“As a friend once said to me about getting old: what a strange thing to happen to a little boy.”–Paul Auster
My grandfather took me to my first baseball game at the tender age of 10. There was no literal hand-holding, strategic explanations, or silver-spoon procurement. That just wasn’t his style. If I wanted to figure out the game I had to do it myself. If I wanted some food, well, here’s some money, and go fetch it. There was Darwinian Law in effect here, and as far as I know, no child had ever been abducted at a baseball game. The law of averages were on my side, as I was left to my own devices, fortuitously discovering a piece to the puzzle while creating soon-to-be-clouded, timeworn memories in that long-ago, uncoddled, and unsupervised foreign land known as the 1980’s.
There was very little small talk and every so often the solitude would be broken by the snap of a Bic lighter touching a Marlboro cigarette. This was a time before the fancy new novelty stadiums with their retractable roof, craft beer, gourmet food, and yuppies making corporate deals in skyboxes. One afternoon a woman was nailed in the head by a foul ball and a group of freedom-loving, scurrying, rat-children (who would hang around the opposing bullpen before games to brutally heckle the starting pitcher while the ushers smiled with approval) gathered around what resembled a murder scene. She was battered and bloodied in the aisle, and it looked as if she had been shot in the forehead. There’s nothing to see here, said her husband.
When I eventually had to go to the bathroom I was astonished as men were herded in like cattle to a room that smelled like beer, cigarettes, and vomit, all the while whipping out their dongs publicly to pee in what can only be described as a “large rectangular sink.” I would rather die than make a side-glance. Your very life depended on staring at that tiny pin fragment of wall in front of you. You had to embrace yourself in the warmth of your own microcosm for a moment before the vigorous shake, shiver, and hasty exit. Never acknowledge another’s hose/existence while in this slippery and pungent world that seemed to encapsulate the sporting event as a proletarian undertaking.
I’m going to miss the Oakland Mausoleum when it’s gone. It’s exactly what I look for in a baseball stadium. A classic feeling, a potent memory, and a working-class nostalgia. A piss trough in a dirty bathroom, hustlers selling unlicensed knockoffs in the parking lot, a hotdog on a stale bun, overpriced Budweiser, the faint smell of marijuana, broken plastic seats, and a field open to the high blue sky and blazing Northern California sun.
Just as my grandfather used to watch games.
I feel very much the same way about football (soccer) grounds from the 60s and 70s over here. These old places have / had proper caharcter. 🙂
Yeah, but do Europeans deem their stadiums irrelevent every 20 years in an effort to flee to the suburbs and dupe the taxpayers in a disgusting display of hyper-capitalism? Or is that a uniquely American vomit-fest?
Your description of what it was like to go to the bathroom at any major league venue in the 80’s (and even more recently than that obviously) is priceless, and I would not be surprised if it was in this “pungent world” that the phrase “pissing contest” was birthed. I don’t know what was worse – those “rectangular sinks” or God-forbid you had to drop a loud, flatulent-laden, duece in one of the petri dish stalls for all to hear. But you’re right – you had to really consciously focus your sight-line straight ahead as those pissing troughs could give anyone an inferiority complex if you allowed, even for a fragment of a second, your peripheral vision to take over.
Even at my advanced age of 51, my anxiety of those days and times still causes me to tense up ever so slightly as I walk into any unfamiliar restroom located in any large arena or stadium. Thanks for capturing those historical moments so hysterically!
What a great comment! Thank you very much for stopping by.
I’ve been to Cleveland’s Dawg Pound at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the Oakland Raiders Black Hole in the endzone of the Oakland Coliseum, Section 39 with The Bleacher Creatures at original Yankee Stadium, but I truely believe their was NO situation or stadium in the country that equaled The 700 Level at Veterens Stadium in Philly for Eagles and Phillies games. One was greeted with the aroma of beer, pot, blood, vomit and urine….. smoke & fire were a given. (During cold winter Iggle games, fans used to light fires to keep warm. They even had the only court and jail cell built in the stadium where it wasn’t uncommon for dozens of arrests and 100’s of ejections for any given game….even higher whenever the Dallas Cowboys were playing there. One of the more frightening sights, was watching a group of Philly guys pee on a girl while they pummeled her boyfriend to a bloody pulp….they had the nerve to wear Dallas Cowboys jerseys up in the 700 level. “What a strange thing to happen to a little boy……indeed.
I kind of get the feeling that the animalistic behavior of these people probably doesn’t stay safely sound in the realm of sports. It’s also kind of interesting how certain cities just seem to birth a unique breed of asshole. Thanks for the great comment, Dean.
I had a similar experience at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland about a decade earlier. First of all, there was no need to pay to park at Municipal Stadium, you could park on the street. But when the kid came up to you offering to “protect” your car for five bucks, it was best to fork it over. I was a college student in northeast Ohio at the time and I went with a friend to a Sunday doubleheader. The Indians were playing Detroit, because they were always playing goddamn Detroit, and because they sucked, they were getting smashed in both games. That led to a long day, a lot of beer consumption, and a long wait on the men’s room line. When we finally got inside we found a circle of men pissing into what looked like a rusty aluminum bathtub. Neither of us were able to complete the task under these circumstances.
Haha…what a great story Ken. I’ve been told that Wrigley and Fenway are the only stadiums left (besides the Coli) that still use the piss troughs. I’ve used the one in the Dodger Stadium bleachers but not sure it’s still there after they refurbished the whole thing. It’s a dying breed, but perhaps a welcoming one.
Well-written piece, Gary.
The only game I have attended at the Coliseum was a weekday afternoon, White Sox vs. A’s, in June 1993. The lady seated in front of me warned us the sun could be intense in that part of the stadium. She had a small battery-operated handheld cooling fan and an even smaller plastic bottle with some sort of mist spray, and she kept offering to share it. I declined. Probably not a good thing to take into the john either.
Thanks for the comment, Mark. I hope you enjoyed your time at “baseball’s last dive bar.”
Good stuff. My first game was at Atlanta Stadium (before they added Fulton County to the name) in 1967. The stadium was basically still brand new, so everything was shiny and new looking. Like your grandfather, our parents gave us the run of the place at ages 11, 9, and 8; maybe they figured there was strength in numbers. My family visited the Coliseum in 2013, and it brought back memories of Atlanta’s first ballpark. I honestly have no memory of the urinal situation at either edifice.
That’s a great story, Hugh. Usually if you have no memory of the urinal situation things worked out for the better. Haha! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
remember paper beer cups? that was a big thing back at County Stadium in milwaukee. I guess they no longer follow recycle code but then again, are plastic bottles any better. Anyway, people used to smash those paper cups with their feet up and down the ramps making a massive boom sound. It was memorable. The Brewers were great too, hitting all those homers. i had a similar experience in the bathroom as Double K. They had that “large rectangular sink” and it made me very self conscious being around all those adults who in Milwaukee were loud and drunk, but they seemed happy and I wonder if that paved the way to my own teenage drinking? Your grandpa sounds like a great guy, passing on baseball to you without being overbearing.
You always see dads trying to teach their kids the intricacies of the game and I’m like “dude, he’s 5.” People try to make baseball out to be this complicated thing and it’s really not. This was the beginning of “mansplaining.”
I’ve always had this weird (and unexplainable) obesession with the Brewers and Milwaukee in general. You should write more stories about County Stadium, Steve. There are probably a lot of old guys (like us) who would appreciate seeing their childhoods unfolding before them written in a beautiful hand.
I think there is a great similarity between Oakland and Milwaukee, both the baseball stadiums, County Stadium anyway, and the cities….working class, nothing too fancy, down to earth. My brother moved to Oakland in 1986 and never came home. I guess he felt home again. Thanks for the encouragement to write more about County Stadium Gary. Problem is my memory sucks which leaves me no alternative, but to try and write fiction. Maybe I’ll go to a hypnotist or find a shaman and eat some ayahuasca, to unlock some old memories. I did work at the stadium, at the speed pitch machine, collecting money and distributing balls, mostly to awesome Milwaukee drunks and there was one guy who hit 85 MPH! I never forget that one. Another cool thing about that job (it was in the mid 80’s) was that I got to see the last half of the game. We closed up the speed pitch carnival distraction after the fifth or sixth and back then, if Higuera was the starter, he would still be pitching. He had a short, but memorable and very underrated career.
This 80 year old Brooklyn kid lived at Ebbits Field watching the Dodgers. Saw Mantle, Mays, the Duke, Campy, Hodges, Reese. Watched the Yanks at the old stadium. Willlie Mays and Henry Aaron. Larsen’s perfect game. Jackie Robinson, Don Newcomb, Carl Erskine and Furillo. Whitey Ford and Bullet Bob Turley. Yogi Berra. All in person. And then they moved away.
I was 14 years old. Oh well
Best from Florida
Sandy Koufax went to my high school = Lafayette..
Sounds like you hd a wonderful childhood. Thanks for the comment.
My dad (who PROBABLY liked baseball) was not able to take me to a baseball game; he died in a plane crash when I was a toddler. My paternal grandfather lived in Colombia and died a few years later, and my maternal grandfather (who, thankfully, I did get to know) wasn’t into baseball (he was more into associated football, aka “soccer”), so no baseball games in stadiums with him either.
Thankfully, I have attended a few MLB games in my lifetime. My first couple of games were in the 1970s, at least a decade before Miami got an MLB franchise (the Florida Marlins). They were spring training games; the Baltimore Orioles did their spring training at Bobby Maduro Stadium, and they played against the New York Yankees. This was in 1976, so you know who might have been on the diamond then.
I also went to one “for real” Marlins game (they were still called the Florida Marlins then) during their first World Series season in 1993. It was a late summer game before the NLCS, so I had no idea that the Marlins were making history. I do remember they played against the Cincinnati Reds and that they won.
And ugh…your description of the men’s rooms at the Coliseum describes the restroom experience I had at Bobby Maduro Stadium in 1976. Some things are just universal, y’know?
Universal piss troughs! Did we just accidently stumble upon a band name?
UPT. I can just see all the awful “You pee tea?” jokes.
I love the place, even if it’s glory days as a structure are long. long gone. I was sad when they “filled it in” with seating and took away the views behind the outfield. I will never forget how it used to look, and I think when I watch games from there now I just pretend they are in the prior version of the stadium lol. I even recall with some fondness how the field had football markings on it during the transition from baseball to football, since that usually meant they were in the playoffs once more. Here’s hoping they stay rooted in Oakland until a new stadium can be built. I like the plans I have seen for the project under discussion…just want them to get from paper to reality now.
I agree whole heartedly. Thanks for sharing your memories. When I go to a baseball game I’m too invested in the game to worry about the bells and whistles, so the Coliseum doesn’t bother me at all. Thanks once again for reading. 🙂