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Within an inning of my 12-year-old son's and my arrival at our upper deck reserved seats a couple innings into the much-delayed Cubs game Sunday versus the Pirates, the drunk sitting behind me had unleashed a stream of foul language. My son heard some of it, including the identification of someone as a fucking retard, but I'm hopeful he was distracted a little later on when the guy capped off another delightful comment with a racial epithet.
Then again, it wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world if it registered. My son and I have had some good chats the last few years after encountering guys like this during summers in the city and noting how idiotic they sound when they over-indulge this way. I'm hoping if we hear this sort of unavoidable (if you want to attend big, popular events) profanity and worse while we're together and then talk about it at least a little, there's a chance he'll learn some negative lessons, i.e., ones in how not to act.
When I first got there, the delightful gent was eating peanuts and appeared to be trying to leave as much of the shells and the skins on the chair in front of him as possible. What I initially thought was my chair turned out to be one over but soon that chair's occupant returned and it was the mother of a couple small kids. She sat down in the peanut detritus without noticing. She and her husband surrounded their two boys, who were busy plowing through the ballpark food combo platter of popcorn and nachos and hot dogs, soon to be capped off by cotton candy. It was a very strange scene.
I couldn't tell for sure but it did seem as though she was distracted enough, and the guy behind me wasn't quite boisterous enough, that she didn't absorb what he was saying. The one thing I knew through all this was that I was determined to avoid engaging the guy if at all possible. Because if you think the initial language is bad in these situations, just wait until you call them on it.
And then the potential storm passed. Within an inning-and-a-half, the guy took a long trip to the men's room and then after returning for a short while, exited our section.
So I suppose the question is, are these incidents evidence of a larger trend at Wrigley? Are there more drunken numbskulls in the crowd than in the good old days? My sample size is tiny of course - I hate it when commentators opine about "Cubs fans" when they have interacted with less than one percent of them - but I think the rate of drunkenness remains about the same.
Then again, there are certain games - the home opener, versus the White Sox, after long rain delays - when the chances are awfully good that the observation of over-served behavior will be a part of that day's ballpark experience.
I know that some sports venues have instituted programs encouraging fans to text message reports of drunkenness to the authorities. And ushers are always on hand. But like I noted before, calling an usher almost always makes the situation worse. It is almost always better to let the offenders move on. Then again, at the home opener this season, after a jackass sitting two rows up from me insisted on parading about in his White Sox cap all game, enough of the other fans overreacted enough that we did end up having to try to remind a few people that there were "kids in the section" blah, blah, blah.
They didn't really improve their behavior, they just moved on.
In the mid- to late-70s, my brother and I used to take the 22 Clark Street bus up to the ballpark, sit on the sidewalk outside the bleachers and wait until they opened the gates. Then we would purchase what used to be wonderfully cheap tickets that didn't go on sale until the day of the game and eventually settle in in the right-centerfield portion of the stands.
Celebrity Cub fans Eddie Vedder and John Cusack have said the location of their favorite seats at Wrigley was based on where Jose Cardenal was playing. The usual left fielder with the Afro who inspired fans to sing "Jose can you see?" to start the national anthem was seen as the coolest player on some bad teams. He spent six seasons in Chicago starting in 1972.
But my brother and I were Rick Monday (with the Cubs from 1972 to 1976) fans and so we almost always sat in the first five rows, not far from the fence separating the bleachers from the hitting background in center. And that was where we watched our fellow bums pound beers and pontificate about all sorts of stuff. I have a vivid memory of one such over-indulger having enough to knock himself out. After trying to wake him for a while, the ushers finally had to bring in a stretcher and haul him away.
At least back then the price of beer wasn't quite so obscene. These days I'm not so unimpressed when guys drink too much at the ballgame; I have even been known to do that sort of thing myself on occasion. But I am seriously unimpressed by guys who pound beers that cost $7 a pop.
It used to be such a point of pride to make sure we were at the game before it started and didn't leave until it ended. When I have a chance to be on time with my son, who keeps score when he can, we are still on time these days (we were late on Sunday because we were waiting to see if his game that day would be played after the rain stopped). But if I'm meeting a friend we're having our first beer (and maybe two) outside the park.
And here we finally arrive at the solution to too many drunks in the stands - helping them understand how much money they're pissing away by buying beer at Wrigley instead of somewhere else.
1. From Norman A. Kwak:
Your solution to resolving the apparent increase in drunkenness at the ballgame is a part of the problem. The need to drink before the game may be the real problem.
As a Sox season-ticket holder, I have noticed more drunks at our games as well. Maybe it's the new Bacardi bar at the ticket gates (talk about Wrigleyville envy), but Opening Day this year seemed like some beer-fueled bacchanalia. Even though the weather was freezing, the beer flowed like hot chocolate on a winter's day.
I don't see a solution, however. The drunks can't be baseball fans; else why would they ruin the game for themselves and the other fans?
Maybe if these people realized they could buy almost two gallons of gas for what they pay for 12 ounces of beer, they would slow down and try to enjoy the game.
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