Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Runnin' Wild

The Saint Paul Saints was a Northern League baseball team who's attraction was more circus than high quality sport. The ball was fine, probably professional farm club equivalent, but the real fun was had in the weird events and general atmosphere inside the park. A train would pass by every night, the tracks within a hundred yards of the left field wall. As it droned through, the engineer would toot, and the game would stop as we all turned to wave to Casey Jones. A live pig on a leash, carrying saddlebags full of baseballs would be walked to the umpire every few innings to replenish the game balls. In the stands, a nun gave massages, for a fee of course. Between innings people were pulled from the audience to play silly games on the field, like putting one's forehead on a bat, spinning around in circles three times and then attempting to run to third base, first one there winning a prize, like a bobblehead saddlebag wearing pig toy.

My dad had a package of tickets to the games, a few years after my mother had died and he'd moved to Phoenix and back. He was in a wheelchair by then and always got good seats because of it, but he never wanted to overstep by having all his kids in the same spot, using handicapped areas. So if we went as a family he'd have one or two of us sit with him right behind home plate, and the rest in general admission bleachers. We'd just switch off every few innings. That way he got to see us all, we all got to see a game, and everyone got a hot dog cuz that's what dad's do is buy their kids hot dogs.

Once the seventh inning and the obligatory stretch, song and velcro jumping contest had ended, it was my turn in the box, so I meandered from right field toward the home plate fence. Another of the charms of the ballpark was the announcer. He would tell bad jokes, make fun of opposing players, and sometimes pick out lookalikes that passed near his vantage point atop the backstop bleachers. As I rounded the corner and started into the expensive seating I heard "Hulk Hogan is with us tonight."

Now this is the deal; I don't look like Hulk Hogan. But I suppose I have just enough characteristics in my face and frame that are similar to his that I could be (and have been) mistaken for him, even though the comparison's ridiculous. This is approximately how I looked then:

He's about 6'7", I'm 6'2". He's probably 300 pounds of bulging, steroid pumped muscle, I was maybe 240, with large and relatively toned arms, thighs and calves, but I was no musclehead. I did have yellow hair, and a mustache. I also had a pony tail and beard but the beard hung under my chin line so it wasn't all that pronounced, and the tail... well who knows what Hogan's back hair looked like. I was though wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and shorts, so I did have a lot of skin showing, and with blonde hair and thick body, from a distance, under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, I suppose I could look a tiny bit like the Hulkster.

I heard the announcer and assumed it was me he was talking about. But I hate being the center of attention so I just grinned and kept walking, maybe a little faster yet. But then as I got to within eyesight of my dad, my sister turned toward me and laughed aloud. I gave her a quizzical look, and she pointed past my shoulder. Then I turned and looked for myself. A gaggle of young boys were scrambling over each other to get to me. I'd guess twenty of them were rushing to my side, scraps of paper and pens in hand, hoping to get an autograph from the most famous rassler of the moment. Only... I had turned... and now they could see my face... and they finally understood.

"Ah crap!" one shouted as if to warn off his brethren, "that's not the Hulk!" The flock slowed, then stopped. Some glared at me, I suppose to punish me for having the gall to not be their hero. But most just turned away, hung their heads, and cursed their horrible luck... and the stupid announcer that had tricked them into looking foolish. I yelled "Sorry guys" and turned back to my dad to see him grinning from ear to ear. That in itself made my night. Being mistaken for Hulk is cool, but making my dad smile was even better, even if by accident.

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