Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cubby and Me

A little-known fact about Daytona Beach is that it is the home base of the Class A Florida State League. Our local entry into the minors are the Daytona Cubs, and an evening out at a Cubs game is truly one of the real pleasures of summer here on the Fun Coast.

I love going to watch the Cubs games, and usually get to five or six games each year. Certainly some of it is the baseball, and for the same reason that college basketball can be so compelling where the NBA is not. The players are mostly young kids. A few are high draft picks, and are merely collecting experience (and signing bonuses) before their inevitable promotions. Some of them are trying to prove themselves, striving to climb the ladder to the major leagues. Sometimes they will play spectacularly, and sometimes they will act like boneheads as they try to master their trade and impress scouts from the next level of play. But most of the players know that this is as far as they go, so they play to play with a totally different, and incredibly refreshing, attitude than those who have already “made it” and for whom playing ball is not a dream, but a career.

I also have a soft spot for our ballpark. Jackie Robinson Stadium (known as “The Jack”) is a very minor league place, and it shows. It’s old and charmingly on the shabby side. But that’s the fun of it all. The stands along the first base line dwell under a tin roof, complete with netting across the front and the required obstructed views from the green support beams. Those who live dangerously will opt for seats in the bleachers behind the home dugout, and work without a net. The bleachers back up onto a channel of the Halifax River, and if you listen closely you can hear foul balls sailing over the heads of the fans hit the concrete in front of the concessions and plunk into the water. Fouls tips on the right bang off the tin roof en route to hitting someone’s boat at the marina on the opposite side of the street. If you sit up high enough, you can look out over the palm trees just behind the outfield fence and see the high bridge over the gleaming waters of the Halifax River offer safe passage down to the beach. On a really good day, you can even catch the smell of the ocean and a soft maritime breeze coming in from right field. It’s an idyllic spot to watch a ball game on a warm summer night; and compared with other new, cookie-cutter minor league parks built in the middle of urban renewal or surrounded by suburban parking lots, it’s a very pleasant world away.

(By the way, we’ve been discussing the General Admission seats. They cost $7.00…$6.00 for students and seniors, although if your child has an “A” on his or her report card he gets in free. The twenty-four box seats are $12.00 each, and feature both a designated waitress and a freestanding folding metal chair that you can turn to any angle you please. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll meet Front Row Joe, who has recently broken the 1,020 mark for consecutive games attended at The Jack.)

The other thing that’s so great about a Daytona Cubs game is that there is no pretense whatsoever that this is a major league operation. I do understand that minor league ball is a growth industry, and that there is often little difference (but for price) in the experience between attending a game at a major league stadium or a new minor league park such as Steinbrenner Field in Tampa or Victory Field in Indianapolis. But I’ve always thought minor league ball belongs in minor league places, and cities like Daytona fit the bill. (I think our logo of the team…a polar bear wearing sunglasses…is also just way too cool, and fits our team in a way you can only do in the minor leagues. Like anyone ever took seriously an NHL team called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim? Please.)

This lack of pretense carries over into promotions and between-inning activities. (It goes without saying that at the Class A level, the singing of the National Anthem is an adventure every night.) At major league parks, promotions are sponsored by telecoms and major banks. Last Wednesday at The Jack, it was Radiology Associates Dollar Ice Cream Night. Radiology Associates are the x-ray physicians I work with in the ED, and since I have given them so much business over the years I was delighted to take their ice cream at half price. I figure this is worth an acknowledgement, so when the PA Announcer notes that “Dollar Ice Cream Night is brought to you by Radiology Associates, I get up and shout my thanks. “Hooray! CT scans! Hooray! MRI! Hooray! Transvaginal ultrasound!” It was a sparse midweek crowd so, for better or worse, there were few people about to share my enthusiasm.

(Ice cream also goes surprisingly well with Woodchuck Cider, which is sold from a tap stuck into the side of a refrigerated trailer next to the Italian sausage grillers just under the third base stands. Woodchuck and other adult beverages are especially cheap on Thirsty Thursdays, when a 32 oz cup is only $4.75. I’m just sayin’.)

In between innings, there are all kinds of things to entertain the crowd, but again these are done in an intimate, informal, let’s all just hang out together sort of way. There is no Jumbotron, no scantily clad salsa dancers, no KissCam, no random shots of the crowd so people can wave frantically at themselves. Instead, as befits the home of the Daytona 500, we do a lot of racing. There are games such as the burrito speed-eating contest, the “Little 500” involving small bikes and traffic cones, the “who-can-put-on-a-frozen-t-shirt-first” race, and the “Who Let the Dogs Out” run, where kids take off from behind first base, run across right field to touch a “Metro PCS” sign on the wall at deep left center, and then leave the field along the warning track. (There’s always one for two little kids who don’t make it across the grass before the first pitch of the new inning gets flung.) And then there’s the nightly humiliation of our mascot Cubby as he races a small child from first to third. (Cubby’s record over the past six years: 0-137.)

My favorite game is called “Crabs In Your Pants.” There are two teams, and on each team one player has to stand with his back to his partner and toss stuffed crabs over his head into the oversized pants worn by the other. As a medical person, one can’t help but wonder if after catching the crabs, you shouldn’t throw a bottle of Ridd in there as well. (Public health never rests.) And of course there’s the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the Seventh Inning Stretch, led by a random fan from the stands and which, like the national anthem, is both a nightly tradition and an adventure.

The game was actually pretty well played, with the Cubs behind by a single run going into the top of the ninth. Then the Port Charlotte Stonecrabs got three more runs, and it didn’t look good for the Cubbies. I don’t think of myself as a “fair-weather fan,” but I also hate being witness to the agony of defeat. So I started to head out towards the parking lot (which during the daytime serves the courthouse and the public library), looking over my shoulder the whole way because I had this idea in my head that Cubby would spot me walking out and accost me for my disloyalty. I felt like I was less in danger when I saw smoke coming from behind the left field fence. It may just have been the cigarette from the guy who puts up numbers on the scoreboard, but I thought that perhaps Cubby was trying to organize a rally with the Radiology Associates Aztec Ritual Sacrificial Fan of the Night. (“Hey, Cubs fans!” Turn to page 6 in your program! If you see a picture of Huitzilopochtli, say your farewells and report to Guest Services behind home plate!”)

Some people will just do anything to win.


  1. At the Joliet Jackhammer's game on Memorial Day Weekend, we got to see the "Ghostriders" between innings. They are monkeys strapped to little saddles on cattle dogs that heard goats through the infield. For the grand finale they heared the goats up into a truck bed and then onto the roof of the truck cab! Whoo Doggy, that was some good entertainment. Priceless!

  2. My favorite line from Elf Shuffleboard (which was a sister game, in a different year, to Elf Bowling) is: "Hey Kringle, I've got crabbbbz."

    Favorite Former Employee