“They knew it would be different. They did not know it would be that different.”
After being part owners of a minor league baseball team in South Bend Indiana for fifteen years, the team was sold (for a nice profit) in 2005.
For the first time in eleven years, we were going back to see a game.
It turns out the 2005 owners subsequently re-sold the team in 2011, the new owners speedily altering its “Farm Team” affiliation. The former South Bend Silver Hawks who were before that the South Bend White Sox were now proudly and officially the South Bend Cubs.
The stadium had also received a labeling make-over. Koveleski Stadium was now Four Winds Field, named, no longer after a Hall of Fame spitball pitcher but after a nearby casino on an Indian Reservation.
Things had definitely changed.
We were seeing a newly named team at a newly named ballpark.
And we weren’t the owners anymore.
But hey, it was a beautiful late-summer evening and the Cubs were in first place. At least we were seeing a good team we didn’t own anymore.
Helpful background information: The stadium – whether named for a Hall of Fame icon or for a glitzy gambling joint with a bargain buffet – holds about five thousand people. When we went to games, the place was rarely more than half full. Meaning, there was no imminent concern about our getting in.
Until there was.
Dr. M dropped me off outside the stadium to check on the ticket situation before finding a spot to park the car. Heading to the end of the sparsely populated ticket line, I was immediately approached by a man who informed me that the game was a “Sell-out”, except for the “Grass Seats.”
(Beyond the left field wall and beyond the right field “foul” line, the stadium had allocated areas where, instead of actual seats, there were grassy embankments for which the tickets were cheap and children can roll down the hill while their parents watch the game (guarding against their kids’ inadvertently rolling down onto the field.) These were the aforementioned “Grass Seats.”)
It turned out it was “Two Dollar Tuesday”, a night when “Grass Seats” tickets were reduced to two bucks apiece. The man who ‘d approached me, having “Grass Seats” tickets he couldn’t use, generously offered me two of them for nothing.
Well, at least one thing was the same. Once again, we would not be paying for our tickets. The only difference was we would be sitting on the ground.
I returned to Dr. M to deliver the update: “‘Grass Seats’ Only!”
But they were free.
Generally, when we attend sporting events or the theater, we prefer seats with backs to just benches to sit on. Our option that night was neither “backs” nor benches.
It was a sloping, manicured lawn.
We decided to go for it. Hey, it was adventure. A component of that adventure for two semi-agile septuagenarians being lowering ourselves down to our “seats” in the first place and raising ourselves up when it was over.
After purchasing some food of dubious distinction, we proceeded beyond the left field fence where we found a spot on the ground, situated more than three hundred feet from home plate. The game was already in progress, but from our distant perspective, it was barely a rumor.
Also – for our protection I suppose – there was a three-foot fence in front of us, constructed of small, linked metallic squares. Sitting behind it (and unable to look over it) we were offered an experience comparable to watching a ballgame through transparent graph paper. It was “Baseball on a Grid.”
Seriously disgruntled by this arrangement, we decided to try the other “Grass Seats.” With the extended distance and witnessing the ballgame through tiny squares, the current set-up lacked the exuberant joie de baseball that we hoping for.
Circling the outfield, we arrived at the right field “Grass Seats”, in foul territory behind the South Bend bullpen. (Where the relief pitchers wait until called into the game.)
It was better there. No fence. A little closer to home plate. Plus, there was a concrete partition at the back of it we could comfortably lean against.
Unfortunately, the right field “Grass Seats” sloped directly away from a fountain for hyperactive children to run through. Whenever they did, a misty spray fell onto the people in the right field “Grass Seats”, particularly those sitting at the back, leaning against the concrete partition.
So there was all that.
Plus the Cubs, squandering a 5 run lead, were now trailing in the game.
Something I never understood: From the start of the game, despite the announced “Sell-out”, there were patches of unoccupied seats throughout the stadium. When, later in the game, I asked Dr. M if she wanted to move, the woman was morally outraged.
“You want us to sit in somebody else’s seats?”
Normally, I am philosophical opposed to “moving down” – abandoning your inexpensive seats in favor of empty better seats closer to the field. But we had been sitting on the ground for two hours. What was the likelihood of fans arriving during the “Seventh inning Stretch” and grumbling, “Get out of our seats!”
Finally, with our cramping backs losing the battle against gravity (plus, every thirty of so seconds we got misted), I persuade Dr. M to move to a pair of unoccupied seats at the outer reaches of the right field bleachers. When, shortly thereafter, I pointed out “primo” empty seats directly behind home plate – the kind we got “complimentary” when we were owners – she adamantly refused to relocate, believing – apparently – that taking somebody else’s bad seats was somehow less reprehensible than taking somebody else’s good seats.
We stayed the entire game. (Final score: West Michigan Whitecaps – 6; South Bend Cubs – 5.) And then we went home.
What it a worse experience than when we were owners?
Let’s say it was different.
Let’s say it was terrible.
And yet… and I can’t believe I am saying this…
I was still happy we went.
(And having a wife who went uncomplainingly along.)
(Until I tried moving to better seats.)