"This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Seared Crispy Day shall ne'er go by
From this day to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we sweaty few, we band of broilers!"
-William Shakespeare, Henry V
Around mid-afternoon on Sunday, June 8, as the mercury climbed to 104º in celebration of the Athletics Nation Day in Stockton, I started to reminisce about all the ridiculous things that have occurred during my career as an event producer.
(Actually, the word, "reminisce," is probably inaccurate; I think I was hallucinating in the heat, imagining myself to be King Henry V just before the battle of Agincourt.)
Long ago, I had to postpone a fundraising concert with Andy Williams because we couldn't locate the star on the day of the event. His Hollywood agent didn't know where he was. His manager didn't know, either, but he said Andy's private jet had departed on time. Oh, no! Could Andy have been on a date with Amelia Earhart?
About a half hour before curtain, the phone in the stage manager's office rang. (This was in the days before cellphones.) A stagehand answered it and shouted to me, "Hey, there's a guy on the phone who says he's Andy Williams!" The pilots of Andy's private jet had landed his plane at the wrong airport. The star arrived an hour later by taxi ... in a wonderful mood, I might add.
I sent the bill for the orchestra overtime to Andy's jet provider but it still hasn't been paid.
Then there was the time I had to store Julio Iglesias in a janitorial closet at the Oakland Convention Center. Apparently, Julio is terrified of earthquakes. He had been reluctant to take the concert gig in the Bay Area because he had witnessed all the coverage of the 1989 earthquake several years before. We assured him all was safe, paid him lots of money and, not surprisingly, he decided to show up.
We put Julio and his entourage up in the suites on the top floor of the hotel attached to the convention center where he was to perform. An hour before show time, a minor temblor hit Oakland. It was a 4.0, barely perceptible on the convention center floor where I was. Up in the tower where Julio was, however, the room was a-rockin'.
Julio's security guard called me on the walkie-talkie and said, "He's coming down. In a BIG hurry."
"Wait!" I answered. "It's not time yet. There's no place to put him down here!"
"Tell him that."
Just then, Julio and his peeps emerged out of a service elevator desperate for refuge and stability. I said I could arrange a hotel room on a lower floor but his tour manager, a tiny pit bull of a woman, explained, "Mr. Iglesias will not be leaving the ground floor the rest of the evening."
So I stuck him in the only available room on the ground floor, a janitorial supply closet off a service corridor. Julio sat on a big bucket of floor wax, hyperventilating while his assistant primped him for the show. After the post-show meet-and-greet, Julio hit the limo in a full sprint and disappeared into the night like una paloma blanca.
Then there was the time Bob Hope, American cultural icon, called me an asshole and suggested I should be arrested. But wait! This narrative is starting to meander. As Will Shakespeare wrote (in Henry V, come to think of it), "Men of few words are the best men." I am not the best man, but I do have my moments. So let me say, I have staged events during hurricanes, power blackouts, floods, and The Perfect Snowstorm in Denver in 2003. Now, I can add the Freak Inferno of June 8 to that list.
"O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The hottest heaven of invention,
A ballpark for a stage, players to act
And paramedics to behold the sweltering scene!"
I should have known we were in for trouble when I heard Addison Russell was going to be playing shortstop in Stockton on June 8. Oh, glorious fortune! I thanked Pat Filippone, the President of the Stockton Ports, for providing the star of the A's minor league system just for Athletics Nation Day.
"Yeah, it's our way to make up for the 100-degree heat we're also providing on Sunday," Pat said sarcastically.
Heat? What heat? I had researched historical temperatures in Stockton for early June - 80º to 85º tops! There was no mention of Saudi Arabian-type heat in the forecasts I had read in April. What else, locusts? Gangs of frogs from the San Joaquin River jacking cars in the West parking lot?
We promoters tend to be a skittish lot, prone to the belief that the event gods are always out to get us. As I drove to Stockton the morning of the 8th, I thought, "It's going to be okay. One hundred degrees is only 15º more than 85. How bad can that be?"
Two scenes from Lawrence of Arabia serve to illustrate how bad it could be. During his famous assault on Aqaba, Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) loses one of his men, Gasim, in the Nefud Desert. Quick cut to the stranded Gasim, staggering, parched, and near death in the vast burning plain. The temperature in that scene was 104 degrees.
Lawrence heroically rides into the desert and rescues Gasim. In a rueful twist, though, Lawrence must later execute the very man he saved as punishment for a crime Gasim has committed. On his knees begging for mercy, Gasim says, "Shoot me, or send me back to the inferno of the Nefud. I ask only one thing, Lawrence. In the name of Allah, don't make me go to Stockton when it is 104 degrees!"
Where was I? Oh yeah, I was hallucinating.
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,
Or close the field up with our website dead.
In heat there's nothing so becomes a fan
As modest shade and humidity."
I wish to bestow a couple of awards for valorous conduct on Athletics Nation Day in Stockton. The trophy for "First on the Scene" goes to justANotherAsfan. (His real name is Reade.) When I arrived in the parking lot, I noticed I was being shadowed by some mysterious character in a pickup truck. I tried to shake him but he was relentless. I finally parked and mentally prepared myself for whatever crime was about to occur. The pickup truck parked beside me. Out popped, not a mugger, but justANotherAsfan, sporting his A's gear!
"Hey, where's my name badge?" he said.
The "Silver Slugger" award goes to Jerry "EBHI" Brewer. During his hitting demonstration, Jerry induced panic among the Ports' staff when he launched a squishy yellow baseball over the left field stands, out of the ballpark, and down a service road. Adam Fremd, the Ports Group Sales Manager, pleaded with me to make Jerry keep the batted balls on the field of play.
"If you're worried about a lawsuit," I said to him, "you might want to check with that unconscious lawyer lying beside the yellow ball on the service road."
Adam laughed, but not heartily.
The medal for "Grace Under Perdition" goes to MissedTag. (Her real name is Jeanne, as genial and dedicated an A's fan as there is.) MissedTag, a Stockton local, scoffed at the weather wimps from the Bay Area and kept snapping photos the entire game. You can see some of them here. As you peruse MissedTag's photo collection, you will notice a shot of a guy in a blue shirt and a wide-brimmed Panama hat. That's me. I am 32 years old and that's how I looked on AN Day.
Now you know what 104º heat will do to you.
The "Bataan Death March" award goes to the hardy group of survivors that actually gathered, as instructed, on the BBQ Terrace during the 7th inning stretch for the scheduled reading of "Casey at the Bat." Unfortunately, about 15 minutes before, I decided to cancel the reading because of the conditions. I informed as many of the attendees as I could find scattered throughout the seats.
I wasn't able to find Nico, Alex and a few of the Front Page writers, however. Where could they have gone? Suddenly, I remembered. I looked across the field from the concourse to the left field BBQ Terrace. There they were, right where they were supposed to be, waiting, and cooking, in the Stockton sun.
"They are going to absolutely kill me," I thought.
I met them as they dragged themselves back to the only shaded area in the ballpark. They didn't kill me but Nico had an I-left-Italy-for-this? look on his face. He said, "Well, Casey definitely struck out on that one."
Indeed, he did. I whiffed, too, and I probably owe everybody in the group a beer for my miscue.
Finally, the "Perseverance Pays Off" award goes to my 13-year-old nephew, Gabe. He attended the Ports game with one goal in mind, to capture a foul ball. In the stifling heat, Gabe was the embodiment of perpetual motion, constantly repositioning himself around the park to snag his prize. He came close several times. By the sixth inning, however, he was still in search of his souvenir. His heat-exhausted parents packed up the family gear and beckoned him to leave. Gabe held out for just a few more pitches.
At that very instant, the hitter sent a foul ball up the chimney. It arced toward Section 117 where Gabe was standing. A scrum of remaining spectators rose to attempt the catch. Plucky young Gabe found himself boxed out. The ball descended quickly but the scrum, as scrums often do, missed the ball! It bounced high off a concrete step and descended again. Several hands touched the ball but it hit the deck a second time and squirted along the steps. Shouts! A grasping pileup! Mass hysteria! Suddenly the scrum dispersed and there was Gabe, a figure of radiant triumph, holding his prized foul ball.
Good things come to those who scramble, kid.
"And gentlemen in Oakland now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here."
I'd like to thank everyone associated with AN Day in Stockton, except the weatherman. (Yeah, I know, why blame the messenger?) I had a blast organizing the event, one last go-round for an old promoter. I enjoyed meeting all the AN folks in person. I publicly thank each one of the Band of Broilers and commend them for their grit. Ryan Christenson and his players endured nine innings of Saharan heat and a close loss, yet they were still gentlemen enough to show up at our post-game reception. I extend my respect and gratitude to them.
Pat Filippone and the staff of the Stockton Ports were great, too. Incidentally, as a response to our torrid AN Day, Pat is rumored to be lobbying the Stockton City Council for a retractable roof to cover Banner Island Ballpark.
Don't laugh. Pat will probably get his roof before the Oakland A's get a new stadium.