Take Me Out of the Ballgame

Seamus McCaffrey is a man who loves sport. He loves it so much that he once moved to another country to see a soccer team. As you read this, the Phoenix publican and noted Irishman is in Glasgow, Scotland, watching that team--Celtic Football Club--play at Ibrox Park.

It's to be hoped that he has better luck there than he did on opening night at Bank One Ballpark.

The owner of Seamus McCaffrey's Irish Pub & Restaurant believes he might have been the first person to be thrown out of the stadium. There are other contenders for that title; two others who were expelled make the same claim, and actually signed autographs for a fan, Larry Hummer, who provided New Times with copies. The signatures are illegible, but neither belongs to McCaffrey.

McCaffrey is a gregarious man in his 40s whose ironic solemnity is emphasized by his dark mustache. He tells the story of his ballpark adventure with annoyed bemusement.

He was there as a guest of Arizona Beverage, a beer distribution company that had a suite there. "It was my first time in the ballpark, and I completely lost my bearings," he says. So he wandered around, trying to find the right suite. "I went into a couple of suites, which were obviously the wrong ones. The first one I went into was KTAR's, and Pat McMahon's a good friend of mine. I had a beer in there, and said hello to Pat. Next thing, somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'You need to leave.' I said, fair enough."

He left that suite and continued his search. He still hadn't found the right suite when the game started. "So I was just standing there watching the game. Next thing, there were several people at my back, like I was someone who'd escaped from Madison Street Jail. They had walkie-talkies, all that. So they took me out to the concourse and asked for my driver's license. Four security people were surrounding me. Obviously, they had a new job and were taking the job too seriously. They escorted me out of the park. I kept telling them, this is ridiculous, let's drop it now, but they wouldn't listen."

What reason did they give for 86ing him?
"They said I was scrounging beer." He laughs.
The pub he owns is on Monroe Street. Andy Benes could probably throw a baseball that far.

Zealous though the security staffers obviously are, their zeal isn't matched by their competence. After being expelled, McCaffrey was walking back to his pub when he realized he had left his jacket in the KTAR suite. Worried that it wouldn't be there the next day, he decided to walk back to the ballpark and try to retrieve it.

"I walked right into the park, without a ticket, walked right back up to the VIP lounge, got my jacket, walked out of the park and back to the bar." No one seemed to notice.

Since he was back in the stadium, why didn't he stay?
"I didn't want to be there, because the treatment I'd had was just crazy. It was stupid. I was embarrassed.

"I think they were just excited with their new job, but they should be more professional. Common sense is a big factor in a situation like that. But I don't think any was used that night."

I called the Arizona Diamondbacks for their version of the story, and to ask if they know whether McCaffrey was actually the first person to be thrown out of their stadium. They didn't return my calls.

History is based on fact, but legend is based on symbolism. And so it doesn't really matter whether Seamus McCaffrey was the first victim of the stadium rent-a-cops. Symbolically, it's perfect that it happened to him. Bank One Ballpark embodies all that is negative about "growth" in the downtown area--its prices ensure that it will be regularly accessible only to those in the upper middle class and beyond. Stand outside on a game night, and count the number of people who go in who aren't white. Last Thursday, I did just that, with a couple of friends who were going in to see the game. They're from Ohio, and are both devotees of baseball. "This is really white," one of them observed.

A downtown ought to be about diversity, and so it's fitting that the first--or one of the first--people thrown out of the ballpark is the owner of the closest thing to a neighborhood bar that downtown has.

McCaffrey isn't Irish-American. He's Irish. And he comes from a country that's a pub culture. Arizona doesn't have pubs in the way that Celtic countries do. Arizona has bars--beer joints where people go to drink, and maybe to pick up. There's nothing wrong with that--in fact, Celtic pub culture is about those things, too. But it's primarily about community. In Ireland--both North and South--pubs are the social center of any neighborhood. The term itself is an abbreviation of "public house," and that's what it means in practical terms as well as theoretical. For locals, a pub is a kind of community living room.

Having grown up in one pub culture--Ireland--McCaffrey moved to another--Scotland.

"Two things led me to Scotland. I'm Catholic, from the Falls Road in Belfast, and I got a lot of harassment by the British troops. I've been thrown up against walls. And there's a lot of discrimination, employment-wise mostly. If you're a Catholic, you'd better be three steps above anybody else applying for a job, and even then you'll be lucky if you get it.

"So that was one reason why I left. And the second was my great love for a football team called Glasgow Celtic. I started going to see Celtic when I was a 14-year-old boy. I'd get the boat from Belfast to the Broomielaw in Glasgow. I'd go about twice a month. And it got to the point where I thought, you know . . . it would be cheaper if I just lived in Scotland."

So he moved there in 1971, and stayed for nine years. "I didn't miss more than five Celtic games in the time I was there," he says. He worked for an engineering company, then a cigarette company. "They were both good jobs. The move to Scotland was very good for me. Nice country, nice people."

But he decided to leave. His four brothers and two sisters had all immigrated to the United States. "I was the only one left on the other side of the water, and there was always a lot of calls--'Come on, move over here.' So at last I moved over here."

He started in Washington, D.C. He met a girl there who moved to Phoenix, and he went with her in 1981.

"I absolutely hated it. It was the furthest away as can be from the world an Irishman should be in. Finally, I met other Irish people here, found a lot of Irish connections. It made me feel more at ease. I've been here ever since, and I just . . . I love Phoenix now."

He decided to open the first Irish pub in Arizona, The Dubliner at 40th Street and Thunderbird. "The first real Irish pub, I mean. There were pubs with Irish names, but they weren't Irish. There was no Harp or Guinness when I first opened The Dubliner. I was the first to bring them into Arizona. I persuaded the distributors to put on draught Guinness and Harp."

He had some lean times when he opened Seamus McCaffrey's Irish Pub, on Monroe between Central and First Avenue. The area was pretty bleak, with little going on. "I'd wonder where my lease money was going to come from," he remembers.

Perhaps this is why McCaffrey welcomes the presence of the Bank One Ballpark, in spite of his own experience there. He's glad to see any kind of growth. "I'm delighted with it, especially the ballpark. Arizona Center is great, but the ballpark has really crowned it."

Only the very simplistic could take a black-and-white view of Bank One Ballpark, be either for or against. The same goes for downtown growth in general. The 24-screen AMC movie center is indisputably a good thing; it's as affordable as any other theater, and so it brings people in from the surrounding neighborhoods. The only people I've heard complain about it are the jerks who want the area to be the exclusive territory of people with white collars and soft hands.

But the ballpark is a more complex issue. The taxpayers didn't want it, and it was taken out of their pockets anyway, without a vote. And only a minority (who always think they're the majority) will be able to afford to be regular customers . . . except for those who luck out and get one of the few $1 seats, which will allow them to watch the game from a vantage point so high and far away they might have a better view of passing airplanes that of the action on the field.

And yet the effect it has had on downtown benefits everyone. I haven't been to a game, but I love to walk around downtown on a game night, walk past street vendors and pretend I'm in a real city. The other night, I stopped and bought a hot dog on a street corner. When I wished the vendor a good day, she laughed and said, "It already is a good day.

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Barry Graham