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Ken's Adventures In Weirderland
2006-05-07 03:44
by Ken Arneson

Today was a doubleheader day for the Arneson family, a day that started off oddly and kept getting curiouser and curiouser as it went along. By the time I finish writing this blog entry, I half expect to be chased by a deck of playing cards and a mad monarch insisting on my execution.

Chapter 1: Down the Rabbit Hole

The first of today's two heads was my daughter's softball game. She's in an Under-7 league with teams from Alameda and Oakland. Her first four games were all in Alameda, but today was her first road game of the season. We had to find our way to Montclair Park up in the Oakland hills.

The park is nestled between a freeway on one side and cute little shopping district on the other, but you'd never know it from standing in the park itself. It feels like you're miles away from any city, surrounded only by a duck pond and hills and tall trees that reach to the sky. This is the place that put the "Oak" into Oakland.

I thought I'd get some nice pictures of the kids playing softball in this lovely setting, but as soon as I turned on my camera, I realized I had forgotten to charge my camera battery. The juice was gone; I couldn't even snap one picture. "What is the use of a blog entry," thought Ken, "without pictures?"

Then it turned out that I was not the only one who had forgotten something; the home team manager had forgotten the tee. In this league, the coach throws four pitches to the kids, if they don't hit it, they hit off the tee. So they decided to just let each kid bat until they hit the ball. Which led to quite a few very long at-bats. Eye-hand coordination is not very mature at this age; plus these kids are short, which makes it darn hard to throw strikes to them.

Instead of moving along snappily, it seemed to drag on and on. Each fielder probably took to considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and dull), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of going over and picking some flowers in the grass, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

Oh, wait, that was just a ground ball that went by. Never mind. Pick it up, throw it to first base.

Swing, swing, swing. Bat, bat, bat. Would the game never come to an end? There was nothing else to do, so each girl began talking to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, "Do cats eat bats?", and sometimes, "Do bats eat cats?", for, you see, as she couldn't answer either question, it didn't much matter which way she put it, when suddenly, wham! bam! the last ball was hit, the last bat dropped to the ground, and the last baserunner ran all the way around the bases (for each inning always ends with she hit a grand slam), and the game was over.

Then, snack time (always the favorite part of game day), and then pile in the minivan and head to the Coliseum.

Chapter 2: A Bobblehead and a Long Line

I have a suspicion that when the A's did their calculations on whether they should close the third deck or not, they may have neglected to figure in one piece of information: the bobblehead effect.

Today was the second time I've gone to a bobblehead game this year, and it was the second time I actually got a bobblehead, without making any sort of effort to arrive early. This never used to happen before. I think the bobblehead collectors used to buy a gazillion third deck seats, go through the gates a gazillion times, get a gazillion bobbleheads, and then head home.

Before, if you wanted a bobblehead, you had to show up at the Coliseum three hours before game time and stand in an insanely long line to even have a chance to get one. Now all of a sudden, you can show up twenty minutes before game time, and still get one.

I wonder how many tickets the A's are losing to bobblehead collectors because of the third deck closure? I think it might be about 5,000 tickets/bobblehead game, if not more.

Today's bobblehead was Nick Swisher. My five-year-old declared just last week that Nick Swisher was her new favorite player, replacing Eric Chavez, who had replaced Jason Kendall. I had prepared her for the fact that there might not be any bobbleheads left when we got to the game, but when we went through the gates, and she got her bobblehead, the look on her face was priceless. She was so excited.

Chapter 3: The Rabbit Sends in a Little Ticket

My wife hates to buy food at the ballpark, because (a) we spend so much on our season ticket package already, (b) the food is expensive compared to anywhere else, and (c) it's not particularly nutritious food, either. But today I talked her into it, because of our hectic schedule today, the convenience was worth it, just this once.

So after we settled into our seats, I got up to go stand in line to buy food. While I was away, an A's employee came to our seats, and talked to my wife.

A's Employee: Are you with Ken Arneson?

Wife: Um, yes...(wondering what the heck this is about)

A's Employee: Is Ken here today?

Wife: Yes, he's buying some food.

A's Employee: Oh, good. Ken has been randomly selected as a loyal season ticket holder to receive a free ticket upgrade. These are Lew Wolff's personally-owned seats in the front row behind the visiting dugout.

So suddenly, we've become the Bizarro Bob Uecker. The usher comes and says, "You're in the wrong seat, buddy." And we go, "We must be in the front row!" And yup, they actually sent us to the front row!

Maybe it's because the last row of the upper deck is covered with a tarp now. The odometer rolls over, and now the Uecker seat moves back to the beginning of the list. Best seat in the house!

And now, I'm really, really kicking myself for not charging the battery in my camera. Front row seats, and not a single photo to show for it! So I decided to just sit back, soak it all in, and enjoy myself like a king.

Chapter 4: Who Stole The Tarts?

The King and Queen were seated on their thrones, their children and Queen's Mother beside them, when the players arrived, with a great crowd assembled about them. What followed appeared at first glance to resemble the normal routine, but as the proceedings moved forth, it became quite clear that this was nothing but the nonsense of dreams. Afterwards, Ken Korach would call on an old Bill King description to sum up the day: "Never in your wildest alcoholic nightmares could you imagine such a thing!"

"Call the first witness," said the King; and the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet. Only Dan Johnson thought that the White Rabbit had blown four blasts on the trumpet, and proceeded to take his base. Jay Payton, who was on first base, thought at first that there were three blasts, but since Johnson trotted down to first base, Payton started jogging toward second base. The pitcher, Seth McClung was the only person on the field who seemed to know that there were three blasts, not four, and turned immediately toward second base as soon as he got the ball. But McClung's infielders had also been fooled, and had failed to cover the base. And so McClung could only run helplessly trying to race Payton to second base, but he was too late. Payton jogged into second base with the stupidest stolen base ever witnessed.

"Stolen!" the King exclaimed, turning to the jury, who instantly made a memorandum of the fact.
Chapter 5: The Mock Lugo Story

In the bottom of the fifth inning, just after Russell Branyon had tied the game 1-1 with a solo homer off Barry Zito, Josh Paul came to the plate. He hit a little squibber foul, and it died on the grass just in front of the Devil Rays dugout. Julio Lugo, who was in the hole, stepped out of the hole and picked up the ball.

Lugo walked over to the section next to ours and began waving the ball over his head, as if he were looking for someone to throw it to. He faked a couple of throws into the stands, then thought better of it, and stopped. He shook his head no. He shoved the ball in his back pocket. He then turned his back to stands, and stood there, motionless, watching the next pitch go by, making it clear he was ignoring the people he was just teasing.

"Whoa. That is cold," I thought. At first I thought Lugo was just being a jerk for no reason. But then I realized that Lugo might be mocking a mocker, teasing a guy in that section who was heckling the Rays, making him think that he might throw him a bone ball, and then yanking that bone right from under that dog's nose. But still, I wasn't sure.

Another pitch goes by. Then Lugo turns around, walks right over to my five-year-old daughter, and tosses the ball to her. And suddenly, there's that face again, the same one as with the bobblehead.

The verdict on Lugo: Not Guilty.

Then, there was a Royal Decree: There shalt not be given to One Sibling that which is not given to the Other Sibling, for this is Not Fair. Two innings later, Travis Lee is coming off the field, and he tosses a ball right to the Older Sibling. So now, within a span of about half an hour, each of my two kids has managed to do something at a major league game that I, in all my 33 years of attending games have never done: get a baseball used in an actual Big League Ballgame.

Chapter 6: Pig and Pickle

In the top of the ninth inning, tied 2-2, Nick Swisher dove for a line drive and missed, turning a leadoff single into a leadoff double. Oh no, I thought, the Curse of the Bobblehead strikes again! But fortunately, the A's managed to wiggle their way out of that jam, although Justin Duchscherer injured his elbow in the process, and had to be replaced by Joe Kennedy. If the A's bullpen blows some leads later this week without the Duke, blame the bobblehead. Off with his bobblehead!

In the bottom of the ninth, Jay Payton led off with a single, and Dan Johnson walked. On four trumpet blasts this time. This time, Payton did not budge until he heard the definitive word from the umpire. Payton smiled. Johnson smiled.

I was just beginning to think to myself, "I think we might win this baby! What am I to write about this creature, when I get home?" when the creature grunted, so violently, that there could be no mistake about it: it had transmogrified: it was now neither more nor less than a pig, and I felt it would be quite absurd to carry my optimism any further.

The transformation happened as Marco Scutaro hit a soft little liner to our friend Julio Lugo. It was too low to be an infield fly, but high enough to be trouble for the A's. This thing had double, or even a triple play written all over it. Payton scrambled back to second base, thinking that Lugo would catch it. Lugo did not. Payton took off for third. Lugo tagged second to force out Johnson. Payton got caught in a pickle between second and third base. Scutaro ran to second base. Payton, somehow, eluded the pickle, and made it safely back to second base. Unfortunately, Scutaro was there, too. Two men on the same base. They tagged both. Fortunately, Payton had learned earlier in the game to listen for the umpire's call, and remained on the bag as the umpire called Scutaro out. Otherwise, we could have had a triple play to end regulation.

So the big happy rally vanished almost, but not quite, completely. Like a Cheshire Cat, it vanished in slow motion, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with a grin, which remained as the rest of it had gone. The only thing visible from all that fur flying around was Jay Payton standing on second base, with two outs.

Jason Kendall came to the plate. Since I began and ended my "Grounder to Third" Kendall Fast, in which I refused to watch Jason Kendall until he stopped grounding out to third so much, I do not think he had grounded to third even once. My fast worked.

But as weird and bizarre as this day had been, I took to considering in my mind the odds that the success of my fasting would change, like a baby turning into a pig, or a cat vanishing into thin air, and that Jason Kendall would suddenly begin grounding to third again, right here and now.

And the Devil Rays' third baseman, Aubrey Huff, seemed to be considering in his own mind (as well as he could, for the hot day made him feel very sleepy and dull), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of going over and picking some flowers in the grass, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by him.

Oh, wait, that was just a ground ball that went right through his legs. Never mind.

At this, the whole pack of fans rose up into the air, and their noise came flying down upon us. I gave a scream, half of surprise and half of relief, as Jay Payton crossed home plate, the game was over, and I found myself lying in my bed, with my head on the shoulder of my wife.

"Wake up, Ken dear!" said my wife. "Why, what a long sleep you've had!"

"Oh, I've had such a curious dream!" I said.

2006-05-07 08:49:50
1.   Jon Weisman
This wonderful tale would never have happened if you had charged your camera battery. I know it.
2006-05-07 09:40:27
2.   Bob Timmermann
That was great, Ken.

In 1988, I saw my seat number at the Coliseum flashed on the board and I thought I was getting publicly humiliated for sneaking into a better seat.

I was just part of the Chevy Home Run inning. I could have won $500 if Jose Canseco had homered in a particular inning. He didn't. But I did get four free tickets (in the first row, albeit by the foul pole) to a future game. The A's beat the Red Sox, 1-0 in that game in a Stewart vs. Clemens classic.

Not nearly as good as your story though.

2006-05-07 10:14:59
3.   Jon Weisman
The move from the back to the front thing (actually, second row) happened for me once - when I was seeing Bruce Springsteen at the Wiltern for my birthday.
2006-05-07 11:52:01
4.   Eric Enders
I too once got visited by Springsteen's "Men in Black" (as they are known). Got moved to the front row and was literally the nearest person in the arena to Bruce -- nearer even than Clarence Clemons.

Great story, Ken.

2006-05-07 15:07:21
5.   Linkmeister
That's worthy of the New Yorker, right next to Angell.
2006-05-07 23:33:29
6.   ToyCannon
I rarely venture over to the North side but man that tale was worth it. The pleasure of baseball and life has been bumped up with the excellent writing from you and Jon.
2006-05-08 00:20:50
7.   WaddellCanseco
This was so good, I registered for the site just so I could congratulate you. I do read the columns nearly daily.
2006-05-08 01:13:30
8.   BigShmirdawg
Awesome post! Great recap of what happened.
About the title: "i before e except after c".
2006-05-08 10:09:58
9.   Daniel Zappala
Wonderful story Ken, thanks for sharing it.
2006-05-08 11:25:14
10.   Kenny
The "bobblehead effect" is actually a good thing. Last year when went to bobblehead games, I saw many people walking away from the Coliseum on the BART bridge with at least 10 bobbleheads, those bobbleheads weren't intended for personal collections, but for eBay. Giveaway grabbers used to buy lots of 30 tickets in the third deck just to get the bobbleheads and in return sell them on eBay for $40+ dollars.

Now, the cheapest seats are in the bleachers, and those sell quickly with the bleachers being the bleachers. So now the cheapest available ticket for the giveaway grabbers is easily twice the cost of it was before. Their profit margin is affect and its scaring away the giveaway grabbers. Instead of seeing scores of grabbers with armfulls of bobbleheads I only see one or two with far fewer bobbleheads.

In this respect, the tarps have improved my fan experience. The bobbleheads now go to A's fans instead of lining the pockets of eBay sellers.

2006-05-08 11:49:13
11.   Ken Arneson
8 I keep looking at the title and thinking I've spelled it wrong, too. But weird is a word spelled weirdly, and by now I'm so used to the weird spelling that it would look weird if it were not spelled weirdly and were spelled wierd instead. But when you add the "erland" to the end of weird, the spelling looks weird again.

10 Of course, the bobblehead effect is certainly a good thing for the fans, but is it a good thing for the A's?

Wasn't the bobblehead deal a win-win for the A's and the eBay sellers? Didn't the A's sell more tickets and make more money that way?

I don't know. Maybe they're taking a short-term revenue hit that will pay off in the long run. If more people start to think that they can actually get a bobblehead if they buy a ticket to bobblehead day, maybe they'll start to buy more tickets to bobblehead days, and then they'll actually stay and watch the game, and then buy some high-margin food items, as well. Perhaps it all washes out in the end.

2006-05-08 15:17:12
12.   MikeK
A masterpiece. Thanks for the read.
2006-05-08 19:12:02
13.   Scott Long
Good stuff Ken.

Was I the only one worried that when Lugo was walking over to Ken's family, he was going to hit Ken's wife? I'm glad it had a much more satisfying end.

2006-05-09 14:22:08
14.   das411
Terrific post Ken, it's stories like this that blogs were invented for. Here's hoping the Toaster is still around when your kids are old enough to appreciate this...and remind you to charge your batteries every time!! :)

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