lady, it’s not, it’s Pridemaker’s suite’. She wouldn’t let it go.”

“Dude, what suite were they in again?”

“45. The Bob Gibson suite.”

All ¬†of a sudden, it clicked. The athletic-looking dude who came down the stairs: Bob Gibson. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand. “Oh my God. Awesome. You just threw Bob Gibson out of the Bob Gibson suite.”

“No way dude. That’s not possible. Holy shit.”

I didn’t mention that Gibson’s son Chris was playing for Southeast Missouri, which was playing in the tournament. I don’t think any of us had ever thought he’d come to the stadium in Kansas City – but he did. And what did he get for it? Thrown out of the Bob Gibson suite.

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Found a (lousy) corn dog

King Kone in Merrimack, NH. Microwaved grocery store corn dog… although their ice cream does pretty much rock.

And this brings me to my next thoughts. Ballpark food. I got really good at eating it. The best ballpark hot dog ever? Probably the first one I ate at the end of a sixteen-hour Friday (you pick one) working in California. We’d do these 50-cent Fridays, where hot dogs and other items were 50 cents. Believe it or not, people would come in droves for these days. But our concession guy didn’t like to staff quite like he needed to, so the front office personnel would pitch in when the lines got long.

You’d be sweating like a pig, pouring beer, rolling hot dogs, running ice all over the place, working a register, whatever, until the lines went down. People never quite realized how hard it was to sell a baseball ticket, and how easy it was to lose a customer. So we’d scramble, watch the concessions kids, make up to the fans when we needed to, and attempt to visit as many groups and corporate sponsors during the night.

Those were the nights you’d hope the games ran long, so we could sell more stuff. Beer sales ended at the end of the seventh inning, so the more time until then, the better the per-cap (dollars per person in park) was.

Long story short, we’d finish up and tax the hot dogs. If we were lucky there was a tri-tip sandwich and a beer waiting. Once all was done, reports were completed, the last fan was gone, lights were out, we’d eat something. That was the best ballpark food, ever.

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Corn dogs

“Time misspent” was supposed to apply to the parts of eight seasons I spent working in minor league baseball, forsaking a real corporate life for bus trips up I-29, “taxing the spread” when major league rehabbers bought dinner for the team and grabbing a beer or two after the last game of a ten-game homestand.

Time misspent can also apply to other aspects of life. Like corn dogs.

We just got back from a week in Martha’s Vineyard, which, by the way, is one of five place names in the country with an apostrophe in it (in case you were wondering). Having grown up in southern California, I remember that going to the beach (if it didn’t include TK Burger or a Balboa Bar) meant a corn dog. Greasy, good corn dogs, where you would finish the dog and have grit in your teeth – maybe it was corn, maybe it was sand, but it was something gritty.

We got to the Vineyard and I really wanted a corn dog. Layup, one would think. Nope.

Vineyard Haven… Nope. A little too upscale. The nice people at Sandy’s Fish and Chips told me my best bet was “the frozen food section at Stop and Shop”.

Edgartown. Nope. Again, the corn dog is perhaps a bit lowbrow… the ice cream places, which should have had something, had things like paninis. At the beach? Really? Paninis?

Chilmark/Menemsha. I would have thought the Bite or the Galley would have been a dead lock. Both serve copious amounts of fried food, but no bleeping corn dogs. Although the Bite did have Mac and Cheese Bites, the best I’ve had since the press box of Midway Stadium at St. Paul (where everything is fried – the best press food in the universe).

Oak Bluffs. This is the Coney Island of MV. My two hopes – Nancy’s and a place called Jimmy’s – didn’t have them. Jimmy’s had a sign claiming they sold “hot dogs” but they had nothing that was even a hot dog. You gotta be kidding me. Nancy’s, lots of fried fun things, but nothing.

So we get back to the 603 today. I’m thinking Cremeland – for those who don’t know, it’s an old-school, fried food and ice cream joint in the New England tradition. We called on the way over, and you got it: no corn dogs. So I stopped at Dairy Queen on 2nd St. in Manchester. No corn dogs.

I checked the menu at Axel’s, a great spot in Merrimack. No corn dogs. Woodman’s of Essex (well, Litchfield): no corn dogs.

Allegedly, the only place I can find them in the 603 is King Kone in Merrimack.

So, yeah, here we are. The summer food of choice, sold at almost any ballpark in the country, appears to be nearly extinct. What’s caused this? I’m going to blame the food police who don’t let us eat anything fun anymore. Corn dogs were a staple in the CdMHS cafeteria, right along with the coffee cake. They probably eat foie gras now.

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Sports Illustrated Quote of the Week

A little late… Every Sports Illustrated issue has at least one quote from someone that has something to do with life, and little to do with sports. Believe it or not, most of them come from bit players.

On Montreal Canadien goalie Jaroslav Halak: “He’s the feel-good story of the playoffs because he’s had to earn it. The things in life that are truly worth having are supposed to come that way, aren’t they?” – winger Mike Cammalleri

Sports Illustrated, May 24, 2010.

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Umpires, and Jim Joyce

I know this one is a little late, but I want some cents on Jim Joyce. People don’t realize exactly what goes into being an umpire. These guys work their way up through the minor leagues, just like the players do – only not as quickly. The life they lead isn’t glamorous. There are no home games – every game is a road game, and their home for the summer is a car or truck with all of their possessions in it.

You would think that someone with this kind of life would have difficulty enjoying some of the fruits of summer the players do, but that’s not the case. In many of the small towns which host minor league baseball, there’s not much to do after 10pm. Meaning, if you want a beer you have about one choice – Applebee’s, and maybe another place. And usually, this is where the players are.

In the time I worked in baseball, we’d see a lot of umpires come through. You had the cleat-chasers – the girls who would wind up with ballplayers – and, believe it or not, there were girls who liked umpires. We were never sure what to call them. Clicker-chasers? Chest-protector-chasers? Regardless, they were out there.

So, I guess, my point is this: take it easy on Jim Joyce. Dude has paid his dues to get to where he is. Yeah, he screwed up a call. Do any of us get through a workday without messing something up? Does Tiger Woods miss short putts? Did Scott Hoch brick one to win the Masters? Derrick Rose miss free throws that would have won a title for Memphis? Scott Norwood miss a field goal? Yeah, big deal. It happens.

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