Diablo Stadium

This is where the Seattle Mariners "play" their spring games, where every new line-up card brims with the promise of the franchise's first halfway successful season, and where I sold beer for a living exactly five years ago right this minute.

Hawking cold bullets up and down the gently sloping aisles of this fine park was the last job I had before they hired me on at New Times. It was the last honest labor I'll probably ever do.

The life of a spring training beer man is a life of considerable hardship, as well as a life of meager wages. I was a mere pup back then, a new product called Meister Brau was selling for about $2 a six-pack, my needs were few. As I recall, we brew brokers made six bucks for every case we sold, plus tips. On a good day--and by "good day" I mean a day that saw the stadium drenched in hot sunlight and chock-full o' high-living fish in daringly loosened neckties--I think I sold twelve cases.

I usually carried two iced cases with me at all times, in five-gallon plastic buckets. If memory serves, these buckets weighed about 80 pounds each when they were full, and the temptation always was to leave the ice out and save your back. Well, that never worked. People want their beer cold, and the tips were twice as good if I could shove my customers a can dripping with ice slivers.

For one whole month, I existed in perfect bliss. Most days I'd go out to the park a couple of hours before game time to watch batting practice. I didn't know a single interesting thing about the Seattle Mariners, and I still don't, but the park was within walking distance from my house (I had sold my car--it didn't run anyway--for $80) and the Wall Street Journal likely wasn't going to be calling for a while to offer a correspondent's job. The first fans would start straggling in at about noon, but nobody would drink any beer until 12:30 or so. The middle three innings of the games were the best for me, and I'd run from one end of the stadium to the other to refill my tanks. As the game ended, I'd stand on a bench near the main exit and try to shame people into buying a traffic roadie or two. (Obviously, this was the pre-enlightenment era of drinking-and-driving philosophy. I think they stop selling beer after the seventh inning now.)

Naturally, there'd always be a couple or three or four leftovers in the bottom of the bucket once the crowd was gone. When his mood was right, the concession boss would sell me one of the last hot dogs, and at a small discount, too, which I always thought was really a top-drawer thing for the guy to do considering he had to throw the dogs in the dumpster anyway.

A few of the Mariners always seemed to stick around after the game and work on something. Some days the catchers would practice their throws to second, some days an infielder or two would take ground balls. As the rest of the team showered and changed under the stands, the players' wives and kids would sit quietly behind home plate and talk. With my profit-killing beers and discount dog, I'd find a bench in the shade and enjoy the cool of the evening.

In Ball Four, the best book ever written about baseball and arguably the best book ever written about anything, Jim Bouton had something to say about that feeling (the book was based on Bouton's 1969 season, which he started in camp with the Seattle Pilots, who--this is no coincidence, I had it planned--trained at Diablo Stadium):

"Riding back to Tempe I had a beautifully serene feeling about the whole day, which shows how you go up and down an emotional escalator in this business. It was my first really serene day of the spring and I felt, well, I didn't care where the bus was going or if it ever got there, and I was content to watch the countryside roll by. It was desert, of course, with cacti and odd rock formations that threw back the flames of the setting sun. The sun was a golden globe, half hidden, and as we drove along, it appeared to be some giant golden elephant running along the horizon and I felt so good I remembered something Johnny Sain used to talk about.

"He used to say a pitcher had a kind of special feeling after he did really well in a ball game. John called it the cool of the evening, when you could sit and relax and not worry about being in there for three or four more days; the job was done, a good job, and now it was up to somebody else to go out there the next day and do the slogging. The cool of the evening."

I love those paragraphs. Not many pro athletes think that way. There aren't many parallels between the lives of big-league ballplayers and marginally employable concession workers. But that feeling at that place at that time was the one time I came closest to connecting with Bouton, one of my heroes. On the other hand, maybe it was the beer.

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