Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (3/19) — Chapter Three, Crapemyrtle (2/3)

OUR MOTOWN CRAPEMYRTLE has very few pretty pink blossoms left but is covered with hard, round, seed pods, many that have already burst wide open. So what does that have to do with baseball?


MORGANTON, N.C. (Sept. 4, 2019) – There’s nothing gracious about a minor-league baseball fan who thinks he’s getting stiffed at the concession stand. But then, the weather here is still too hot and humid, the crapemyrtle in our front yard is covered in hard little balls that are splitting wide open to expel their seed, and some of us hardball lovers are about to explode, too, if we don’t get some relief.

It’s early September, and Crawdad season is drawing to a close. Of course, I’m not referring to the little buggers I used to catch in the creek down at the Park with Granddad, the freshwater crustaceans that he said would pinch me and then hold on tight until lightning flashed and thunder clapped. The Park—and that’s all it was ever called by my family—was heaven on Earth when I was a child. It was a picnic area that my grandfather built in a wooded hollow on his farm in the Hopewell community near Morganton. A good-sized creek with a sandy beach in one spot wound like an S through the beech-shaded grounds. When a family reunion or church social was held there, everyone came.

No, I’m talking now about the Hickory Crawdads, our area’s Class A South Atlantic League baseball team. The ‘Dads made the playoffs this season, but win or lose, the 2019 campaign is as good as over, with no fewer than two games and no more than eight games comprising the Sally League post-season for our team. If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, the whole kit and caboodle will end no later than September 14th, about the time some of the Major League pennant races really heat up.

VIEW FROM THE FIRST-BASE SIDE concession area at Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium on a Saturday night in late August. It may be a field of dreams, but that glorified hot dog stand is a nightmare.

There may be only one more home game played this season at L.P. Frans Stadium—that game being tonight’s contest with the visiting Delmarva Shorebirds—or there may be three home games left at the Frans, depending on whether or not the Crawdads win this best-of-three semi-final series and reach the best-of-five championship series against either the Lexington Legends or the Augusta Greenjackets.

I’m rooting for the ‘Dads to go the distance, and I hope every home game goes into extra innings. And if our boys do build a winning post-season run and play for the pennant, I will come—or listen to the game on the radio, at least. After my last few visits to their ballpark, I need somebody or something to ease my pain. No kidding. I’m sending a letter to the Crawdads front office once the season is over.

W.P. Kinsella was right when he wrote in Shoeless Joe, the fantastic novel that was adapted into the movie Field of Dreams, that America’s “one constant through all the years has been baseball.” Jerry Salinger, the character whose name is changed for the movie and is played by actor James Earl Jones, goes on to describe the people who would pay money to watch the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and other baseball stars of ages past play in a magical ballpark surrounded by Iowa cornfields. “[M]ostly,” the fictional Jerry Salinger says, “the arrivals will be couples who have withered and sickened of the contrived urgency of their lives,” as if we’re all in a big hurry for no good reason.

Well, this past Saturday night I was withering in the heat outside the concession stand on the first-base side while wife Timberley and cousin Rodney waited for their brats and root beers back in Section 109. We’d already had a run-in with an irate ticket-holder over in Section 106. We’d been sitting there simply because that’s the section in which the girl at the ticket window had said our three seats were located—and also because the section number was obscured by the ticket stub’s perforation. It’s complicated, but trust me: It wasn’t our fault. Still, we apologized to the hot-tempered fellow who could barely wait until after the National Anthem to claim his seats for his wife and himself behind rows of vacant ones. This was at least the fourth game this season that the ticket office has somehow screwed up our seats.

But back to this Parable of a Dog and a Beer, I had waited patiently in line, had finally stepped up to the counter, and then had placed my order with the young man behind the cash register—two drinks and three bratwurst sandwiches for me and my two waiting companions. I paid my $25.50, if you can believe that amount for ballpark fare, received the two drinks, and was told, “The brats will take a few minutes to fix. We’ll call you when they’re up.” So I nodded as pleasantly as possible, considering I’d heard the same “a few minutes to fix” line at a previous game and then had waited half an hour for a single bratwurst. That time I had discovered about halfway through my wait that my cashier, a familiar-looking young lady, was a former student who had already recognized me. Thankfully I had behaved.

With that in mind—that we never really know who we’re dealing with—I tried to put on a happy face this past Saturday night as I took a couple of steps away from the counter and joined several other fans who were waiting for their orders to be filled. “So, is this the Brat Pack?” I quipped. No life flickered in their glazed eyes. “Anybody else waiting for a brat—I mean, a bratwurst?” I asked. Only one of the Concession Stand Damned responded. The man, who looked more than a bit like me, as he was short, of medium to large build, slick bald, and wearing eyeglasses with Transition lenses, muttered weakly, “I’ve been waiting 25 minutes for one bratwurst and fries.” He stepped back into the shadows.

About five minutes later, my cashier-boy laid three, foil-wrapped bratwurst sandwiches on the metal counter, looked at me over the line of customers in front of him, and called, “Three brats up!” Without hesitation, I stepped up and said, “Give that guy back there one. He’s been waiting a lot longer than I have.” And that’s what the cashier did, though he still got an earful from my Bratwurst Doppelganger for not having an order of fries up, too. The frustrated customer said nothing to me, even though I had called him forward and said to him, “Don’t worry. I got ya, buddy.” He grabbed his long overdue food and, after a quick stop at the condiment island, stomped back down the steps leading past Section 201 and then between Sections 105-106. No, he wasn’t the guy we had encountered earlier in Section 106.

To make my description of what turned out to be another ridiculously long wait somewhat shorter, I’ll offer several tips for goosing up the concession workers at L.P. Frans Stadium:

1) After waiting 15-20 minutes for a single bratwurst, don’t waste anymore time offering to trade it straight-up for two regular hot dogs, even though toward the end of the game their reduced total cost will be $4 less than that of the regular-priced brat;

2) Don’t schedule a colonoscopy for less than a week after the game you attend, when you’ve already begun prepping for the procedure, because you won’t be able to accept the peace offering of a box of popcorn that your cashier surreptitiously slides across the counter around the 25-minute mark (no nuts, seeds or popcorn, according to the doctor’s written orders); and

3) As soon in the process as possible—actually, as soon as the cashier takes your money, whether he or she is a former student or not—refuse to step away from the counter until your full order is filled. The bottom line is, if they have closed the cash drawer on your money, they should produce your food and drink in short order, whether they’re seasoned food-service professionals or volunteers from a Granite Falls Boy Scout troop or Hudson church group. Otherwise, you’re being held hostage, and you have the right to shut that sucker down. No more business in that line until your transaction is complete. Bam.

Oh, and while I’m at it . . . .

4) If someone gives you part of their order because the concession workers told you to step aside and you let them forget about you and your order, then at least say, “Thank you,” to the gracious guy who will probably end up waiting another 25 minutes for that one lost wienie; and, finally,

5) Don’t go back to your seat in Section 109, in seats right next to your Concession Stand Savior’s wife and cousin, and brag about how you demanded satisfaction from the incompetent concession workers and from “this guy [who] got THREE brats after only five minutes” while you had waited 30 minutes for just one, as if he’s the bad guy in the situation. Just keep your big mouth shut and eat your damn bratwurst, if that’s possible. You know what I’m saying. That guy could have kept his full order and let you wait another 25 minutes and let you miss another whole inning of the game—the real reason you both were there, right?

Well, that isn’t entirely true. As I was getting ready to go off solid foods for the next six days, that brat was going to be my Last Snack of real substance. I’d been talking Timberley’s ear off about that brat all afternoon, how that brat would cost 50 cents more than a regular dog but would be so much better, and how that brat in its white-wheat bun would be worth breaking our gluten-free diet for, as I’d be fasting soon enough. After my previous experience at the concession stand, I was even ready to wait patiently for that brat, if that was God’s will for that part of my Saturday evening. I would take lemons and make lemonade, so to speak, and not pay the $6 for a 32-ounce cup at Bill’s World Famous Fresh Lemonade stand on the third-base side of the ballpark.

But everyone is in a big hurry nowadays. No one really cares about easing anyone else’s pain, not if it means that they themselves can’t go the distance and do what they please as quickly as they please. If we build it—whatever good thing it is—they will come and demand to be served right now. That’s the world we live in these days. And it isn’t going to change for the better before it gets worse. Who said, “No good deed goes unpunished”? That person was a cynical but wise individual, probably the man in Section 106 who tried to run us out of his seats during the sacred Anthem but was restrained by another patriotic guy standing across the aisle in Section 105. Maybe the game has changed after all.

It’s a shame that Crawdad season is almost over—for me, anyway. Now that I’ve learned all my lessons about checking the numbers on my ticket and about doing favors for strangers and about handling slow food-service workers, I could be completely satisfied at the ballpark and concentrate on the game itself. What kind of game, exactly, is quite another story.

2 thoughts on “Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (3/19) — Chapter Three, Crapemyrtle (2/3)”

    1. I probably wouldn’t have thought to whine about all this if Timberley had let me say something to my “friend” who ran his mouth after I did him the favor.

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