I must be getting old, because I find myself including in my stories lines like “Back when I was in school…” or “during the first Bush Administration…” or “before You Tube…” Nonetheless I am stunned when something completely mundane will bring a flood of memories back from a time when I wore a younger person’s clothes.
On Labor Day Lisa and I along with a couple of friends attended a Kansas City Royals game. We tailgated for a couple of hours before the game, and the weather was delightful, plus the Royals managed to pull out a win. There was a moment in the game where a pretty rare event occurred – a Royals batter hit the ball, and when he was about half way to first, his own batted ball struck him. The umpire correctly called the runner out, but fans didn’t like the call going against the home team. It was then that we noticed several green-shirted ushers rushing to the front of our section in case somebody decided to take out their frustration out on the umpire. Nobody stepped out of line, but the moment took me back to another time and another place.
Back when I was a freshman in college, I attended Grand Valley State University. In the winter of 1994-1995 we faithfully followed our basketball team through a dreadful season. On this particular winter night the athletic department decided to hand out free mini-basketballs at the door in order to attract more fans to the game. There seemed to be more people in attendance that night than normal.
On this night the Lakers were actually hanging around and playing a pretty competitive game. There came a point in the game just like any other game when the referee has to decide if a call is a charge or a blocking foul. On this particular call, he ruled it was a blocking foul, and it just so happened to go against GVSU. From our view high up in the bleachers, it was clearly a charge. Apparently that was also the feeling of numerous fans within our section, because mini-basketballs started getting tossed onto the floor, before the floodgates broke, and they were everywhere. The breaking point came when someone who was seated court side fired one at the offending referee and hit him square in the face. He immediately called a technical foul on the crowd, which only threw gasoline on the fire. The crowd now resembled a Quebecois separatist bar from the same time period, just without the alcohol.
Remember back during the first Bush Administration when Sam Wyche was the head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals? There was a game back in 1989 where the fans were throwing debris at the referees and opposing team after a tough call went against the Bengals. In order to try to restore order to the game, Sam Wyche was given a house microphone. Not many people remember the details of the game or the call that upset the crowd, but everybody remembers Wyche saying “You don’t live in Cleveland!” I was picturing this scene as the head coach for GVSU made his way to the scorers table to grab the house microphone. When he grabbed the mic, a hush fell over the crowd, giving the illusion of calm. Then he exclaimed “For the safety of the players, coaches, and officials, please hold your balls!”
Pandemonium ensued. At once the whole crowd (home and visitors) united in the chant “Hold your Balls! Hold your balls!” It took several more minutes before the game could resume.
The game did eventually continue, and if my memory serves me right the Lakers were crushed after the riot ran its course. Since this occurred before You Tube, you will not find any recording or photos of this event. Still, I am certain that this particular game was the last time the athletic department distributed free mini-basketballs for any game, or any other potential projectiles. I also know that I was one of the few who was in attendance when history changed, kind of like being at Yankee Stadium when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run. I am just happy that I get to tell people about the time I showed up in a college basketball box score.