The best vendors at the ballpark snapped out quips and nonsense, thick as mustard on a hot dog. They poured a beer, handed over a soft pretzel and spun out a story about a mother-in-law they didn’t have or a fish they never caught. Those nearby leaned in to listen.
Vendors made fans part of the game, like foul balls hit into the stands.
Now, vendors are gone. At first, it was the fancy saloons scattered inside ballparks, then COVID. Vendors had been fending off ballpark bars since World War II.
It was 1946 when Larry MacPhail, grandfather of former Minnesota Twins’ general manager Andy, sparked the evolution of genteel ballpark gin joints. That perk was for only the cake-eaters at Yankee Stadium then.
Now, anyone with a $4 standing room only ticket can spend an entire game on a ballpark bar stool watching the game on large screens. A pal of author Arnold Hano saw that coming.
Hano wrote the clean, witty classic “A Day in the Bleachers,” a first-person account of one ball game, and not just any ball game. It’s about the first game of the 1954 World Series in which the New York Giants’ Willie Mays made what is known as “The Catch.”
Late in this slim gem that captures an era when there was time for time, Hano mentions a friend who “envisions a future world of tiny people and huge television screens where everyone gives up his identity, his life, his job, his own family to become part of the drama on the screen — or screens — in front of him.”
Hano’s prescient pal didn’t predict the end of vendors, those extroverted pack mules drawn to strangers.
The best of ‘em were personable to the condescending teen trying to impress a date. They soothed fans grumbling at the home team and played matador to 7-year-olds scrambling up the aisles.
What has replaced these hawkers who delivered Schmidt beer and Schweigert hot dogs? Your palm, in one case.
Fans have been told they will be able to wave a hand over an Amazon device to pay for food and beverages at ‘Walk-Off Market’ in Seattle’s T-Mobile Park this summer.
This assumes there’s no revolt over the technology, as there was at Colorado’s famed Red Rocks amphitheater in March.
In Minneapolis, the cliched ‘Grab and Go’ section in the concourse near left field in Target Field allows fans to pile food and beer into their arms. A few employees in golf shirts and khakis offer polite guidance on self-checkout.
It’s not the same as repartee with a guy who pops off bottle caps and tosses bags of peanuts behind his back. Self-checkout would be hard on Humphrey Bogart.
The iconic movie tough guy was born to wealthy parents, but lived his blue collar screen image. He claimed baseball was “my game. You take your worries to the ballpark and you leave them there.” Unless you have a cell phone in your pocket.
Bogart said, “A hot dog at the ballpark beats a steak at the Ritz.” It was that way for Hano.
In the margins of his New York Times, Hano scribbled notes that became his rich, flowing book and subsisted in the bleachers on two hot dogs, a beer and a couple panatellas. The thought of smoke from a cheap cigar clinging to the air helps underscore the fact nostalgia is overrated.
Mostly, the best thing about the good old days is they’re not here anymore, and barely is baseball. The feudal sport seems to be on its way out.
While it’s still around, it’s better with vendors.