Baseball Fans (and Players) Behaving Badly

When mobs of people get together, sometimes unfortunate things happen. Too often common courtesy takes a seat on an out of the park fly ball. The majority of our time with baseball fans has been pleasant, even absolutely delightful. But there have been those few times when some jerk—or a whole gaggle of jerks—has made the situation so foul, that we put a park on the “never returning here” list.

For example, one of our trips through the Midwest and Southern states took us to Little Rock, Arkansas, an interesting city and home of the Clinton Presidential Library. The day we visited the ballpark turned out to be a morning game with busloads of school children in attendance. (It was spring and teachers will do anything to get the kids out of the classroom!) Since this was a special occasion, tickets were all general admission. We were told that anyone—other than the school kids—could sit anywhere they wanted. Great! So we headed to our spot of preference in any baseball park—right behind home plate. We were settled in, the game started and a group of people took the row of seats behind us. Not unusual. Then suddenly, a 40s-something man dressed in what looked like clothes straight out of Brooks Brothers (their summer line, of course—it was quite warm) and a $500 haircut demanded that we vacate HIS corporate seats. He didn’t ask politely, he didn’t say perhaps we had gotten the wrong tickets, he didn’t even pretend to be courteous. Instead, when Dan explained that we were told to sit anywhere, he blustered on about how much HE had PAID for HIS season tickets, not to mention the $10,000.00 for the corporate advertising and HE was by God going to sit there! HE didn’t care WHAT the office had said. To say the least, we were stunned. The man was the worst kind of fan: an arrogant bully who didn’t know how to say “please.” Needless to say, we moved our stuff and ourselves back one row and over, out of ear shot of the bully and his entourage—who had stayed uncomfortably quiet while our encounter happened. When we got into our new seats, Dan, miffed beyond his mild manner, went back to the front office to complain. When he returned, he said that the management was refusing to even be bothered with comments or concerns of the fans. Ironically, Dan said, during his attempts to talk to the management he could see a sign in the office with the famous quote, “The buck stops here.” Dan came to the conclusion that is was the “money buck” that stopped there, not the “buck” of responsibility or caring, which seemed apropos since the bully’s corporation was a financial institution.

Actually, the people we ended up sitting next to turned out to be as friendly as the bully was mean. They sided with us and explained that that particular group often acted like they owned the stadium. So, we do have an ambiguous view of the Arkansas Travelers’ Dickey-Stephens Park: although there are people in Little Rock you need to avoid, there are also some fans who could make the trip worthwhile.

Another instance of people behaving badly was when we attended a game at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Our seats were in the front row just next to a staging area where some of the off-duty players sat watching the game and/or keeping the stats. Anyone milling around that area could take different routes to exit from that area, one of them being directly in front of us. We soon found out that this staging area was busier than a turnstile at the World Series. No sooner had one person crossed in front of us blocking the game, than another one would be coming back the other way. And never once was there a polite “excuse me.” We missed half the plays because of someone scooting passed our knees. Ginny got so fed up, she put her feet on the concrete wall in front of us and told people to go the other way, down an aisle of seats, by the way, totally unoccupied. The definitive moment came when she was sworn at by one of the players, and not just a more innocuous curse word, but the “f— you” bomb. Here we were, visitors to their town and their stadium, trying to enjoy an evening of baseball, and one of their own players is swearing at us! It was here that we came to the conclusion that there are just some stadiums where it is not worth your time or effort to confront bad behavior—it is better just to warn people about these places. So, that’s a stadium you don’t need to visit.

Then there was Hagerstown, Maryland. The “Root, root, root for the home team” sign on the front of the stadium should have been a clue to us. What fans need to be reminded to cheer for their own team? We found out.

The Suns stadium in Hagerstown, Maryland was a very different experience for us. Never had we seen or heard such behavior from the hometown fans. Yes, they bad-mouthed the umpires—normal. They shouted at the other team players—not polite, but not out of the ordinary. But when they heckled their own team members, we knew something was wrong. Was it perhaps some trick of the atmosphere? It was 90 degrees at 7 pm, another day of a long heat spell, and heat lightening crackled in the distance. Maybe it was all the ozone in the air. No, said the scout sitting next to us. These fans were like this all the time. Ouch. And as we were getting to leave after the game, the scout said, “God help me, I’ve got two more nights to be here.” When an experienced scout who’s seen many, many stadiums says that, there must be a problem!

Yes, it may be that in our culture, politeness and courtesy seem old-fashioned. In this age of bench-clearing brawls—and we’re not talking about hockey—and when one fan gets killed because of saying the wrong thing to someone, it does seem that the days of politeness are gone. But remember, everyone, baseball is a pastoral game. It’s played in a “park” and players come “home” at the end. Is it too much to ask, then, that we the fans extend some friendly common courtesy to one another? Or are we just being old and fussy?

Meeting Mr. Tuttle

Our baseball trip in 2003 consisted of a tour around our home area, Cincinnati. That is, we traveled to northern Ohio, through Indiana, western Tennessee, northern Georgia and Alabama, north to Kentucky and back to Cincinnati. Well, not exactly, Cincinnati, but close. Florence, Kentucky—across the river from Cincinnati—had started an independent baseball team, the Florence Freedoms, but the stadium was not yet built. So, in an effort to still host home games, the team played in a community park in Hamilton, Ohio, some 50 miles north of Florence—and about 15 miles from Ginny’s parents.

Taking advantage of free room and board, we stayed with the Skinners for a couple of nights and in return took them to see the Florence Freedoms play the Evansville (IN) Otters. That night was the first time we saw Jason Tuttle. We saw him play, but we didn’t remember him. Not right away.

The game was uneventful—Florence won 8 to 5. The seats were hard, being run-of-the-mill aluminum bleachers found in all community parks. The food was uncreative, dogs and peanuts. But this is not the purpose of the story. Five weeks later we saw Jason Tuttle again. This time, we were at Batavia, NY, one of our favorite parks (just 30 miles from our home). Batavia was playing the Vermont Expos (now the Vermont Lake Monsters) Before the game, Ginny was perusing the players’ stats that included the previous team they had played for and she noticed that one person had just moved from the Florence Freedoms to the Expos—Jason Tuttle. She leafed back in her scorebook to that previous game and found that we had indeed seen him play in Hamilton. She excitedly punched Dan and pointed out her find. At that moment, the player in question came out of the dugout and stood looking out at the grounds crew on the field, as if he’d been summoned by mental manipulation. Dan said, “There he is. Go talk to him.” Ginny said, “No. You go. You’re on the end.”  Dan replied with a poke in her ribs and said, “You’re prettier.” Ginny glared at him, then mumbled something about “pathetic men” and made her way over to the edge of the dugout. (Batavia’s field is very small and intimate, so it’s easy to speak to the players without shouting at a distance.)

When she reached the player, Ginny said, “Mr. Tuttle.” She’s always polite that way—even though she probably could’ve been his grandmother. Well, to be fair, at least his mother. The young man turned, something like suspicion on his face. She said, “This sure beats the heck out of Hamilton, Ohio, doesn’t it?” It took a few seconds for the sentence to register. She hurried on: “We saw you play for the Freedoms a few weeks ago. You hit a single that night.” Then he smiled. He probably didn’t have any groupies. So she forged ahead: “We live in Rochester, but we were down visiting family in Ohio when we saw you.” He replied, “Yeah, I was just traded. And this is better than Hamilton!” She wished him good luck and returned to her seat. Every time Jason came to the plate, we would cheer for him. He’s not big or muscular. In fact, he’s rather short. And he didn’t hit the long ball. But he is one of the fastest runners we’ve ever seen. He could hit a little blooper past the pitcher and leg it out to be on first before the second baseman knew what to do with the ball. And he hustled! He played outfield and if anything even came remotely close to him, he was scrambling for all he was worth to retrieve that ball and get it to the appropriate player.

Two nights later, we were back in Batavia—we said it’s one of our favorites—and the Expos were still there. After we’d been in our seats for a while, Mr. Tuttle ran over to us. We’re not hard to find, always sitting behind homeplate. Through the netting, it was easy to see his excitement. He asked, “Were you here last night?” No, we couldn’t make it. “I hit a triple!” he blurted. Dan replied, “Are you kidding?” “It was great!” He was practically dancing with excitement. Ginny said, “I’m sorry we missed it.” Jason’s smile could hardly be contained to his face. Being away from home, it seemed for that moment we were surrogates for his family. And we were happy to oblige. We chatted for a while, then he returned to the dugout and we cheered him on through the game. He didn’t hit a triple that night.

After that, Dan kept track of Mr. Tuttle via the Web. He was traded, released, and picked up by an independent team, the Grays, in 2005. When Dan found out that Jason would be playing in Elmira, NY, we drove the two hours to see the game. After we found our seats, Ginny walked over to the Grays’ dugout (without being coerced this time) and requested to speak to Jason. When he came out of the dugout, puzzlement on his face, she said, “Mr. Tuttle, I don’t think this place beats the heck out of Hamilton, Ohio.” He smiled widely. She added, “You remember us?” His smile widened further: “Oh yeah, at Batavia.” “Well, Dan’s been following your career since then and when he saw you were playing here, we had to drive down.” Surprise colored his face: “For me? How long was that?” “Two hours, but we like baseball.” He seemed flattered—maybe he still didn’t have any groupies. “Wow, thanks.” Ginny knew not to draw things out, so she wished him luck. He smiled again and said, “Thanks for coming.” Of course, we cheered for his every at-bat. But he didn’t hit a triple then either.

That was the last time we saw Mr. Tuttle, which was too bad. Jason seemed to embody the genuine spirit of Minor League Baseball. He hustled, he dove for the ball, he strove every minute to play his best and to support his team. After seven seasons in the minors, never quite making it to the “Show,” he had accumulated a 296 batting average, a 362 on-base percentage and a fielding average of 984. The last team he played for was Sioux City, Iowa, in 2008. Last year, Dan actually tracked down Jason’s wife on Facebook, where he had a very friendly exchange with her about the husband for whom we once were groupies—if only for a short time. The Tuttles have a child now and Jason is doing some coaching at a sports center.  We’re sure that he’s encouraging his young protégés to hustle out there on the field, no matter their size or age.

When we’re in his neck of the woods, we plan to look him up and ask him if it beats the heck out of Hamilton, Ohio.

The Philippi Mummies

In Philipi, West Virginia, in the old converted train depot, you can see two mummies. No, not the fake Halloween kind. Not the flesh-eating living dead. Not even the Boris Karloff movie version. But real, honest to goodness mummies. And they’re kept in the bathroom. Well, it’s a converted bathroom, but it still has white tile and an echo.

When we planned our baseball trip of 2009, Ginny laid out our travel plans so that we could pass through Philippi just to see the mummies. Of course, she had found this information in Weird U.S., one of her favorite tour resources. As she says, “It’s fun to see the strange stuff.” It doesn’t hurt that Dan is a toy train collector and loves to stop at old train depots. That’s how she enticed him to the place.

We entered the town across a picturesque covered bridge and immediately off to the left was the lovely remodeled train depot. The inside has been totally refurbished, in part due to the Great Flood of 1985.

The remodeled train depot at Philippi, WV, home to the mummies.

The remodeled train depot at Philippi, WV, home to the mummies.

We entered with some trepidation. Who knew what we’d find? Inside was a clean and bright space with light oak floors and matching glass cases and wood shelves with well-organized displays about the Civil War, local history and state interests. We were greeted immediately by a friendly, short, white-haired woman who looked to be in her 70s. She asked where we were from and when we answered Rochester, New York, the inevitable question was how we had come to be so far south. Dan had to explain our baseball trips and Ginny explained that we were interested in the area. She didn’t want us to look so crass as to travel here just for the mummies—although we had done so. After strolling around the small space, we found the door, which in a former life had actually been the men’s room, but was now the mummies’ room. The sign on the door read that the charge was $1, so Dan paid the docent and we entered.

We have both been to many museums, the Smithsonian included, but we had never been in a bathroom that accommodated mummies. What was not white tile was painted white, with a window just below the ceiling, but not low enough to see in unless on a ladder. On the left, on a raised platform (probably where the sinks used to be), placed inside a wooden crate were six five-gallon glass jugs with what looked like aluminum wrap over the spouts. And just in front of us lying in their separate open pine boxes were the mummies. The coffins were sitting on a type of dais and pulled up along side was a step stool so anyone could get a bird’s eye view looking down into the boxes.

Brown, wrinkly figures lay swathed in white sheeting that was draped strategically across parts of the torso—those places that, had they been alive, would have cause for an X-rating. White silk and plastic flowers were laid across the chest areas. They were what one might expect of mummies: skin shrunken around bones and browned, like a smoked turkey.

On our baseball trip of 2009, we met the mummies of Philippi, WV.

On our baseball trip of 2009, we met the mummies of Philippi, WV.

While Ginny tried to maneuver around the small area to see the best angle from which to get a picture, Dan took a quick close look then backed away. So Ginny climbed the step ladder and took a few shots trying to not get a glare of light off the glass laid over the mummies’ coffins. It was a new camera and she was still learning all the new-fangled capabilities and settings. Then she noticed Dan standing in the far corner—that is, as far as could be in a former men’s bathroom. He said, “Can we go?”

She said, “Just a couple more.”

“Come on, let’s go.”

“In a minute.”

Finally, she took one last look at the couple and said, “Pretty cool.” He said, “Can we go—now?”

“OK, OK. Geez. Squeamish?”

“No,” he whined. “I want to go find the real men’s room.”

When we came out of the mummies’ room, there were no other patrons in the museum. So Dan bombarded the docent with questions. And she was happy to share her knowledge with us. She explained that the person who had performed the mummification had been a local farmer in the late 1800s, Graham Hamrick. The docent, Susie Lambert, stated that Hamrick was interested in a safer method of embalming than what was used at the time, arsenic and mercury. He experimented with what he said was a technique using salt peter and sulfur, which he had read about in the bible. Lambert went on to say that Hamrick started his experiments with milk, then vegetables and moved on to small animals.

Lambert explained that once he was ready to move on to humans, Hamrick, with the help of a local judge, he was permitted to experiment on two females and a baby who had died at a local insane asylum. Sadly, their bodies lay unclaimed by family and friends.

In 1892, when the US government outlawed the use of mercury and arsenic for embalming, Hamrick received a patent for his method and formed the Hamrick Embalming and Mummifying Fluid Co. When he died in 1899, Hamrick’s son took the mummies on the road with the P.T. Barnum circus, after which he kept them in his barn. Many years later, they came into the possession of the Philippi museum (Lambert). Lambert said that during the Great Flood of 1985, the mummies were under water for four days. This destroyed the remains of the infant mummy and claimed the hair of the other two. But that was the only damage. Since that time, the mummies have spent their time in the renovated men’s room of the renovated train depot, but are cared for with respect.

In a television interview in 2011, Lambert spoke fondly of the museum’s “little ladies.” She stated simply, “We give them a home which is more than they had in life” (“Traveling West Virginia,” Eyewitness News, Oct. 20).

That Guy in Harrisburg

This was one of those times when things seem to go wrong, but in the end we have a really good time. This particular event took place when we were visiting old friends in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – Jeb and Pat. It was on the tail end of our “Civil War and Dollywood trip in which we got rained on a whole bunch besides being rained out of one good game.” As you can tell it was the “wet” weather that was prominent on the trip, but it was not the only thing.  Early on we had spent some time at Gettysburg (where Dan found someone’s 32 year Alcoholics Anonymous chip at the “grove of trees”—the main focal point of Pickett’s Charge—then spent some 15 minutes trying to explain to the Park Ranger at the lost and found post why it would be important to the person who lost it. This is a whole other story in itself. To put it succinctly it appears that knowledge about how 12-step groups and what these sobriety tokens are is not within the purview of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s requirements for what Park Rangers are suppose to know).  In addition, we visited Dollywood where we met up with one of Ginny’s sisters and her husband (soon to be ex-husband, again a whole other story).  Besides these two events, this trip was mostly known for the weather—it seemed to rain every place we went. However, the one place it didn’t rain was at the end of the trip, but other things went wrong in Harrisburg. The visit with Jeb and Pat was great; we caught up with each of them and told stories about all the mutual friends that Jeb and Pat hadn’t seen in a few years.

The thing that went wrong really wasn’t that big of a deal in the eyes of most normal people, but it was anxiety-producing for us.  The game was between the Harrisburg Senators (at the time the AA affiliate of the Montreal Expos) and the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League. One of the main rules of doing a minor road trip is that when you are on a baseball trip and visiting friends you always take them to the game with you. For us, the problem is that we never make it to the field on time, at least not the time that we baseball fanatics would like. It’s not our fault, really. To be polite, we just don’t want to be our normal obsessive selves with friends, so we tend not to get to the park early enough to walk around it to look for old foul balls, to check out all of the food vendors to find that unique delicacy that is served only at that park, to visit the souvenir shop to see what is cool, or to get those much-needed pictures of the park for future reference. In the simplest of terms, if we’re with friends, we don’t have the time to do all of the other normal things that we do when we visit a new park. Part of the reason is that we don’t want our friends to think we’re crazy because we want to get to the park an hour and a half before the game starts (well, any crazier than they think we are).

Yet, in this particular case, it didn’t help that Dan didn’t check to see that the Harrisburg Senators had the bad habit of starting games on the half-hour instead of the normal hour, plus five minutes. And here it was a half-hour in the wrong direction! Taking Pat and Jeb was fine; they understood that we liked to get there early and we were fine in getting there only a half an hour prior to game time.  Since you all know basic math, you can tell what the problem was—as we were passing the turnstile into the park, the national anthem was being belted out. This threw Dan into a state of distraction because we still don’t have our food and Ginny suffered an anxiety attack because she needed to not only get a copy of the rooster, she still had to fill out her score book and take pictures of the park. AND we are missing baseball! In the long run, it worked out, a little rushed, but we got to our seats with food in hand missing only an out or two.

However, this is where the story starts to get interesting and memorable. As we got to our seats on the first base side, Dan took the fourth seat where he would be sitting next to someone he doesn’t know. Generally, he likes to sit on the end to stretch his legs, but he doesn’t mind sitting next to new people—great conversations start this way. Just as he was about to sit down, the gentleman next to him looked him straight in the eye and with no smile said to Dan, “I’m glad you’re here. They just made an announcement that whoever was sitting in that seat has to buy each person in the whole row a beer!  I hope you heard it when they called out section 112, row 3, seat 4 and best as I can tell that is your seat.”  Dan looked him in the eye and immediately shot back, “Well, that is very interesting, because I didn’t hear the announcement, but when I gave my ticket to the usher, he told me to watch out because I would be seated next to someone who was going to try to get me to by him a beer and that I should not be taken in by him.” With that and a smile Dan sat down and started to watch the game.

Now we don’t mind having conversations with others during a game; baseball is one of those sports where you can watch the game and talk at the same time. The only everyday etiquette that is violated when having a conversation is that there is very little eye contact with those you are conversing with. You may glance at each other, but generally you keep your eyes on the field and when a ball is hit or someone is stealing a base, the conversation comes to a halt. The conversation can resume once the normal routine of the game resumes.  During this particular game, Dan mainly spoke to our friend Jeb about what was going on in his life—motorcycles, teaching earth sciences, extended family, etc. Likewise, Dan expounded on things that have been going on in our lives, many mentioned in our Christmas letters—our yearly form of communication.  All the while, Dan was keeping an eye on the guy next to him, thinking that anyone who starts an encounter by trying to get Dan to buy him a beer can’t be all bad. One of the things Dan noticed about him was that he seemed to mainly talk to the row of people behind us. In fact, he knew them well enough to state to them that he was going to get some food and offered to pick something up for them. He even took orders. Finally, he did the “excuse me” shuffle to get past us and disappeared down the steps. Upon his return, he shuffled back past us, turned to hand stuff off to the people behind us, sat down and began drinking from a cup with a liquid obviously not a beer.

With that, Dan took the opportunity to say, “Boy, you seem to be having conversations with just about everyone here and you buy them stuff but nothing for me.” The guy smiled and replied, “Oh, that’s just my wife, daughter and her husband.” Dan asked, “So you couldn’t get tickets together?” He said, “Well, we’re here with our church group, so we have seats all around here. Dan responded, “So, if you’re here with a church group, then why is the first thing you do when I get here is to try to get me to buy you a beer? You drink alcohol?”  As this part of the conversation is going on, our friend Jeb begins to chuckle; he knows exactly what Dan is doing. He is about to have some real fun with this guy.

Somewhat sheepishly, the guy replies, “Oh, it’s okay. Our minister is even here and he drinks beer – we’re just not suppose to get drunk or anything like that, but it is okay to have some.”  Dan replied, “Well, I’ll be darned, your minister drinks beer and thinks it’s okay?”  The guy nodded yes, and Dan went on: “Your minister must be really cool, if he lets you drink beer! Wow, that is so cool, you are really lucky.” Now Dan will admit that he did over-emphasize his inflections as he was speaking, since he was being fed by Jeb’s silent convulsions of chuckling. Dan leaned over to the guy and reiterated, “Your minister must be really great!” Immediately, Dan knew he had him hooked into his little game because he smiled at Dan and said,  “Yep, he is great, he drinks beer and he even swears!” Dan came back with, “No shit, he even swears! That’s even better. He really is the best minister that I have ever heard about. Wow, that is amazing.”

With that Dan turned to Jeb, smiled and winked, then turned back to the guy: “My word, he drinks and swears, that is great, it is amazing, I’ll be damned, that is great!  He must be one hellava pastor.”  “Yep,” he replied, “he’s a great pastor.”

Again, their focus went back to the game, and at the end of the inning, Dan turned back to the guy and asked the question that set him up for the punch line: “So, tell me, what do you do for a living?” He proceeded to tell Dan that he worked for a company that repairs boxcars for railroads. After a considerable conversation about the details of what his job entailed, he asked Dan the exact same question: “So what do you do?” With that Jeb almost guffawed aloud, because he knew what was coming. Dan kept his eyes on the game, but leaned in the guy’s direction and stated, “I’m a minister.”  Just as the words came out of his mouth, Dan turned to see the expression on the guy’s face. His jaw dropped, his mouth opened wide in disbelief, then slowly his surprise was replaced with a wide grin and he knew Dan had reeled him in. The guy turned to his family behind us and pronounced, “This guy is a minister and drinks and swears, too, isn’t that neat?”  They nodded, said unenthusiastic “yeahs,” and turned back to the game, leaving Dan and the guy with the impression that “Dad” is off his rocker again talking to strangers. The guy turned back around, leaned towards Dan and, in a semi-conspiratorial tone, said, “You know, if our minister ever leaves, I think I can guarantee you a job. It’s a small church, just north east of here, but if you want it, I will make sure they give it to you.”

The moral of the story is that people go to baseball to have a good time and most of the time you meet some very nice people and, on occasion, if they start pulling your leg, it is fair game to pull theirs right back.  Heck, you never know:  you might get a job offer out of it. To this day, Dan tells people that he has a standing job offer to be a pastor for a congregation in a town about 30 miles northeast of Harrisburg.