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.Don't look at me like that. You'd handle it the same way.
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].
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.
-- 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.