Strike Out

July 4. Independence Day.

At Bank One Ballpark, the World Series champs will take on home-run king Barry Bonds and his San Francisco Giants in a battle of National League titans.

Forty-five thousand fans, easy.

Forty-five thousand suckers, easy.

Suckers? What other sort of spineless sots would let their lovers treat them this way? Eight affairs (players call them "work stoppages") in 30 years. Unrepentant drug abuse (these guys with muscles in their scalps call them "vitamins"). Relentless greed, relentless arrogance, relentless whining. All on your dime or, more accurately, all on the week's paycheck you pay to take your family to a modern game.

Major League Baseball's millionaires know you are their bitches. That's why the players and owners show no real interest in negotiations that would avert a player walkout in coming months. They know that no matter how much they cheat, their lovers always come back.

Now imagine: July 4. Fan Independence Day. An empty Bank One Ballpark for the day's premier major league matchup.

It's the grand vision of Tempe author and former ASU professor Ross Reck, a vision that's gaining some big mo as Reck travels the sports-talk circuit in recent weeks in major league cities across the country.

C'mon. Let's do it. Stay away on July 4. If you have tickets for the July 4 game, tear them up. Better yet, burn them outside Bank One Ballpark. It will be a little fireworks show — a fiery little Phoenix Tea Party — to show that average Americans still own America's Pastime.

Baseball God knows, our beloved Diamondbacks deserve to be the epicenter of such a boycott. Jerry Colangelo is rightfully accused of fueling the current salary wildfire in the major leagues. When you're willing to spend $17.5 million a year to land decrepit pine-polishers Jay Bell and Matt Williams, how could you not be the fastest to win the mostest?

Reck, a contract negotiations guru and author of the best-selling book The Win-Win Negotiator, makes a keen argument that a legitimate fan strike is the only way to divert a devastating, and infuriating, strike identical to the one that crippled baseball in 1994.

Such a strike, he believes, would be particularly harmful to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a currently high-flying young franchise with an engaged but undeveloped and fickle fan base. The Diamondbacks, he says, are much like the 1994 Montreal Expos.

How's that for a harbinger of doom.

This fan boycott is all about the dynamics of negotiation, Reck says. At this point, he says, negotiation is not a critical necessity to either players or owners.

"With the animosity now so deep between the players and the owners, with Bud Selig being such a jerk, there's only one way to bring these two parties to the table," he says. "They must both be presented with a common threat."

That would be you, the disgruntled fans, and the collective abstinence of your billfolds.

Reck believes baseball fan disgruntlement has reached new heights this year. Not only are fans frustrated by the Balkanesque intransigence between the two warring parties. Even more so than in 1994, they also are sick of hearing the pathetic bleating of rich owners and players as they argue that they're the ones getting screwed by The Man.

Poor A-Rod. How's a guy to eat on a quarter-billion dollars?

And polls show that fans are increasingly enraged by the bulging steroid scandal and the players' union's reaction to the issue.

A colleague of mine had the best solution for the steroid problem: Just let the players keep shooting up and jacking longer and longer home runs and shooting up more and bulking up more until the day they all start exploding in cascades of fluid and viscera like giant lanced boils. The pleasure of watching baseball will become similar to the pleasure of finally popping a stubborn zit.

Frustration often manifests itself in apocalyptic visions.

The frustration is real. In a recent USA Today poll, 88 percent of 14,000 respondents said they were ready to boycott baseball to show their disgust with baseball's labor strife.

After Reck was interviewed on a local sports radio show, one of 150 shows he's been on in the last month, one D-Backs fan called up to say he had just ripped up the tickets to his corporate box seats for the July 4 game. That was $2,500 worth of tickets down the drain.

"People are very emotional about this issue — particularly here in Phoenix," Reck told me.

While Reck is pushing his idea nationally, he sees Bank One Ballpark as the flagship of the plan. Besides being his home and the home of the World Series champs, he says this is the home of what he believes has been the only display of fan power this year in the major leagues.

You remember: Curt "Moses" Shilling stopped the parting of the roof on beautiful spring days because he believed those home-run balls carried better with the roof open. Fans pummeled Jerry Colangelo with angry e-mails. The D-Backs relented and opened the roof. Fans united and won a victory for the bleacher bums.

"It's the first fan victory that I know of," Reck says.

If fans pull off a successful boycott, he adds, owners and players both will be presented with the common, credible threat they need.

"They'll realize we fans are no longer willing to underwrite their lavish lifestyles unless they show us respect," he says. "It's not about hurting baseball. It's about forcing them to the bargaining table to resolve this madness."

So let's get working. Start tearing up tickets. Start buying a ticket or two and ripping them up. If you'd like, send your shredded tickets to me. Perhaps we could stage a pep rally and ticket bonfire before the game.

Reck and I were bandying about other ideas: How about a rowdy alternative scab game that day?

Or perhaps a mock War of the Worlds-type radio broadcast of a game between, oh, I don't know, the Arizona Greenbacks and the San Francisco Giants-With-Gnat-Testicles. Some of the Valley's fine Harry Carey impersonators could do the color work.

Whatever, it's time to get serious with some tough fan love. Considering their thin fan base and precarious finances, the D-Backs will be crippled by a baseball strike. To save the team we love and the game we love, fans need to give owners and players a serious wakeup call.

That can be accomplished July 4, Fan Independence Day, with an empty Bank One Ballpark.

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Robert Nelson