While stealing in baseball is condoned and even encouraged, robbing in the National Pastime should never be allowed. Let me explain.
Saturday evening my brother, son and I attended our third Mariners baseball game at Safeco Field since it was opened 10 seasons ago. To get us there needed a complete alignment of the baseball gods: rainy weather at the beach, wives busy with other chores, no assignments or high school contests to cover as a sportswriter.
Then there was the click on the Internet that revealed that seats were available in the second row. So what if they cost half-a-week's pay? A quick phone call to my brother to hear, "Yes, get three tickets" was all it took and miraculously three ducats appeared under the name Heimbigner at the will-call window in Seattle.
The trip up had been relatively normal - a late start from home and only one three-car accident on I-5. After a stop at Cabela's sporting good store, a first for my son and I, we were primed for the ballgame. The long walk down, instead of the usual up - as in nose-bleed section - to our seats was pretty cool. It wasn't as cool as the time I walked out from the tunnel in Yankee Stadium to see the "House that Ruth Built" first hand, an experience just a notch below seeing St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, but it was satisfying.
We settled in, chatted with the husband and wife in front of us, noticed an underage guy and his girlfriend in Oakland As garb to the right and in front, and then soaked in the sights and sounds of Major League Baseball. Yes, we had a program and took turns passing it around to see who was who. And yes, we had binoculars to see who was who in the outfield and bullpen, as well.
The game began innocently enough. Seattle stole a base to set up a scoring opportunity that went for naught. Mariner Russell Branyon belted a home run to centerfield to put the good guys ahead 1-0 in the second. All was right with the world when Endy Chavez, one of the new breed Mariners who have hustled their way to first place in the American League West, socked a sacrifice fly to give Seattle a 2-1 cushion moments after strains from "Take me Out to the Ballgame" were sung ingloriously by the Heimbigner trio during the seventh inning stretch.
In the meantime, the young couple in the front row had ingloriously degenerated into a drunken fool and an embarrassed young lady. The punk (use the word jerk if you'd like) spit sunflower seed shells on the hand of another young lady seated on the other side of him, continually got up in front of her and all of us on almost every pitch, spit tobacco juice on her shoe, and then, when the A's tied the game in the top of the eighth inning screamed in her ear, "Yaaaah." She hadn't said a word to the punk and her body language spoke volumes in his derision.
It was then that the old 'teacher' in me kicked into gear. I told punk in no uncertain terms to "knock it off." The exasperated young ladies asked, "What should we do?" The couple we had talked to had already left, fleeing to the nose-bleed section we usually occupy instead of putting up with an asinine performance by a spoiled brat.
I suggested security. They demurred, "He's drunk." About that time the Athletics scored the winning run despite an amazing throw to the plate from Ichiro in right field, but all we saw was the idiot rising to his feet and flipping off all in our section and again yelling something incoherent about how we all sucked. The two fellows behind me, guys who I overheard talking throughout the game about their middle school daughters doing well in soccer and softball and about kids needing to get involved in "something, anything worthwhile;" they let loose a barrage of expensive ball park peanuts at the jerk. Dozens of people yelled at the fool to sit down.
The two fathers said, "Don't worry about security. We'll take care of things." Mr. Punk took heed and sat quietly, if not soberly until the game got over with Seattle losing 3-2 to Oakland. Then he in his stupor let loose a barrage of cuss words and nonsensical remarks about how his behavior was what being a baseball fan is all about.
As we filed out for the long drive home (we arrived back at the Beach at 1:34 a.m.) I looked back to see the punk standing sheepishly in his brand new A's jersey with jaw loaded with spit tobacco, gripping his umpteenth beer no doubt purchased illegally by his daddy somewhere in the luxury boxes, and afraid to look the two fathers in the eye. They sat calmly, staring at him, arms folded. His girlfriend had exited quickly - hopefully she had cab fare. The fiasco had robbed an entire section of at least three innings of baseball.
I did notice a couple of things about the incident as former coaches will. The punk's middle finger was uncharacteristically short, stubby and un-athletic looking and his body type was that of a third string center on a football team with 23 guys. Pity is not an emotion you usually feel for a person you'd just as soon turn his schnoze into putty, but there was a twinge.
Today I oiled my mitt after a winter of neglect. My son did the same with his. Mine is a Wilson 2000-XLO, purchased in 1979 and his baseball glove is the same make and model, circa 1989.
We watched the Mariners vs. Athletics game from the safety of television today as we oiled our gloves and as we talked. We caught a glimpse of Mr. Punk. He was again in the front row with his brand new A's jersey and hat. He didn't have an old baseball glove to oil or even hold. He was alone.
He'd been robbed, too.
Avid baseball fan and Chinook Observer reporter Kevin Heimbigner lives in Klipsan Beach.