My name is Sam, and I love baseball.
It was the first sport I loved, the first one I played, the first one I attended live.
Now, I’m a beer guy at ballparks. I’ve been doing it for half my life. I started when I was 20 – broke, single, a freshman in college, just trying to make a few bucks at the game instead of delivering pizzas around Queens. Somehow, I’m still at it now – 40, married, with multiple other jobs, a mortgage, an actual “grown-up”. I never planned to get this particular gig, and I certainly never imagined I’d stay at it this long. I never thought I’d get this good at it, or get so accustomed to the rhythm and routine of it, or make it a large part of my income… and my life as a whole. But here we are.
Opening Day is special to me, in a way I imagine few outside my profession can relate. It’s part reunion, part workday, part celebration, part fandom.
I’ve always said I’m a fan first, who happens to get paid to be there. I watch the game through the customer’s eyes, watch their reactions, the roar of the crowd guiding me to where to look while I sell. I rarely see the pitch, but I often get to enjoy the bang-bang play as the runner slides into the 2nd. I might not watch the swing, but I’m able to locate the diving catch in centerfield. It’s a unique way to view the game, which you’d only understand if you also did this specific job, and even then, for a while at least.
On Opening Day, we show up even earlier than usual – there are things to prep that need extra time, and you want to be out in the hallways ready to go when the gates first open.
It’s hard to explain – as excited as people with tickets are, I may be even more so. I get to help make your game day experience that much better, and all of us who take pride in our jobs at the venue feel that way. We’re not the game, but we’re part of what you’re here for. Forget the money I’d make today for now – that’s honestly secondary to my point. This is about the energy, the emotions, the people.
Familiar faces find me in the hallways – some by accident, others taking a lap around the concourse to reacquaint themselves – I even get texts pre-game from regulars, to find out where I’ll be stationed. I’ve already spent the morning reconnecting with my favorite fellow staff members in the employee lunchroom, asking about each other’s spouses, kids & grandkids, sharing old jokes and new smiles. I may have even taken a little time to help out my bosses behind the scenes, probably taught the new crop of staff some of the basics, and shared a few tricks of the trade – how to handle their money efficiently, how to show off the product, how to pace themselves through an overwhelmingly busy day.
Right now I’d be sharing handshakes and hugs – great big bear hugs that make you sore when you finally break them – with the oldest of friends, folks I’ve known for years both in and out of the stadium – guys I went to elementary school with, my boss at one of my other jobs, people I barely knew a few years ago but who are now dearest of friends, just from our time together at the games.
The one common thing is that we’re all here for this generation-spanning experience, the special occasion that is the first day of the baseball season at your team’s home park. The vibe in the building is that we’re all Mets fans, we’re all baseball fans, we’re all in this together. Fans, players, workers – one big 40,000+ person family, for this afternoon only. Saturday, at the next game, it’ll be a whole new family, and on and on throughout the season.
I miss the dull roar of the player intros, the loud explosions that outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo would get, the stadium-quaking cheers for ace pitcher, Jacob DeGrom, and young slugger, Pete Alonso.
I miss the giant flag for the anthem, the excitement of the moments before the first pitch.
I miss making change on a $20, thanking the customer for a tip, making jokes with fans wearing a jersey of the opposing team. A large group of men, middle-aged, clearly not their first time skipping out on work to do this together, buying a beer each, someone taking out a credit card, proudly proclaiming “I got the first round” as if the cost is of no worry on this magical afternoon. Folks asking where their seats are – I happily point them on their way as I serve a big group. “3 beers, bag of nuts, one water” they say. “Out of $60, here’s your change, Let’s Go Mets,” I reply as I finish the transaction, turning swiftly to the next customer, and then the next one.
They come in waves, hundreds upon hundreds of people, happy to be here – it’s not too chilly today, the sun is peeking out – they now have hot dogs and beers in hand, headed to the seats to watch the game, as All-American as it gets.
My favorite ushers stop me at the top of their row, a quick chat about my dog, their recent engagement, our hopes for the season. Longtime security guards are there chatting with the ballhawk crew behind 3rd base, season ticket holders share a quick smile with me as I hustle by to the next sale.
I probably won’t even make it to the seats much after this point – pretty soon there will be too many people stopping me in the hallways, “Let me get 2, Let me get 4.”
I’m checking IDs and popping beers as fast as my body can move, muscle memory now, the prices ingrained in my head, carrying as much as I can, then emptying out, hustling to my stockroom for more, dropping off some money to my managers before I grab the next load, wash, rinse, repeat.
The game is going on, time blurs and stops while simultaneously flying by. I can hear the crowd noise from beyond my scrum of sales – I ask for a score, an update, a quick count of the K’s by Jake.
“What? Bottom 3rd? Where did the day go?,” I think to myself in between more sales.
I long to chit chat a bit, to talk baseball, to ask people about where they are from as I notice town names on licenses. I want to work as fast as I can… but I also want to slow down, to savor it, to take it all in.
There will be time for that in April, as things slow down in the cool evenings of the coming weeks, after the urgency of these first few games passes, and before summer truly arrives. But today, it feels like summer is here already.
Each Opening Day is the same, and yet, each one is just a bit different.
Green grass, a packed house, parents with their kids, lifelong friends continuing traditions – a new season, a new year, with new hope. Everyone has the chance to go 162-0 before the first pitch is thrown, everyone can still dream of the World Series.
Baseball is back!
For me, there aren’t four seasons to the year; there’s just “baseball”, and “not baseball”. The longer the playoffs go, the longer we stave off the dreaded “not baseball.”
And normally, today would mark that change. Today is supposed to be glorious, and busy, and lucrative, and fun. And yet, in reality, it is sadly none of those. So here I sit, at home, in a permanent, uncertain “not baseball” mode until life returns to normal. And to put it bluntly – that sucks, and I’m sad.
However, if we zoom out just a bit on this all for a moment – today, my feelings don’t really matter and, in fact, baseball doesn’t matter either. Sports as a whole, right now, don’t matter. All that does matter right now is everyone getting and staying healthy, letting our doctors and nurses and scientists figure out a way to treat and save lives, to get us past this awful pandemic, to get our world back on track. Everything else can wait. And if it means no baseball for a few weeks or months – or even none at all in 2020, so be it. If you and your loved ones emerge from this thing healthy and alive, we all win. I’ll trade being sad for a bit and losing a few bucks for that, a million times over.
Baseball will be there when we’re ready. The rhythm and routine of something I love – something we all love – is a small price to pay for the overall health of everyone I wish to be sharing this day with at the ballpark. All my co-workers and bosses, my dear friends, season ticket-holders, my 7 Line Army crew, the random strangers I’d meet and serve throughout the day, whoever I might play a small part in making their opening day that much better – I’m bummed to lose all that.
In a world full of fear and chaos and confusion right now, the simple joys of doing my job, being in a familiar place, being productive, and hearing the crack of the bat as it barrels up on the ball for a double in the gap – those would be oh-so-nice right now.
It’d give me an anchor in this sea of uncertainty, a sense of normalcy and simplicity that would be desperately welcome. But that won’t happen today, and I understand. I’m sad, but I understand.
I’m sharing this with you in the hopes that it might make you smile. Because if I can’t BE at the park, if I can’t sell beer and talk baseball and make jokes and share hugs and handshakes like I’ve been doing on the first day of the season for 20 years – then writing about it is the next best thing I can do, and it will act as a tiny respite from the sadness of not enjoying all that for real right now.
I can’t wait to get back to normal.
I can’t wait to see that perfect diamond ready for the game, pristine foul lines and manicured dirt and patterned outfield grass.
I can’t wait for my back to ache from carrying too many beers at once, or answer a trivia question I overheard but wasn’t asked directly.
I can’t wait to dodge a foul ball I didn’t see coming, or miss a huge HR because I was in my station reloading beer.
I can’t wait to check a 70-year-old’s ID in front of his grandson or bother my regulars to show me theirs again for the 4th time in a day because of regulations.
I can’t wait for the 3-2 pitch with men on base, a long rally, a walk-off win.
I can’t wait for baseball.
But I’m glad to know we’re all in this together, and I’ll see you at the ballpark as soon as we don’t have to wait anymore.
Photo Credit: With permission of Author, taken by Drea Ortado Goode