115 DEGREES - By Dan Bern
115 degrees when I arrive in Phoenix.
The girls are all falling out of their tops.
The Diamondbacks have been sucking which is good in a way.
Tickets are plentiful.
A $3.95 scorecard is going for a buck.
This place is like a mall, a big shrine to the game.
I walk around with my mouth open.
There are foods I've never seen.
Everyone is in a daze. It's 115 degrees but they have a roof on it, so it's kind of weird. It's indoors. Air-conditioned. It's a baseball mall. The Giants pitchers are trotting in the outfield. The hitters are knocking echoing line drives into the empty seats. The game will start in a little over an hour.
I was in San Francisco for a month. I played songs once a week in a nice cool dark bar in the Mission. They got me tickets to about every Giants home game for a month, unless it was a night I was playing. Once I went to a game in the afternoon and sang songs that night. That was the bad gig. All I could think of was the Giants, and I wanted to just sing songs about the Giants. Luckily I had a few, but then I ran out of them. None of the other songs, the ones that weren't about the Giants, seemed relevant, so then I was in trouble. I started making up songs about them. It was OK for awhile. You can always think of something to sing about Barry Bonds, and Alfonzo was going good, and Michael Tucker has a good name for rhyming. But then you're reaching, and so it was bad after awhile. But oh well. Anyway, it was great to get all those tickets, and go to all those games, almost all of which they won. But there's something cool, too, about being someplace where no one knows you and you're just passing through, and you score your own ticket.
This place is huge. It seems to dwarf even the crowd. The field. The game.
Everything here is cool and muted. It's like stepping into a movie theater from the bright sunshine. I dunno, I guess it's just me, but I like looking at things in sunlight. Grass. Pitchers trotting in the outfield. Tan thighs. Girls falling out of their shirts.
Maybe they'll roll the roof off sometime. Just for a second.
It's hard to believe they won a World Series here, just three years a go. They beat the Yankees when Mariano Rivera had the only bad inning of his life. And Randy Johnson, the freak who's pitching tonight, had a perfect game this year, back in May. There's a sign about it out in left center, between a McDonald's stand and a huge flat screen TV, I mean, like 50 feet long.
But the Diamondbacks' big year seems like forever ago, and now they're just another bad team, in the desert, playing in bright sun under a roof.
I thought I might maybe get jumped or something, wearing Giants stuff to a game in Arizona. But it seems way too mellow for that. It almost seems like it's a neutral site. People just seem glad to drink a beer and get out of the sun. Plus, half the people around me have Giants stuff on. Maybe they're in from San Francisco. But they seem kind of fraudulent to me. Maybe they show up in visitors gear whoever's in town.
This roof, this inside thing. I harp on it, but it just ain't sexy. There were girls I saw outside who were really hot, and in here, it's like whatever. I mean, a really hot girl, you're only gonna get her to go inside for one thing, you know what I mean? Get her inside to watch a baseball game, I mean, what is that?
Maybe it's my time in jail, my thing with wanting to be outside. When you've been in jail, it's damn nice to see the sky through a window, but you'd rather have the real thing.
There's lots of distractions.
Huge Pepsi bottles floating around dropping coupons for whatever. The kids all roam around in huge swarms trying to catch 'em. Model airplanes flying around. After all, there's no place they can go. There's no wind. We're in a big room. Some guy in a cat costume rides around the warning track on a dirt bike.
Lots of distractions.
But it's OK. There's still hot girls, no matter what. A hot girl is just a hot girl.
And I'm starting to focus on the game. Felipe's sitting Snow and putting Feliz at first. That's good. Feliz and Alfonzo both in the lineup. That's good. But Neifi Perez is at short, instead of Deivi Cruz. Not so good! And Pierzynski's out, which is too bad, even though I like Torrealba. As in, Torrealba seems like a cool guy. Venezuelan, like Alfonzo. But I guess they're loading up on righties, facing Johnson and all. At least Barry's in. He missed last night's game with a root canal. I read it in the Arizona Republic on the way here.
I guess I was scribbling. "What're you writing there?" the guy behind me asks me.
"Making some notes," I say.
"For a class?" he persists.
"I'm a scout," I say.
"Sitting way out here?"
"I like to find my own seats," I say.
Cody Ransom is in front of me, chucking it with Torrealba. Ransom looks like he's 15 years old. I saw him beat the Dodgers with a ninth-inning single last month.
It looks impossible, seeing these guys throw.
I wish I hadn't told the guy I was a scout. I feel a little restrained. But what are you gonna do. Writing a poem is grounds for ejection in a lot of stadiums.
The anthem is weird. Everyone looks at center field where the singer is on a huge screen, with a simulated waving flag above it. She sings it well, but I look around to see where she actually is, and I can't see her anyplace. Like, actually. But I guess it doesn't matter. You just look at the screen I guess. It tells you what's going on, when to cheer what to think.
There's a big roar. Everyone's looking at the screen. Randy Johnson is walking from the bullpen to the dugout. Which is OK, but not usually worth that kind of a roar. But it's on the screen, so. . .
"Who's the white team?" a kid behind me asks.
"Diamondbacks," says his Mom.
Randy Johnson looks a million feet tall in here, on the big mound. But he's only 6'10".
Randy Johnson is pitching to Bonds. Actually pitching to him, with first base open. I give him credit for that. Bonds grounds out but knocks in the game's first run. I give credit to Johnson for that. No one else pitches to Bonds with two on and first base open.
It's Johnson vs. Jerome Williams, same matchup I saw two weeks ago in San Francisco. That night, the Giants knocked Randy Johnson all over the yard. We'll see if they can do it again, on the road.
A foul ball comes our way. Holy shit. People dive for that shit? I want no part of that.
The Giants are peppering Johnson with hits in the early going.
Torrealba singles to left and Luis Gonzalez bobbles it, allowing a run to score. Randy Johnson is going to kick Gonzalez's ass for that! Same thing happened two weeks ago and he kicked his ass in the dugout. It was all over the news!
Another foul ball comes by. Definitely catchable. If another one comes, I'm catching it. Hands together. Soft palms. Plenty of give.
Bonds hits a pop-up a mile high. Well, roof-high, nearly. Still 3-0, after the Giants are out in the third.
Dustan Mohr nearly hits the roof with a pop-up. I wonder, what if it does hit the roof? I ask around. The lady to my right doesn't know. The guy in front of me thinks it's in play if it hits the roof. The guy next to him confirms it. He seems to know what he's talking about, that guy. And he's sitting with the hottest girl in the section. So I'm inclined to agree with whatever he says.
Williams is giving the Diamondbacks nothing. And his pitch count is low. That's important, especially with the Giants. Their bullpen has been horrible. I'm fairly well convinced their closer, Matt Herges, is secretly still being paid by the Dodgers. I bet he has a blue jock.
The most noise in here is between innings, when they have little games on the big screen. That's OK with me. When the Giants are on the road, I like a nice quiet crowd. A polite audience.
The lady next to me likes the roof.
I say, "This place would be nice without the roof."
"How long have you been here?" she says, not mean or anything.
"Just today," I admit.
"Try it since June," she says. "It's 190 degrees. I'm sick of the sun!"
Bonds is up for the third time. He hits it high and deep to right center. It's gone! Then it seems it's gonna hit the roof. Then it seems gone for sure. But it drops into Finley's glove, on the warning track.
"Usually he gets all of it," the lady next to me says.
Third walk for Williams, to lead of the Arizona fifth. Only one hit, but three walks, and his pitch count is up over 60. Still not bad. But I don't want to see Herges. Williams throws the ball away on a toss to first. Damn! I bet Rupert Murdoch or Darth Vader or bin Laden or whoever owns the Dodgers these days is on the phone to Herges right now, somewhere in the bowels of the stadium.
Johnson's up. One of the worst hitters ever. But he has five Cy Youngs! Four with the Diamondbacks. Only Clemens has more, with six.
That's a quiet five Cy Youngs. I had no idea.
Williams walks Randy Johnson! How can you walk Randy Johnson? Not only because he's a terrible hitter, but literally, physically, how can you walk him? His strike zone is, to use a metaphor with local flavor, as big as the Grand Canyon!
One great thing about the Giants being on the road-they always get to bat in the ninth, even if they're ahead. So, sometimes, Barry gets an extra time at bat.
The guy who thins I'm a scout is no longer behind me. Good. I was tired of acting scout-like.
They have a little race, or shell game, or something, between every single inning here. The people seem to love it, every time. All that sun, I guess.
The P.A. announcer says Torrealba's name, "Torreal-ba," with the accent on the "ba."
I wonder if they intentionally fuck with the names of the visiting players. Just to make them feel bad.
But Torrealba, however you say his name, rifles one to center, then hustles to second when Finley bobbles it.
Ha! No wonder Johnson wants out of here.
But I have no sympathy for him. Carpetbags his way out of Seattle, wins a World Series, and now his team isn't good enough. Waah.
I hope they trade him to the Yankees and they lose 70 games in a row, miss the playoffs, and he loses all his savings in a misguided stock venture.
Not that I wish him ill or anything.
The Dodgers won. Damn. They win every day now.
I bet Herges is happy.
Two ladies next to me have been waving Diamondbacks flags the whole game.
In perfect harmony. They had it down.
Before the top of the eighth, they finally get on the big screen, waving their flags.
And they totally fuck it up.
Rob Fetters is in to pitch the eighth for Arizona.
Barry's due up second.
I bet he won't come anywhere near Barry.
He does! . . . a double to left center!
Not a homer, but hey.
It is 8:30. Williams is about to pitch the eighth. Arizona games start an hour earlier than anywhere else, at 6:30. I'm not sure why. Maybe no one lives in or eats or drinks in downtown Phoenix, so after work there is no reason to hang around til 7:30 for the game to start.
I don't mind. It's kind of nice, being in the bottom of the eighth, and it's only 8:30.
Williams falls trying to field Roberto Alomar's bunt leading off the eighth! They take him out!
Great. To the pen. Scott Eyre. Now it will be an adventure, and not the kind you want.
3-0 lead. Nobody out. Guy on first. Bottom of the eighth. Here we go.
Gonzalez rolls one to the pitcher, Eyre. Eyre turns. And throws it into center field!
Bautista takes third, Gonzalez aboard.
In trots Brower.
One bum after another.
I should be in the bullpen.
I'm not kidding.
I have good location and a deceptive, very slow ball.
Here's Hillenbrand, with one out and runners on the corners. Hillenbrand. Tough hitter. Very tough.
Brower goes to 3-0 on Hillenbrand. I'm sure Herges is secretly dancing in the dugout.
Hillenbrand hits a hard one up the middle. Tough play! Neifi dives. Tosses to Durham! Over to Feliz! Double play!
Shaky. But Brower's out of it. For now. It's 3-1, and we go to the ninth.
"Want some peanuts?" I ask the lady next to me.
"No, we have some," she says. "But thanks."
"Sure," I say.
We go to the bottom of the ninth. Up 3-1.
Let's get three outs.
A wave goes around, for a second.
I am not a big wave fan. Not at all. But this is a bad wave. A really bad wave.
It was 115 degrees today. You can't be asking people to do the wave.
But it starts to get going, a little. They're persistent anyway. Amazing energy, these people.
Behind the home plate screen, five huge Viagra signs light up, with the Major League Baseball logo beside each.
I guess Viagra is the official erection pill of Major League Baseball. Now, every time one of these kids sees the Major League Baseball logo, they'll think, "Viagra."
Thank you, Bud Selig.
It's Herges to pitch the ninth!
Oh my God.
The Dodger, in Giants clothing.
Cintron steps in.
On cue, Cintron greets Herges with a double off the wall in right center.
Come on Felipe!
Felipe does not lift him.
Chad Tracey dumps a single to center.
Brito (who are these guys?) pushes a sacrifice bunt to Herges.
Herges nearly throws it away!
Feliz digs it out at first.
Runners on first and second.
McCracken up, pinch-hitting.
He stinks, but it doesn't matter.
Herges walks him on four pitches.
Finally, Felipe pulls him.
Pats him on the shoulder!
Could Felipe be working for the Dodgers too?"
No. Unthinkable. Ptui. Terrible thought. It was 115 degrees today. Too much sun. Good thing there's a roof.
Jason Christiansen is on in relief.
After your "closer" loaded them up and got one out.
Christiansen ain't much.
But at least his only paycheck is from the Giants.
Alomar grounds sharply to Alfonzo.
Steps on the bag at third.
Over to Feliz!
Loss, Randy Johson.
Off the hook-Herges.
He did his job, though.
For the Dodgers.
They've now won 10 of 12 for me in person over the last month.
This is a nice place, the Bank One Ballpark. A big baseball mall in the desert. But very hospitable. No one hit me or threw stuff at me, with my Giants gear. And the Giants win, 3-1. A nice ballpark.
After the game, everyone clears out fast. I linger. The usher comes by. "We got to get this cleared out," he says.
"OK," I say. He seems to feel he's been a trifle harsh.
"Come back and see us," he says.
A girl asks me to take a picture of her and her boyfriend.
"Sure," I say.
It's one of those fancy little digital cameras.
Her boyfriend is on the phone. I wait. He puts the phone down and smiles. They both smile. Their heads are together.
I push the button.
"Nice one!" I say.
I brought two sheets of paper with me to the ballgame. I thought I might want to jot something down.
I used them up before batting practice was over.
I went up to one of the gift shops.
"Do you have a note pad?" I asked.
He found a little desk set, an Arizona Diamondbacks stand with little pieces of paper in it, like, post-it sized pieces of paper.
I used 36 pieces of paper during the game.
It was pretty cool.
Like being at my own desk, except with a ballgame in front of me.
A Giants game.
Everyone hustles you out pretty fast. I go into the rest room and sit in a stall.
What if I really had to crap? They couldn't very well haul you out if you're in there crapping.
Finally I leave. It's instantly hot and sticky. Everyone's sexy again. Or maybe it's just the hot girls at "Sliders," the outdoor bar right by the ballpark. Stocked with hot girls, serving drinks, hired just to be hot.
Everyone is brown and buxom and sweaty. I love it. I head toward my car. Tom Petty booms into the night. She was-an American girl.
It's not even 10.
The night is mine.
I can head toward L.A.
Or see what Phoenix looks like tonight.
I pass an usher outside.
"Night," I say.
She looks tired.
"Good night," she says.
The Giants are moving on.
I don't have much to do, besides drift around.
In the fall I will travel around and sing songs and try to make sure Bush doesn't win. I'm not so concerned with changing anyone's mind. Just making sure all the like-minded people go and vote.
Sometimes the choir needs a little preaching.
But now, now it is still July.
In Phoenix today, it was 115 degrees.
And I don't care what anyone tells you.
It is not a dry heat.
It's very sexy.
My car is the last one still in the lot.
I wheel it out onto Jefferson and I roll off into the hot night.
Life is just good, sometimes.
Phoenix-city of cops.
You can't have everything.
A Paper: Great Gentile Athletes of the Early 1970s by Dan Bern
There were many great Gentile athletes in America during the early 1970s. One of these was Jim Palmer. What a player he was, and a pitcher. He was a Baltimore Oriole and won the Cy Young award many times over. He was also part of a staff of four 20-game winners on the same team in the same year. That's only happened maybe twice.
By coincidence, all four of the pitchers on that staff--Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cueller and Pat Dobson--were Gentiles. The news guys got ahold of it and made a big deal about it, and the fans liked it. "Gentile 4" t-shirts were a hot item in Baltimore that summer.
Another great Gentile athlete of this period was O.J. Simpson. He had come out of U.S.C. as the Heisman Trophy winner for 1968. Then he joined the Buffalo Bills. After a few tough seasons on poor teams, the Bills finally built a strong front line and the gifted Simpson burst forth with the league's first-ever 2,000 yard rushing season, in 1975.
That was also the dawn of Monday Night Football, during which Simpson got his 1,000th yard in just the 7th game of the year. The star of Monday Night Football was Howard Cosell. He was neither a Gentile nor an athlete.
No discussion of Gentile athletes of the early '70s would be complete-not that this is to be by any means complete-without speaking about Wilt Chamberlain. By the early '70s a lot of Chamberlain's spring was gone but he could still intimidate and grab rebounds and dunk. He wore a yellow headband and he played on the Lakers and led them to 33 wins in-a-row at one point. Chamberlain was the cornerstone of what became a legacy of great L.A. centers, from Alcindor and Walton at UCLA, to Chamberlain, Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal with the Lakers. All of these centers-Walton, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and O'Neal-have one thing in common, and that's this: they're all Gentiles.
One intriguing Gentile athlete of the early '70s was Ilie Nastase, the tennis player from Romania. All of tennis's charisma since then-which is to say, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and to some degree Andre Agassi and the Williams Sisters-can be traced to the slump-shouldered, cigarette-smoking devil from Bucharest. He blew Wimbledon to Stan Smith in 1972 and then won the U.S. Open. Borg was just getting going. Laver was done. Nastase was the best, and a Gentile, as were all those he paved the way for-Connors and McEnroe and Agassi and Venus and Serena. Brian Gottfried was not a Gentile but a very good tennis player. And Spiro Agnew was a Gentile, but no athlete. This paper is about Gentile athletes, of a particular period.
In conclusion, you have to mention, in this discussion, Roberto Clemente, the Gentile Pirate, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins who went undefeated fielding an entire squad of Gentiles, and Muhammad Ali, the great Gentile boxer, fresh out of suspension and back on the hunt again. In 1971 he fought another Gentile, Joe Frazier, in the "Fight of the Century." A few years later he beat George Foreman, yet another Gentile, in the jungle of Zaire, to take back the title.
And Brian's Song, a popular TV movie of the time, featured the bond between two Gentile Chicago Bears- Gale Sayers and the dying Brian Piccolo.
All in all, the early 1970s were a fertile time for the Gentile athlete in America. It was not without its sad times-the death of the Gentile Detroit Lion, Chuck Hughes, and the career ends of two great Gentiles, Joe Namath and Willie Mays, with strange teams and uniforms (although Mays no doubt enjoyed a final season in New York, and his first World Series in 11 years).
Still, despite these moments, the early '70s were good for the Gentile athlete. Facial hair was flourishing. So were personalities. Gentiles like Namath, Nastase, Chamberlain, Reggie Jackson and Bill Lee were expressing themselves as had athletes never before-Gentile or otherwise. If the sports world was slow to absorb the social upheavals of the '60s, by the early '70s it was everywhere-sweatbands, afros, beards, colored shoes. And the Gentile athlete was in the middle of it all.