Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sweet Suite

There's something very wrong about watching a baseball game in a luxury box. It's elitist. It's wasteful. It's actually kind of silly too, when you think about it. But I did it anyway last night, and you would too (and should, actually) if given the opportunity some day. Just don't make a habit of it, because I'm pretty sure it will sap your baseball soul.

My firm's summer law clerks make a trip to the luxury box each year. It's a sales pitch thing, really. Come join The Firm! Enjoy the perks of power! It's not until after they commit that we actually tell them that they'll rarely if ever see great tickets like these again, but that's just how legal recruiting rolls. I have no problem with it, really, because if they want to be good lawyers they will eventually have to learn how to recognize a snow job when they see it. I view this bait-and-switch as a valuable learning experience.

It turns out one of them couldn't make it yesterday, so there was an extra ticket. The woman in charge of organizing the outing could have given it to anyone, but she knows that I am exactly the kind of guy who would drop all of his real responsibilities without a second thought, drive 100 miles, and take in a game. I got the call mid-afternoon and said I'd go. The only barrier to overcome was Mrs. Shyster. She's great of course, and almost always lets me do last minute stuff like this, but blowing off the rest of the day and leaving her to feed, bathe, and put the kids to sleep by herself is never an easy sell because, let's face it, they're monsters. The call always goes like this:

Me: Hi, honey, it's me.

Her: [sound of kids screaming and destroying things in the background] What? What do you want? I can't hear you. KIDS! I AM ON THE PHONE!! OK, go ahead.

Me: Wow, they sound a little jacked up today.

Her: [weary] that's every day. Now what do you want?

Me: [gathering courage]: Um, did you get those errands done you were talking about?

Her: Yes, but the kids have now gotten us banned from every store in the county. Is that online grocery store still in business?

Me: Uh, I dunno. [Going for broke and lying a little] Hey, I need to go to the game tonight down in Cincy. Not my choice, of course. Recruiting thing. Must be responsible and all. The firm expects it. I assume that's cool, right?

Her: [Icy, angry silence. Even the kids are scared speechless].

Me: [Going passive-aggressive because I'm a shameless slimeball] Look, if you don't want me to do this, just say so. I'll call them right now and tell all of those people counting on me to be a responsible mentor and an ambassador for the firm that I simply can't make it.

Her: [probably dialing the divorce lawyer with the other phone]: No, that's fine. [the tone on "fine" is roughly equivalent to an icicle being shoved in your eardrum]

Me: [thinking that I should probably back out at this point; to be a responsible father and husband; to come home like normal that night and be with my family]: Great! I'll run by to grab some clothes and then book it to the game! Thanks for being so understanding! Smell you later! [click].
Don't look at me like that. You'd handle it the same way.

I got hung up at the office for a while, and by the time I was on the road I was really cutting it close. If I hauled ass, though, I stood a puncher's chance of making the first pitch. Things went smoothly until I hit Cincy, where I ran into a big, soul-sucking traffic jam at I-71 and I-275. It was the kind of traffic jam you sit in and think "man, there had BETTER be some dead bodies on the pavement up there, or else I'm gonna be really pissed." Again, I'm not proud of thinking things like that, but admit it, you've had that thought before yourself. At any rate, there were no dead bodies. There wasn't even an accident. The jam just magically disappeared, having lasted just long enough to ensure that I'd miss at least the top of the 1st inning.

But that was OK, because listening to a Reds radio broadcast on WLW is always fun for me. I've covered this before, but Marty Brennaman is so openly hostile to the Reds anymore that it borders on the sublime. Part of me wants to feel sorry for him -- the guy spent the 70s doing play-by-play for the best team in our lifetimes and now he has to cover a squad that includes Corey Patterson in a prominent role -- but the fact is he's just bitter.

Marty didn't disappoint last night. During the pregame he made prominent mention of the fact that Johnny Cueto needs to control his emotions on the mound if he ever wants to be a good pitcher. And Marty's right about that. But you could tell by the tone of his voice that he takes it personally. He's disgusted that Cueto doesn't act like Jack Billingham or Tom Browning or someone, and that he may even lose sleep over it. As if it were scripted, Cueto started the first with two quick strikeouts, and then walked Brian Giles. This apparently upset Cueto who, according to Marty, jumped up and down a couple of times in frustration following the walk. Marty pounced, spittle flying: "That's EXACTLY what I was talking about! That is NOT the kind of emotion this guy needs to be showing if he ever hopes to figure it out. MAN!" Boothmate Thom Brennaman -- who normally piles on along with his old man -- actually came to Cueto's defense. I don't think Thom even really disagreed with his pop as much as he knew it was only the first inning and someone needed to reign in Marty lest he have a coronary.

I made downtown during the bottom of the first, found a garage, and hiked over to the stadium. My firm owns box 109, which is in the "World Series Suites" section, right along the third baseline. I'm not gonna lie to you: it's a sweet suite. Guys hold the door open for you when you enter, and there's a nice spread once you get inside. Hot dogs, hamburgers, salads, barbecue from the Montgomery Inn, cookies, popcorn, peanuts, chips, beer, wine, soda, bottled water, and just about anything else you could imagine wanting during a game. And in case you're too lazy or important to walk the literally six feet over to the setup to grab your own dog and brew, there is a wonderful woman who comes by every five minutes or so to ask what, if anything, she could get for us.

This created obvious mixed feelings on my part. First impulse: "wow, what service!" Second impulse: "wow, how sad that anyone thinks that they need such service!" I actually asked the woman -- nicely and respectfully, mind you -- if people are so lazy that they can't get off their duff and get their own beer. She was a total diplomat and a total pro, noting just how much people enjoy baseball, and how sad it is to have to take one's attention away from the game when she was perfectly willing to assist them in any way she could. If anyone from the Reds organization is reading this, I highly recommend that you give the woman covering Suite 109 last night a hefty raise, because she's totally awesome.

As for decor, there are big comfy leather chairs and flat screen TVs. The main room is air-conditioned, but outside of the glass are 12 or 15 regular stadium seats so you can enjoy the game in open air. If you're wavering on where to watch the game, the fact that they pipe in Marty's play by play in the air-conditioned room tips the balance in favor of going outside.

Not that everyone goes outside. Have you seen that new Miller High Life commercial where the delivery guy comes to confiscate the Champagne of Beers from the luxury box, berating the people for watching the game on TV inside when the real live stadium is just on the other side of the glass? That's pretty damn accurate, actually. Not so much in our suite -- the law students and I haven't been corrupted yet so we mostly watched outside as God intended -- but there were groups gathered around the plasmas inside all of the other suites I could see. Chatting away, sorta-kinda-not-really paying attention to the game. These people, it should be noted, will be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes.

I guess the most general lesson I can take from watching a game in a luxury box is that, obviously, where you sit colors your impressions of a stadium. I've been critical of Great American Ballpark in the past, but I came away last night with a much better feeling. This is not to say I liked it merely because I was being spoiled. After all, anyone would give great reviews to a park based on their luxury box experience. Rather, the non-seating-specific things that have always bugged me about the place -- its orientation towards the river instead of the skyline; the riverboat motif in center; the comical over saturation of ads on the outfield walls; the rather bland, cheap, and likely focus-grouped architecture -- didn't really bug me last night. OK, maybe being spoiled did have a lot to do with it. I mean, it's pretty easy to turn a blind eye to the faults of the place when you're sitting above third base drinking free beer. Point is that I'm feeling better towards GAB this morning.

Other highlights:

-- Pete Rose was in the house. He was sitting directly behind home plate, about seven rows up. Someone in the box pointed him out to me. At first I thought he was trying to be low key, as he was wearing shades and a khaki ballcap, but when a stadium camera caught him in fourth inning he stood up, tipped his cap and waved to the crowd. Everone went wild. They absolutely adore that guy in Cincinnati, and I totally understand why. I'm not entirely clear on the parameters of his ban, but my sense is that he should be allowed to do fan ambassador stuff for the team, because it would be great for everyone involved. Maybe MLB could couch at as some community service, work-your-way-back program specifically tailored for Charlie Hustle;

-- Jay Bruce comes to the plate to ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down." That song came out eight years before he was born, so I have no idea why he chose it. If I was a ballplayer and did that I'd be coming up to "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas or something. Damn I feel old;

-- Oh, the game itself? Kinda blah. Johnny Cueto threw over 120 pitches -- striking out ten guys -- but got a no-decision. Peavy was strong for a while, but ran out of gas. After the starters were gone every hitter forgot what they'd ever been taught and just hacked at absolutely everything. In total there were 31 strikeouts in the game, sixteen of which came courtesy of the bullpens. There was a stretch late in the game where seven Reds batters struck out in a row. Stepping inside for a moment I heard Thom Brennaman on the play by play loudly wondering why players aren't ashamed of striking out like they used to be back in the old days. Thom Brennaman is 45. The old days for him were Reggie Jackson, and I don't think he cared all that much. Anyway, all was forgiven when Jeff Keppinger drove in Jay Bruce with a double in the bottom of the 11th to end the game.

In closing, the suite was nice, but it was wrong in some very important ways. For as comfortable as it is, baseball just isn't baseball if you're not trying to flag down a beer guy. Or fighting for arm rest space. Or listening to some yahoo three seats down explaining to everyone that Adam Dunn should "take what the defense gives him" and try to take balls the opposite way. Watching baseball shouldn't be that easy, and at the risk of trafficking in kneejerk populism, I can't help but think that the experience of watching a game should simply be more democratic. I don't feel comfortable being an elite up their in my skybox, even if I enjoyed almost every second of it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go schmooze the managing partner for more suite seats.


Jason said...

been there, done that (with the wife-thing). I know that "fine". I know the icy silence.

Yet, we're content in letting them simmer in their own disdain for us while we go play.

Any wonder why Oprah exists?

Erock said...

I have been to a lot of baseball games in the suite, and a lot outside of the suite. The interesting thing is that most of the people in the suite with me have never been there before, and are absolutely overjoyed at the opportunity even when the home team is 12 games below .500 in July. Meanwhile, the people outside of the suite are lamenting that they wasted their day on a team they already knew was very bad.

Tracy said...

"If I was a ballplayer and did that I'd be coming up to "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas or something. Damn I feel old;"

Hah, you think you're old - they'd be playing Big Joe Turner's version of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" for me.

christopher said...

I've gone to a couple games in the box as well. I don't like the idea, but I do like baseball and free beer. I'd like to rail about corporate waste, but without corporate waste, I'd never go to a game in a box or stay at a really, really fancy hotel. It makes it tough to stick to your moral guns.

About Jay Bruce: He picks that song probably because the chorus goes: "Don't bring me down, Bruce!" Your analogy would only hold if the mamas and the papas somehow worked "Shyster" into the lyrics. A strained version of this logic is Eric Byrnes choosing "Disco Inferno" as his at-bat music.

Damon Rutherford said...

I e-mailed Craig about the lyrics to Bruce's song. I asked if he was being sarcastic, since I thought the selection of the song was fairly obvious.

I then ranted about repeating lyrics. I'll bet he enjoyed that.

mahnu.uterna said...

"I am exactly the kid of guy who would drop all of his real responsibilities without a second thought"

Funny, how apt some typos can be. ;-)

Craig Calcaterra said...

As I said to Damon, I didn't even know the lyrics to Don't Bring Me Down, so the "Bruce" thing is news to me. At least now I understand it.

As for the "kid/kind" guy, man, that Freud was onto something, wasn't he?

Erock said...

You comments on Marty are dead on. I fear that his view on the Reds current players contributes dramatically to the town's support of the Reds and the corresponding feelings in the club house about the city and the support for the team.

But, as a regular reds watcher, I can't help but note that Brantley, Welch and Grande have started acting more upbeat about certain players on the Reds...perhaps Jocketty had a word with the boys about helping him during the trading deadline.

Brad said...

Craig, does your firm have a suite at the Jake (er, Progressive Field) also? Or just in Cincy? I was wondering how a law firm in Columbus chose which ballpark to go to. I realize that Cincy is slightly closer than Cleveland -- is that why?

Craig Calcaterra said...

Brad -- The firm is actually based in Cleveland, with offices in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, D.C., Atlanta, and New York. I'm assuming we have a suite in Cleveland too, but I've never been to it. I have been in some club seats up there, but I think they belonged to the partner I was with as opposed to the firm itself.

Our Cincy office is of decent size, so they have a client-entertainment budget just like the Cleveland office (which is much bigger) does, thus the boxes. In Columbus we have club seats for the Blue Jackets. We may share a luxury bix too (I can't recally), but really, hockey is not quite the client bonding-experience that baseball or Ohio State football is.

Tracy said...

"As I said to Damon, I didn't even know the lyrics to Don't Bring Me Down, so the "Bruce" thing is news to me. At least now I understand it."

Except it's "Don't bring me down, Gruss." Gruss being German for 'Greet'. An understandable mistake, though, but being rather anal when it comes to song lyrics, I must speak up.

I know it's a stupid lyric, but you'll just have to ask Jeff Lynne.

Damon Rutherford said...

That's cool, Tracy. However, from their Wikipedia entry, I found this: "However, after the song's release, so many people had misinterpreted the word as Bruce that the band actually changed the lyrics and began to sing the word as Bruce.[1]"


Osmodious said...

Craig, the version of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that I have (that fortunately fell through a time-warp from a thousand years in the future), states that 'luxury box occupants who ignore the game (any sport) were the second ones against the wall when the revolution came, right after the mindless jerks at the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.' Sorry...

Craig Calcaterra said...

Maybe so, Os, but I'm pretty sure the box next to ours was from a telephone sanitization company, and their future is already set in stone.