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Need One

By Donald G. Evans

*Note: This is the first installment in Don's Cactus League Trilogy.

 

The sign on the Ticket Window said, “Today’s Game Is Sold Out.” Fans stood in three jagged lines behind each of three ticket booths. I stood near the curb. I tried to align the concepts of “Sold Out” and “Ticket Line,” and in doing so figure a way to get into the Giants-Cubs game that started in a little more than an hour. I got in line. Somebody near the front said “they might release some tickets” and as the crowd of ticketless fans grew behind me I relayed the message, and they relayed the message, until there was a swarm of us planning our days around information overheard from a woman in an Easter Bunny-sized straw bonnet with smears of white sun screen slashed across her cheeks and proudly displaying a big foam Cubs index finger. Reliable Source didn’t seem to sum her up.

A gimpy man stood in front of me in line. Almost from his first words, it was as though he understood us to be co-conspirators and not, as it seemed to me, total strangers. He wore a San Francisco Giants hat. “I’m ‘onna see what’s out on the street,” he said. “I find something worth getting, I’ll get two.” Very nice of him, and I wasn’t saying no, but it took just seconds for the price of this lunch to avail itself. “They open the windows, you get me a ticket?” He reached into his pocket for cash, but I didn’t know the price of admission, plus there were 50 people behind me who, if it came to that, would gladly take a ticket off my hands. I waved him off. This, it seemed, officially sealed our partnership; he smiled, and caned off toward a scalper fanning out lawn tickets like a magician showing his cards.

cactusleague1.JPGThe scene disturbed me. Here we were, a cluster of hot, agitated people who couldn’t get a ticket to see two teams practice. And make no mistake: that’s what it was. This was my fourth straight spring training trip, and I’d seen Cubs lineups that would encourage a wayward Babe Ruth team. I’ve seen Greg Maddux pitch and leave the park, showered and dressed, in under an hour. I’ve seen line drives scatter players running wind sprints in the outfield grass—during the game. I’ve seen tie games stopped after nine innings and I’ve seen tie games stopped after ten innings. I’ve seen light rains send hot dog vendors packing. I’m waiting to see them run out of balls.

My new ally returned one, twice, three times, with grim reports. “Guy over there had three—they were gone before I could get there.” “They’s having a party over in left field—fifty dollars but that includes all the beer you can drink.” “Guy down the block’s asking thirty for lawn.”

There were three cashiers readying themselves for a workday, which meant that unless balancing a drawer was a new form of taunting there must be tickets. Sure enough, the windows opened. I waited my turn, and quickly traded thirty-eight dollars cash for two tickets, turned to reclaim my new friend, and walked with him toward the entrance. We had two seats together.

“Don’t have to sit in them seats,” the man advised. “These are just to get us inside.”

I followed. The man introduced himself as Roger. He was 70 years old, a native of The Bay area, where he’d crossed and recrossed the bridge to see A’s and Giants games. He’d been in Arizona 15 years and now mostly followed the Diamondbacks, but had a son my age in Seattle--so throw the Mariners into the mix. Who knew but that Roger might someday soon, with the addition of a few grandkids, cover the whole of major league baseball, like a roulette player putting down chips on EVERY number. We sat side-by-side in second-tier seats just above the handicapped section, to where we would move if legitimate handicapped people did not arrive in good time. As Roger explained all this, he watched the field; as I nodded agreement I did the same.

A knee replacement had caused Roger to walk with a cane; that cane, it turned out, was our Hall Pass. With a cane, crowds parted and doors opened and you almost never heard, “Hey Hopalong! Where do you think you’re going?” I observed Roger. True, he had a noticeable limp, but he got around fine, making his handicap status a touch dubious. My status as aid was more dubious still, but as the game began and the handicapped seats were entirely unused we moseyed down and settled; I thought, “Okay, I can be Nurse Don for nine innings.”

The seats were right behind home plate, high enough to get an angle on the pitcher and fielders but low enough to hear cowhide thump against leather. It soon became obvious that it was standard practice for the able-bodied to take over the handicapped section after a reasonable time, and soon we were surrounded by a father-son combo, a few Gray Panthers, and even a drunk 25-year-old who nodded off between loud, indecipherable heckles. I even came to resent a few of the younger, healthier handicapped denizens; hey, give my charge a little spreading out room!

Sean Marshall was on the mound, and the sun in the blue blue sky was so perfect and round it looked like a child artist’s rendering. The gloomy, snowy, frigid weather reports from back home bolstered my spirits further. Was I getting my money’s worth or was I getting my money’s worth?

Popularity has its price, and as I’d stood in front of Scottsdale Stadium thinking about steep admission prices, irritating crowds and general inconvenience, I’d thought the whole concept of spring training had become something else, that for me this was no longer a satisfying experience. But on this day, with the casual baseball pace outcasualling itself, I listened to all Roger’s stories—seeing a Minor League Mays in his first spring training appearance, collecting pins that would go on his collection of a hundred baseball caps, shaking hands with Ernie Banks—and thought, “No, this will be okay for a little longer. At least.”

Donald G. Evans, author of Wrigleyville sports gambling novel Good Money After Bad, is the Lovable Losers emcee. His stories have appeared in StoryQuarterly, Pinyon Review, The Journal and Narrative Magazine, among others.

Posted on Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 07:47PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in , , | Comments16 Comments

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