Monday, April 15, 2013

No. 416 – Cousin Dupree

Performer: Steely Dan
Songwriters: Walter Becker, Donald Fagen
Original Release: Two Against Nature
Year: 2000
Definitive Version: none

One of the times Dad was home from Torch Lake in the summer of 2004, he turned me on to this song and the complete cluelessness of the song’s narrator. I liked it, and it without fail makes me think of the greatest summer of my life.

I took my job as official scorer at Clippers games seriously, because, as I mentioned, I was helping to shape future minor-league baseball history, and I had a lot of respect for that responsibility.

To me, it was all about getting the calls right—not whether I was right. If I got a call from Bucky Dent, the Clippers manager (yes, THAT Bucky Dent), I always would ask what everyone else in the booth thought. If enough people thought my call should be changed, I would change it. It was gratifying at the end of the year when Joe, the press-box manager, told me I got fewer calls from the clubhouse after games than any other scorer in the league.

I wore a baseball tie and nice shirt for Opening Day and other important games. Cooper Stadium was dressed up for the occasion, so why can’t I? Otherwise, I wore business casual clothes, even though I could have worn anything. (Some guys in the booth wore shorts during the summer.) Again, I was treating the job with respect.

I was supposed to arrive at Cooper Stadium no more than a half-hour before game time, but I always got there an hour before, when the gates opened. I’d pull into the employee parking lot and hike to the elevator, always making sure to have my pass around my neck. By the time I got to the pressbox, Rich would have music playing over the P.A. The out-of-town radio guys, if there were any, would be setting up, and Mark would be getting the scoreboard going, while Anthony or Matt would be getting the out-of-town scores going off the Internet.

After decades, in 2004 Howe turned over the collection of minor-league baseball stats to SportsTicker. The stats were supposed to be input into a computer for a live update, but SportsTicker couldn’t get its computing act together, so the scoresheets had to be taken down on paper. Each half-inning, either I or Joe would call in and read off what happened the previous half-inning, and data-entry folks would type in the digital versions there.

I took my briefcase, which had my rulebook and notebook in which I’d keep the pitch counts and notes on little things that would happen. I’d get out what I needed, set the briefcase under the table and then go back to the shelves by the door to the pressbox to pull out my scoresheets before meticulously writing in the lineups and calling them in to SportsTicker.

By then, the chef would have tonight’s feast set up, so it was dinner time (or lunch on the end-of-the-homestand getaway day game). I didn’t like dime-a-dog nights, because that’s what we got up in the booth. I also didn’t like White Castle night, at first, because I had had issues with Castles years before. But the vets in the booth taught me the glories of Toasted Castles.

Toasted Castles are when you take the burgers out of the cardboard sleeves and put them in the hot dish directly over the butane flame. By the third inning, the buns would be crispy and delicious.

Other nights we got some really good stuff, like mac and jack or fajitas. Once the chef made grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches and apologized to Joe for the half-baked effort. He had had a big catering gig in one of the skyboxes, so he didn’t have time to properly make us anything. The verdict in the booth was unanimous: No need to apologize; make these whenever you want.

After I ate and shot the breeze for a bit to set the scene, it would be close to game time, so it was time to raise the windows to provide a better view of the field. I was dubious about doing this in the heat of July and August, but I got used to the conditions after a while. Raising the windows made a huge difference, because the windows weren’t cleaned after the season started.

I also used this as my cue to hit the bathroom the next door from the pressbox. If I needed to, I had time between innings if I hustled, but typically, I’d take care of business before the game got started. Then I could settle in.

During the National Anthem, I’d call the local weather line to get the official game-time temperature and then write it on a slip of paper to show the radio announcers through the window. Then it was time to play ball.

Before the game, Rich would play a the Clippers pregame fight song while the new mascot, Crash, a parrot, would play air guitar atop the Clippers dugout—much to the mockery of Chris, who thought Crash was the lamest mascot ever. I looked forward to Crash’s theme just to hear Chris’s mockery.

There was always something going on throughout the game. If it wasn’t the T-shirt tosses, it was the trivia contests. In the fifth inning, the Clippers did a dice roll, where a fan on the field would guess a number and gigantic foamy dice were rolled out of the press box, down the foul-ball screen onto the field. Guess correctly, and you win a gift certificate or something.

After a while, Chris did the honors, and he prided himself on a good six-sided tumble. It required a bit of skill, because otherwise, it would just be a four-sided roll and land on just one of those numbers. If the promotions guy with the mike pulled out a particularly hot babe, which he did at least twice a homestand, Chris would give her the four-sided roll for a better chance of winning.

Speaking of hot babes, we were always on the lookout for them in the pressbox. I had a pair of binoculars to spot numbers on pitchers warming up in either bullpen … among other things. Every once in a while, Chris would ask to borrow the binoculars, you know, to see who was warming up in the pen—even when it was a scoreless game in the top of the first. Section 107, he’d mutter, and the glasses would be passed around the booth.

In August, I declared the competition over. Section 103, row 3, I said. I recognized the blonde as an intern the previous summer at The Dispatch, but I told everyone to note particularly her left hand. She wore a mitt. She and her friend were sitting in prime line-drive foul-ball territory. Smart and good looking. She wins.

The best event was the hot dog race in the sixth inning. It had been a cheesy virtual race on the scoreboard, but in 2004, the Clippers decided to augment the video. At the point where the hot dogs race into Cooper Stadium, guys dressed in hot dog costumes, a la the Brewers’ sausage race, would come out of the left-field bullpen and race down the third-base line to the finish line.

As the interns running the race got more comfortable in their roles, it started to become a can-you-top-this competition as far as pulling nutty schtick. Sometimes they’d race out with umbrellas if it were sprinkling. Or, one might run the wrong way.

My two favorites: Two hot dogs were way in front of the third when one of the hot-babe interns climbed on top of the third-base dugout. The two leaders stopped and started a pose-off, allowing the third hot dog to zoom past to the tape. On wrestling night, when the Clippers had minor-league pro wrestling as post-game entertainment, while the winning hot dog celebrated his victory, the other hot dogs attacked him wrestling style, including one of them hitting him from behind with a chair. It was always entertaining.

And, yes, there was baseball, too. No matter, what was going on, I had to always, always, ALWAYS keep my eyes on the field. To miss a play was the cardinal sin. As soon as the last out was gloved or the winning run scored, I’d note the time on my cellphone and call out the time of game for Rich and the radio guys.

Bill would race down to the clubhouse to get quotes for his game story, and I’d finish up my scoresheets before making copies for Joe to fax to SportsTicker. Even though either team had until game time the next day before a call became official, in almost every case, if I didn’t get a call immediately after a game, I didn’t get one. I had to wait 15 minutes just in case. As soon as that time was up, my workday was done.

Although it was a relief to make it through the day without the proverbial phone call, it never was a feeling of escape, like it was with The Dispatch. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be working in baseball, and it never stopped being fun.

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