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Baseball and Beer and Bears, Oh My!
"You should enter a ballpark the way you enter a church." - Bill 'Spaceman' Lee, former Major League player
Like Phoenix from the ashes the “Bears Field Trip” rose from the scrap heap of our beer club’s retired events
list last week. The club in question, the Draught Board 15, plots out a series of yearly events to broaden
the cultural perspective and intellectual acumen of the membership (translation – we meet and go places to
drink beer.) And what better place for a beer club to journey to but a baseball game. Beer and baseball are as
American as Daniel Boone, Jack Armstrong, John Wayne, and Pavel Plotnicka (my mailman).
A former beer club staple, the Bears baseball trip had been unceremoniously dumped from the events
list three years ago for one basic reason - the last time we went they ran out of beer; by the third inning
the only thing you could buy was Bud and Coors Light. Baseball without beer just isn’t as much fun. Now
before you say I should have gone for the macro swill, please remember that with cell phone cameras
everywhere I’d most likely be exposed on YouTube the next day as the slime who abandoned the
club’s double secret blood oath to only drink craft beer. Yes, we are a serious group.
The cost of the trip was a great bargain. For the $40 you got a pre-game all you can eat BBQ prepared by the Hog
Snipers -“we don’t grill, we smoke”-BBQ team, fresh beer at the Gaslight Brewpub the sponsor of the club, a
roundtrip train ticket to Riverfront Stadium home of the Newark (NJ) Bears team, and a ticket to the game. But wait
there’s more! If your yearly club dues are paid up your ticket only costs $30. Now we’re talking deal. As for the
dues, if you were to attend every event the club runs your discounts would far exceed the cost of membership. Now I
realize that spending more money than you take it might sound like a prescription to bankrupt the club treasury but
we use the same accounting system as the government so not to worry.
The BBQ proceeded without incident and the beer flowed without stoppage. In kind consideration of the vegetarians
in the crowd there the Hog Snipers (yes, grown men actually call themselves that) even prepared three delicious
huge portabella mushrooms. Eat your heart out carnivores. Yes, after beer, nothing goes better with baseball than
portabella mushrooms. At least that’s what Babe Ruth always said according to PETA.
It’s a short walk from the Gaslight to the South Orange train station. Then again, maybe it only seemed short due to
the great quality and vast quantity of beer consumed at the BBQ. Even the stairs leading up to the train platform,
the entire three thousand, and two hundred and fourteen, seemed easily surmountable. It’s a well known fact that
beer consumption can give one the illusion that they are tougher, smarter, faster, better looking, invisible, and in
possession of a great singing voice. To the list we can now add the ability to seemingly climb more stairs at a faster
rate than physiologists believed was humanly possible.
Our train rumbled through stops like Brick Station, Orange, North Orange, Harrison, Kalamazoo, Oshkosh, and Walla
Walla, finally arriving at our destination, Broad Street. Exiting in orderly fashion, our sturdy group of 32 marched
across the street to the stadium where ringmaster, other wise known as the trip director, Dan Sobiti, genial proprietor
of the Gaslight, carefully handed out game tickets. As we entered through the single open iron gate, the stadium
seemed to be jammed with what looked like 200 or so fans, just a shade under the building’s capacity of 6,100.
Those in our group carrying their baseball mitts went immediately to the front row seats along the foul lines where
they would be in a prime location to get the only thing that is free at a baseball game – a foul ball. The rest of us,
who long ago realized the only place a foul ball will never be hit is where we’re seated, had a different priority - beer.
There were four concession stands in the ballpark, three of which were open. They seemed to each offer the same
menu of hot dogs, popcorn, soda, chips, peanuts, pretzels, soda and of course, beer. Our advanced scouts quickly
reported back that the beers on tap were Coors Light, Budweiser, and Saranac. Ah, Saranac, not bad. Saranac,
from Utica, NY brews many a beer for themselves and contracts for more than a few others. Their beers range from
good to drinkable. Our trusty scouts were now sent back to each of the concession stands to ask one simple
question, which Saranac was being served. The answers were equally simple: “the one that’s beer”, “the yellow,
foamy one”, “this one right here”, and of course the always appropriate “if you’re not going to order move on,
Finally someone in semi-authority at the third stand proclaimed, “It’s Saranac Traditional”. Ah, traditional what? As
we pondered that age old question one of our now parched brethern shouted out – “look there, see that sign? It’s
the ‘Craft Beer Pavilion’.” If a “Pavilion” can be 20 foot square area under a well worn tent covering dozen or so
chairs and tables then that it was. As for the craft beer part, well, the word oasis comes to mind. Under the tent was
a sign with two words: Cricket Hill. Hallelujah, we’ve found the Promised Land . Even more, dispensing the beer from
two coolers filled with ice was Ninkasi, the Sumerian Goddess of Brewing . For some reason Ninkasi was using the
name Lauren; we were too polite to ask why she was working under cover.
The Pavilion offered 4 different 12 ounce bottles from Cricket Hill - a lager, pale ale, breakfast stout, and IPA. Each
bottle was priced at $4, tax included. Compare that to the draft Coors Light in a 16 ounce glass selling for $4.50 plus
tax at the concession stand. Some wag in the group said he told the guy at the stand he’d pay $6 if they would only
give him 10 ounces of that stuff.
Cricket Hill is a highly regarded small brewery located in Fairfield, NJ so the beer was fresh. And it was good. As we
settled in, several in our group expressed shocked to see there was actually a baseball game going on believing this
was just a stop on a pub crawl. After a bit of explanation they recovered nicely, vowing to drink one Cricket Hill each
and every inning. I opted for one every 5 outs. It’s an unconventional strategy but logical – after all you never know
just how long an inning can be.
The Newark Bears fell behind 4 to 1 just as Ninkasi had to call the storage room from more beer. The Draught
Board 15 was doing its job. As the new supply of beer was delivered our lovely server noticeably relaxed. There
would be no shortage of beer this night. Her cooler was as full as her tip jar.
At that point the PA announcer began a salute to the many groups in attendance that evening. “Many” is a bit of a
stretch; actually there were only two. First up were the members of the “International Organization of Pipe Fitters,
Bagpipers, and Exotic Dancers” (I might have heard that one wrong) who were greeted by a smattering of weak
clapping. Then in stentorian tones we heard - “and now a special Bears welcome to the group from the Gaslight
Brewery and Restaurant!” At that every beer vendor in the building began clapping. It’s nice to be appreciated; we
held our plastic cups high in a return salute.
A baseball game, even in the minor league world of the Bears’ Can-Am League, lasts for 9 innings. Unable to
change this, Bears management, believing in the efficacy of the 7 inning Little League game format, cuts off beer
sales at the bottom of the seventh inning. This bow to political correctness comes from the same club that last year
held a series of beer-pong tournaments on “Thirsty Thursday” to generate a substantial donation to MADD (Mothers
Against Drunk Driving). Huh? You can’t make stuff like that up.
As the bottom of the ninth inning began, trip director Dan gathered us together for the return train which was leaving
in 10 minutes. No problem since it was only a 3 or 4 minute walk to the station and most people had already lost
interest in the game somewhere around (you guessed it) the end of the 7th inning.
When we made it up to the station platform we noticed half our group on the other side of the tracks. It was their bad
luck to have read a sign with the right directions that were actually wrong. We however had read a sign that said the
right directions would be wrong for the night due to construction and the right train would be on the wrong track.
Hey, don’t ask me to explain, I just followed Dan. One of their group then shouted across the track, “How do we get
to the other side?” to which (name withheld to protect the guilty) responded “you are on the other side!”
Maybe cutting off beer sales wasn’t that bad an idea after all.
Our intrepid group arrived happy and fulfilled fifteen minutes later in South Orange. Flush with the spirit of
Americana our club treasurer Brian Lynch put in perspective what most of us learned from our trip- “Baseball is the
belly-button of our society. Bring back ten cents beer and get rid of the designated hitter rule. Straighten out
baseball, and you straighten out the rest of the world."
Amen my friend, amen.
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