The Baseball Game


What is Cracker Jill?


I went to three baseball games in 1961. The first time was a double-header in May, maybe June, wherein Yogi Berra hit an extra-inning single to end the game. The second time was Old-Timers Day in July. Tickets were tight and we sat in the upper deck. I cried as we climbed the ramps to the top, because from down below it looked like the seats in the upper deck were bolted to the wall and your legs swung free. That did not turn out to be the case, but it is really steep up there. As for being familiar with the old-timers… This was a different era, we were steeped in baseball history, at least I was. We not only had our cards, we had annuals, we bought paperbacks, baseball was the music of its day, at least before the Beatles. The third was on October 1st, when Roger Maris hit his 61st.

Not that I went to three baseball games every year thereafter, but at least two. After all, I had to convince my parents to take me. I was not a city kid, riding the subway to sit in the bleachers for a dollar fifty, actually I remember it being seventy five cents. I lived in the suburbs, I watched the Yankees on channel 11, to go to the game was not a casual experience… You entered the stadium, climbed through the labyrinth and ultimately you could see the pristine green field, it was like going to Mecca, or the Vatican, it was a religious experience.

When the Mets came along in ’62, my parents took me to the Polo Grounds. Center field was so deep, you have no idea. That’s where Willie Mays made his famous catch. But what I remember most about that game was a line drive foul ball, screaming right over our heads, and a guy in one of the last rows stood up and caught it bare-handed. How much did his hand hurt?

It probably still hurts.

And we went to Shea, most famously for the ’69 playoffs, where the Mets eliminated Atlanta. But this time sans parents. We took the train in and ran out on the field after the victory, brought home pieces of turf. But the weird thing is the friend I went with, Judd, whose idea it was to skip school and go, died of a heart attack a couple of years back. Weird, now I think about him constantly.

But then the Yankees got bad, and they were sold to Steinbrenner, and by that time I was living in L.A. I know people love the Dodgers, but I was an American League guy, still am. I was more partial to the Angels, not that you could really identify with them. The Dodgers played small ball, they had incredible pitchers, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and they’d beat you with stolen bases… I’m still not a Dodger fan.

Not that I was not caught up in Fernandomania. And I certainly watched as Kirk Gibson strode to the plate, hit it over the fence and gimped around the bases, putting a stake in the heart of the Oakland Athletics.

And since then…

I go when someone invites me. When they’ve got tickets.

When I was a young ‘un, nobody I knew had season tickets. Today, many friends do. Some go to every game, most do not, so there are tickets available. But I hate to ask, I hate to be a schnorrer, but at least a couple of times a year someone offers, and I partake.

Not that I’d been in a couple of years, because of Covid. I turned down offers, but now, fully-vaxed, I was ready to go.


Now one thing you’ve got to know about going to the game in L.A. is…the traffic. You can ride public transportation in most cities, and I have no problem being packed in tight with the hoi polloi, but said public transportation doesn’t exist in Los Angeles. You’ve got to get in your car and budget an hour, or more. And I wanted to get there early, for the buffet.

Yes, these were dugout seats. The equivalent of courtside seats in basketball, but there are more of them and there’s privacy, you can’t reach them from any other seat, they’re separated from the riff-raff. And I know, it seems kind of elitist, but when you get old enough…

Well, I’m not going to rationalize it. Furthermore, Peter works ’round the clock, it’s a deserved perk from the firm.

So it’s a sunny day, and the traffic is bad, but we go through the checkpoint and steer to our anointed spot.

Did I tell you everything is digital these days? No paper, no cash. You show your phone at the toll booth, and when you go to enter, you don’t even have to show the ticket in your smartphone wallet, there’s an NFC chip reader, pretty cool.

And then you enter the stadium, at the far end of right field. And that’s when you realize, this is not your average concert crowd. Tickets are not as cheap as they once were, but they’re relatively affordable, and as a result, you see all walks of life. Brown people, white and black. It’s the opposite of the dugout seats themselves, it’s the opposite of today’s striated society, we were all in it together, and it felt good.

Today it’s all about separating yourself from the masses and the classes. You don’t want to be with everybody. But the real story is we’re all equal, and to be amongst your brethren feels good, inspiring. And that’s the mood at the baseball stadium anyway, upbeat. Then again, if you take anything inside it’s got to be in a clear bag, because you never know who might take offense and beat you up, especially when the Dodgers are playing the Giants.

And the next thing you notice is the food. Not only are there a zillion outlets, there are so many varieties, and some upscale. Used to be baseball park food was hot dogs, peanuts and beer. Really, you couldn’t get much more than that. But now you go to the park to fress, kind of like the airport. If your venue has lame food, it reflects upon you.

So ultimately we go downstairs to the buffet, a dugout seat perk.

You’ve got to know, not only do they have hot dogs and sausages, but prime rib and BBQ ribs too. And salads. And grilled vegetables. It’s a veritable cornucopia of offerings. As for the desserts: cookies, soft serve ice cream, cake… I’m really not doing it justice.

But before we can make it to the food I run into Larry.

What is he doing down here? I know he’s got season tickets, but they’re not in the dugout area.

He knows Peter Guber. It’s all about who you know.

And eventually Guber showed up, looking like a guy in from the suburbs, sans airs, with no special seat, looking just like the rest of us. Got to give him kudos for that.

And then on the way to our seats we ran into Kevin Weaver.

And then when we got outside and the game was yet to begin, Felice insisted we go say hi to Burt Sugarman and Mary Hart, who legendarily have seats right behind home plate.

And that’s when it occurred to me, I was seeing more people, doing more business, than I do backstage at a gig. It’s about the boomers, they remember baseball, it’s in their hearts, they never really outgrew the game, they need to be there.

Not the young ‘uns, but the oldsters.

Oh, a lot of families brought kids, but really… It’s less of a day in the park than a pilgrimage for the fans. Baseball is a game we all once played, like soccer today. We can identify, we can relate, and we want to be reminded of who we once were as we begin the long fade into darkness.


Now it used to be Peter’s seats had a clear shot to the field. But they put up netting, the Dodgers don’t want to get sued as a result of foul balls.

Also, you’re essentially at field level.

Larry is just above, in the second deck, he said you get a better view of the field. And this is true. But it’s a different experience. Down close and personal…

You’re in the game.

It becomes like Little League. They’re just players, not stars.

And then you remember, they’re rich! Playing a boys’ game.

These are not the techies. This isn’t about education. This is about raw physical skill. That’s enough. It’s a one-dimensional effort, but the star players make as much, if not more, than most musicians. Let’s remember, other than your agent, there’s essentially no costs, those are picked up by the team.

Then you think about the travel. That would get old.

But there’s almost no contact, this is not football, it’s more of a slog than an adventure fraught with danger.

So Aaron Judge comes into the on-deck circle. He’s got the sleeve over his bat, he’s warming up. And all I can think is how tall he is.

It’s cognitive dissonance. I mean you can be this close at a concert, but the people are rarely humanized, they’re still the other, maybe dancing or in a trance playing, it’s a performance, which is different from baseball. Sure, you perform at the plate, then again, usually you don’t.

Most people fail to hit.

And the funny thing at that level is… How the ball really doesn’t go that far. How it’s an effort to hit it. It’s not quite like someone putting the shot, but you’ve got to slug it to make it go.

And on some level it’s the same as it ever was, but really not, because of the clock.

I’d read about the changes. About the shorter games. And believe me, it’s palpable. There are two clocks in the outfield, another two near the plate. And the amazing thing is there’s no violation. Just when you think he’s going to get caught, the pitcher begins his motion.

So the pace is…

Regular baseball.

And this is so different from the recent game. The endless steps away from the mound, away from the plate. The rhythm is no longer disrupted. And I start to wonder, can you bring the kids back?

At first I thought yes. Baseball is different, everybody gets to play, everybody has a chance of touching the ball. This not an offensive lineman. There’s no quarterback head and shoulders above the rest, winning the MVP if his team succeeds. Baseball is more democratized. And sure, the players are in much better shape today, and I miss the days of yore, when the gym was anathema, but in truth if you can hit and field the ball, they don’t care how big or small you are. This is not basketball where your height is everything. The door is open to everybody.

Then again, the odds of making the big leagues are hard in every sport.


Now in truth, as you get older, the game becomes a social experience. Instead of watching every pitch, you end up b.s.’ing. You haven’t seen these people for a while, you want to catch up.

And Fred Rosen was a couple of seats away, you end up talking business.

Really, it’s a unique experience. You’re far from the studio, from the theatre, but you’re in the heart of the business. It’s golf but even better, because there’s no competition, you’re neither winning nor losing. And you all love the game. It’s in your roots. You can remember. You can talk history. And it’s less about stats and more about what was happening with your home team, wherever it was in the nation.

And this was the day that the aforementioned Judge not only hit a home run, but ran into the bullpen fence, and stepped onto the concrete beyond. He said he was fine at the time, now he realizes his toe is hurt, but in truth it changed the whole pace of the game.

The Yankee manager Aaron Boone came out to see if Judge was all right. But the game did not continue. What was going on?

Well it turns out there’s a rule that if you step out of bounds, the runners advance a base. And there was a man at first. And this was when the contest was still close.

They went to instant replay. Some guy ran out on the field and handed the ump a tablet, he watched the video, and ultimately let the runner advance. It was not like a football game, where there are questionable calls all the time, did someone cross the line, where were their feet… Baseball has few questions along the way, this was unique.

And then it seemed certain that the Dodgers were going to lose. And the stadium started to empty out. People needed to beat the traffic. This is one of the main difference between the east and the west, between New York in L.A., in New York you stay until the end.

And I’m sitting there thinking about the famous George Carlin routine, how baseball can go on forever. I remembered being in bed and my mother waking me up because the game was in the sixteenth or seventeenth inning, even twenty two. And once you got to this point, the bullpen was depleted, and the players were tired and runs were rare. You’d watch to see how long it would last.

But now when you get to extra innings there’s a runner on second base. Extra innings weren’t a bug, they were a feature, they made the game special.

As for the rule against the shift… Come on, hit it to the opposite field, it’s wide open.

And I’ve got a problem with the designated hitter. And the playoffs. Really, if you win the season you should be allowed to go to the World Series. I know there are now more teams and more divisions, but really, you shouldn’t be able to barely get into the playoffs and win the Series, no way. If you play well during the regular season, you’re entitled.

Yes, I’ve got opinions, even though I don’t watch the game on TV anymore. I mean life’s too short.

But I don’t watch any games on TV anymore. Football? Only the Super Bowl, it’s my protest against the injuries, I mean really?

And basketball… L.A. is an NBA town. The Lakers are godhead, but in the nineties I spent so much time watching basketball, in the Jordan era, that I used up my lifetime allotment. And the dirty little secret of the NBA playoffs is once you start watching, you can’t stop. So if you’re in in April, you’re in until June. You can’t walk away, you’re too invested.

And I’ve played all these sports. We all did growing up. It was a rare kid who did not, who stayed at home during the afternoon. There were no video games, it was all about being outside, experiencing the camaraderie. And if you could play, it didn’t matter how old or young you were, tall or short, what religion you were, you were included. Of course if you sucked, you were picked last, and that hurt. But those people stopped showing up. And I can understand everybody playing, no cuts in soccer. I mean you can stand on the field in your own space, away from the action, but even though we put the unskilled in right field, every once in a while, a ball would go there and…

Baseball was competition. But we all competed. And we all practiced. Throwing the ball in the backyard. We’d play with only two, one pitching, the other hitting, and the pitcher would run to where the ball was hit, not to catch it, but to pick it up.

But the days were slower then. And obesity was rare. And being in shape didn’t mean that you went to the gym, that barely existed and it was boring and who wanted to lift weights anyway, but that you were active. Out there. Playing. That was enough to keep you in shape.

Those days are long gone.

But it seems all baby boomers are boys of summer. Sure, the super-addicted drive me wild, with their fantasy leagues, they take it more seriously than the players.

But the game remains almost the same. Most of the rule changes this year are about returning it to what it once was.

And that was everything.


And on the way out I couldn’t stop looking at the souvenirs. That was a feature when you were a young kid. A hat, one of those mini-bats, a ball. You wanted to be part of the game.

And on Saturday a bunch of us still were.


Cracker Jill? Felice said it was Cracker Jack sans peanuts.

My research tells me it’s the same, just under the moniker of a different gender. Then again, the bag I pulled as a test had no nuts, and I finished it, I mean how can you stop?

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