The Associated Press reported last week that a 3-foot black snake sent reporters into a tizzy after it appeared in the press box as the Mets were enroute to beating the Indians in a spring training game at Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven.
I was tempted to dismiss this article at first. My experience in press boxes has been that not only would a snake not cause a stir, but he’d we welcomed and probably have his own seat and laptop.
OK, that’s a little harsh. But truth be told, I’ve been in a number of minor league and major league press boxes and the experiences largely have not been fun.
One time I was so repulsed by the behavior that I went and sat in the stands — and found them to be a much better place to enjoy the game.
My first time, in Yankee Stadium, was not reflective of future encounters. That, of course, was the oft-mentioned meeting of Richard Nixon, Dave Winfield and Matthew "Pop" Shortell, which you can read it here if you have not already heard the wild tale. It's gone downhill from there.
Unless they’ve changed with the newest round of stadium construction, press boxes are pretty much the same. There are rows bar-like connected desks, arranged steeply so the head of the writer in front of you is not obstructing your view. There’s usually a hallway along the back, and wipe board for things like the line-ups and other facts of the day.
Usually there piles of copied game notes and stats, assembled to be easily dropped into stories. I’m often envious because school reporters have to work a little harder to get information.
And, usually, not too many steps away is some kind of free food. Nothing that you’d skip dinner for, but it’s free so the sportswriters like it.
The old Tiger Stadium had one of the worst press boxes. Clearly added during one of the old yard’s many renovations, it was up at the level of the upper deck. You had to take the world’s slowest elevator then walk down a hallway added atop the roof to get to it. And the windows were closed every time I was there, so you couldn’t hear the sounds of the ballpark.
But usually it’s the people and not the facilities that make them unpleasant.
Basically there are a lot of openly surly people up there. I got a sense that the athletes don’t treat a lot of these guys all that well, and when you spend all that time in such an environment you tend to pass it on to whomever you come in contact with.
We were at a game in Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium the year before Camden Yards opened. You need to know that there are semi-assigned seats. Some of the little desks bear the name of the news outlet, and others are just kind of claimed because the same people sit in them every game. Visiting media usually sit in the last couple rows.
So I had my seat in the last row and was enjoying my crab cakes -- seemed like the frozen kind, but they were free -- and about two innings into the game the staff ushered in a dad and his elementary school-aged son.
I think there were contest winners or something, and both were dressed in Orioles gear. The staffer scanned the box, saw a couple open seats in the first row and placed them there. Both seemed thrilled.
It wasn’t too much later when a late-arriving writer -- I didn’t catch who it was or who he worked for -- saw these two in his seat and went nuts. I don’t mean some grumbling, this guy was yelling.
The Orioles media relations guy told him to calm down and pointed him to a spot in the last row, next to me. The guy walked up and slammed -- and I mean slammed! -- his stuff down on the desk.
"Do you believe this?" he said, as if I would share in his outrage. Since he was all worked up and all, I was going to ask him if I could eat his crab cakes, but I thought better of it.
Shea was a little rough, but it was the staff instead of the other writers.
We grabbed a seat in the back for a game in 1988, and were told to move to auxiliary press box down the hall, which was fine with us. We took our seats and spread out our game notes.
Then a staff member walked over, saw us and said, "You! Out!" complete with pointing and the thumb gesture. Two other guys standing next to him came and took our places. I asked where it would be OK for us to sit, and he said something along the lines of "Not my problem."
I suppose I would have preferred, "Hey fellas, these guys usually sit there and because they’re regulars we need to take care of them first." But that wouldn’t be New York or Shea, and "You! Out!" has become one of our catch phrases.
What was she thinking?
Speaking of New Yorkers. Well, people who are kind of New Yorkers. As a political observer I’ve wondered how Hillary Clinton would fare on the campaign trail. Then I saw this quote from Newsday:
"I cannot let stand that I have ever, ever been a Mets fan: Let's set the record straight," Clinton said. "The Cubs and the Yankees — those were my teams and remained my teams growing up and now in my mature years."
Goodness, is she trying to throw the election? Why not come out and say she'll name Derek F. Jeter as her running mate?
Yankee love? Open Mets hating? That’s quite a confession. Who does she think she is, Tom Verducci? Obama’s people must be doing cartwheels.
Somewhere Gary Hart is sitting there with his Monkey Business T-shirt thinking, "I did some dumb things, but nothing that dumb."
Can you imagine the first primary debate?
Moderator: Sen. Obama, we’ll start with you. What’s your plan for Iraq?
Obama: (Pointing) She’s a Yankee fan. (Gasps in the audience)
Moderator: That’s it? You have plenty of time.
Obama: As if I needed to say anything else. Did you hear me? She roots for the Yankees.
Clinton: Ah, ah ... Yankee pride! Twenty-six world championships! Derek Jeter was robbed last year! Vast right-wing conspiracy!
Moderator: Well hell, this one’s over. That’s a wrap.
Clinton (voice trailing off): ...he dove into the stands to catch the ball...
Should be interesting to see how this plays out.