POSTED ON JUNE 1, 2011:
Pulp Fiction at the Drillers
Hard to believe all the new bull at the ballpark
7 April, 2011: A staccato thump of rotors; a chopper appears over third base and lights on the shortstop's deep infield. Looked over my shoulders for Navy Seals streaming from the upper concourse at ONEOK Field on opening night.
The training jet flyover was great. But as a taxpayer, I wonder who pays the National Guard. Drillers ticket; fine. T. Boone; great. Taxpayers, a problem.
The president was in Washington; no rock stars in town, so the kids knew who was missing. Minutes passed, excitement died. Finally, stumbling out, what the ... ? Electric blue, wide flank-section and extra wide, bouncy rump roast haunches and a pea head. The new Hornsby? What happened to the snout? Who shrunk his horns?
Eventually the crowd gave it up with some applause. Everybody gets a makeover. We liked the old Oprah, but when she lost her weight she lost her reason for being. Hornsby fattens up for love?
The team won the opening game, but a youngster or two got a big surprise when a "Bust a Balloon Between Your Chests" gimmick was exploded in their faces, sending at least one child to the trainer for what looked like a bloody, busted lip. It was all fun and games, while the injured kids tried to get the attention of an attended events staffer. We haven't seen that promotion since then.
4 May: Love that new emcee. Let's call him Trip Hop Low Pants. Can't imagine the Drillers' image is enhanced by this dude. Ah, the buffoon, the court jester, maybe it's a clown oufit. Now I get it. Looks like kin to the new Hornsby.
18 May: How about that ping-pong booty shake. Gets the crowd involved from the loins down. Dude straps on a belt with box attached to the backside. Edgy emcee Low Pants keeps the dude shakin' long past the task of popping out 16 ping-pong balls. It's so funny to see someone make a fool out of himself for a burrito. Must be these tough times.
And, wonderful thing: a baseball game broke out. In spite of all the distractions, the Drillers won and are first half contenders for the first time in ages.
23 May: My 8-year-old son gets shot, point blank, by a water gun-wielding Hornsby.
The Bull by the Horns
Chuck Lamson, former owner/GM of the Tulsa Drillers, was great at PR. Not so much smarts as he knew the baseball experience. And he earned lots of paying fans. There wasn't a game you didn't see him with an old-fashioned walkie-talkie device in hand, giving directions, answering questions, solving problems and working up a sweat. It wasn't just baseball that brought people out to the ball game. He was the peanuts, popcorn and Crackerjacks of the Drillers and the reason for the team's success and current hubris at the downtown park. A blend of the old and the new. The balance was always appropriate, not too loud, not too distracting, family fun. The American Pastime.
My wife and I have three children: 15, 13 and 8. We have season tickets and go to school downtown, so what fun for Daddy to take each of them to one of the weekday games in May.
I'm a baseball fan, so I don't like the nosey camera, I don't like slow concessions, and I have never liked mascots or clowns. But over the years, I checked my grumblings in awe of our children's inexplicable love of Hornsby, our children won me over and I became a Hornsby fan, totally. Let my guard down, trusting. My eye became childlike in search of this Drillers ambassador to my children. I'd point him out, and about the same time he was coming over to say hi to the kids.
Hornsby has never been hard to spy, nor has he had trouble catching the eye of adoring children. Except for this year. It may be the hip-hop routine; it may be the attitude, it may be the suit, it may be the contract. He works the crowd differently. Less time with the kids; more time on working out his dance routine.
My youngest and I had a great time in spite of not catching Hornsby's attention; once, right down our aisle as my son yelled and held open arms. The ox walked right past him to a couple middle-aged yackers behind us. My son looked at me in bewilderment.
As the game got better, my little guy got more tired and was ready to go. At the concourse, who did I spy but the blue dude himself. Hey, John Paul, there he is. What great timing we have. Let's go say hi! He did, to no effect. He tried again, and no response. Hornsby was deep in rap with some of his adult fans, whom I could tell, could care less for his presence.
I said, "Hornsby, there is a little guy looking for you!" Again, Hornsby, this time with an elbow to his haunches, "one of your greatest fans is right behind you!"
At that, the bull turns, produces a high-powered water pistol, and squirts my little guy once, twice, three times in the chest, from about a foot away.
For a second I was stunned. My son, in shock for a moment, wrenched up his face and began to sob. I didn't know whether to pummel the blue oaf or scoop up my son and never return. But Guest Services was a few steps away, so I grabbed my little guy's hand and we strode that direction.
Hornsby followed behind and was mooing something about not meaning to hurt him.
Guest Services personnel must have seen it coming and immediately knew what to do. One staffer rounded up a T-shirt in trade for his wet school uniform as the other said he would get Hornsby to take his hood off and apologize, but we had to go into the stairwell for the unmasking.
When the hood came off the blathering excuses began and we heard everything but an apology. At last I told Hornsby to look at my son, to tell him you are sorry and that this will never happen again.
Then we went home. I delivered our son to his mom and brother and sister, and went back to the office to call Drillers' brass.
We've been fans too long to let an incident, even something as shocking as this, sour our love for the game. I talked to management in two sessions over the course of a week and I am satisfied by the leadership making amends, apologizing again for their stray bull. I asked for one thing, however, that they said they couldn't do.
The insides of this new character apparently is the result of a nationwide search. The actor is said to be an up and comer and won't stop until he has a major league gig. Drillers' brass said they can't afford to fire him.
However, they conceded mine has not been the only complaint. They reiterated that what I told them would have impact in how Hornsby interacts with the crowd and would not be without his "handler" from now on.
In the meantime, be on the lookout for a tamer, but still uncertain bull. It might be time for open carry of water pistols.
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