I attended a week of Spring training in 2004. It was a dream come true. I had wanted to do this since as far back as I can remember which, to give you an idea of how old I am, was in the day of Ballantine Beer.
"Hey getch cold beer, hey getcha Ballantine, hey getcha cold, cold beer, getcha ice cold Ballantine beer…to be crisp, a beer must be icely light…icely, icely, icely light…true lager flavor…precisely right, precisely, precisely, precisely right… the crisp refresher…Ballantine, Ballantine Beer" or something to that effect.
Yes, those surely were the days…of "Baseball and Ballantine." Mel Allen, where have you ("going, going") gone?
But it was also in the days before I was old enough to partake in the bitter beverage and that is a whole ‘nother story.
There was a beer vendor at McKechnie Park in Bradenton (most likely he is still there each spring) who took care of servicing the thirsty patrons in the small grandstand of that pretty little baseball park. He was slight of build, skinny really, but was gifted (up for debate) with a very large and a very loud mouth which bellowed incessantly toward his potential buyers, "Whazzup!?" It was an amusing act until about the fourth inning when the grating repetition of the little man with the big voice became somewhat tedious, if not obnoxious.
But not as obnoxious as the most obnoxious Spring Training fan of all time. The Pirates were hosting the Phillies and along with a large, cordial contigent from The City of Brotherly Love was a most hateful man. A pig really, he was as round as he was large and as large as he was loud and as loud as he was rude and as rude as he was crude and…you get the picture. He also smelled.
I was sitting but a row and a few seats behind him and marveled at his chic Florida wardrobe of loud-plaid bermuda shorts, 1975 striped tube socks pulled up and tight to just below the knees, some ugly hundred dollar pair of designer hoops "Air" footwear, all of which looked a little ridiculous on his beer keg-sized legs (this man had a terminal case of white man’s disease), a sleeveless-stretch undershirt which is either called a guinea-tee, a cicero, a wife-beater, or a Newarker depending upon your upbringing and/or locale, many cheap and unusual tatoos of the penitentiary design, and a gold chain so thick and glittering it would make ‘Mr. T" and/or David Ortiz drool in envy. His forehead was, in a word, minimal. Difficult to determine where his hairline ended and his eyebrows began.
In between the downing of many, many "brewski’s" from Whazzup that he chased with many, many "stomach darts (hot dogs), he screamed over and over and again and again the standardized baseball insult (hey "ANYBODY/WHOEVER"…you’re a bum!) at each and every hometown Pirate and incredibly, even at the very retired but still very large Dave Parker and the very old but in very great shape Bill Virdon, both in Florida to help out with the very young Bucs.
This was interesting since his seat was no more than a couple of arm lengths away from the field, third base side, and obviously void of the protective insulation that a major league park can afford. Sometimes he even screamed with his mouth full of half chewed franks. The man was revolting in every sense of the word. In no time, many seats in his proximity were vacated with the grossed out and the peeved patrons retreating to the empty bleachers down the left field line. I admit, I was one of the peeved since I had anticipated a mellow, old baseball kind of feeling afternoon in cozy McKechnie with the non-threatening Pirates in a meaningless exhibition game. But having grown up in Jersey, grossed out I was not.
Instead of a gourmet taste of springtime-baseball peacefulness, what I received instead was a slab of raw meat flavored with height of the pennant race stress, dashed with a bit of right field ‘Bleacher Creatures’ intensity, sprinkled generously with Bronx cheers, marinated in the spicy broth of ‘Dem Bums’ and served along with all the worst entrees that Philthadelphia has to offer. This guy was definitely no cream cheese. Not even a cheese-steak.
Just before I retreated to the bleachers, a woman with a young son couldn’t take it anymore and finally got up the nerve to state her case to His Largeness. She firmly suggested that, "There’s no screaming insults in Spring Training!"
Surprised that anyone would question his "right" to free speech and also his right to get the most bang for his ticket price buck, he turned slowly in her direction with an impending crescendo of explosive energy reminiscent of the late-great Sam Kinnison, gave her the once over and then licked his chops like a wolf frothing at its forthcoming prey, and ultimately screamed into her face the scream from ****, an explosion resounding, "Hey lady, it’s Spring training for me too!"
The man had a point there.